Friday, April 27, 2007

A Schism in Environmentalism, Part II

As a cause, is environmentalism only as good as their supporters allow it to be, or is the truth so ugly that Western Civilization would come under indictment.

By: Vanessa Uy and Ringo Bones

Sometimes, you can gain a unique insight on environmentalism from a unique vantage- point. A few weeks ago Ringo and I have recently read a book by Steve Weston titled “Woodrow Wilson and the Death of John Kennedy.” One of the most interesting part of the book is on why John F. Kennedy’s death was necessary to advance Kennedy’s own policy objectives. Even though Steve Weston’s detractors described him as paranoid and a textbook Bakunin disciple, the subject on his book about the death of John F. Kennedy illustrates a worryingly recurring theme throughout the history of Western Civilization. Do most of us by now ask ourselves; ”If Jesus Christ wasn’t crucified, would mankind be forever ignorant on the virtues of forgiveness and on the unconditional love of our fellowman?” Would Brazil’s hard stance against the destruction of the Amazon rain forest exist at all if environmentalist Chico Mendez, wasn’t murdered.

Ringo and I just hope that nobody does a Lee Harvey Oswald on Al Gore just to boost the legitimacy on extolling the dangers of climate change and of global warming. Al Gore is more interesting alive than dead.

How many lives does it take to raise environmentalism’s bar of legitimacy a notch? Environmentalism is not a cause or movement that’s been looking enough guilt to start its own religion. Environmentalism should also not be viewed as a fashion statement du jour just because Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” now enjoys runaway blockbuster success. The sooner we can escape from this idea that someone has to die for something so that something can be done, the brighter will our planet’s and civilization’s future will be.

Burning Water in an Oil Furnace

Of all the outlandish thing’s people do when driven to desperation, lets examine the method of this madness that promises lower fuel consumption.

By: Vanessa Uy

During my research on patented inventions that can help us beat the high oil prices, nothing seems more outlandish than mixing water to heating oil as what's been done by a British inventor. Eric Cottell has invented a device that emulsifies both oil and water in an ultrasonic reactor-a refinement of a device he patented back in 1952-which uses high frequency sound waves far above the human audibility range to break up liquid particles. It was originally used in commercial applications to mix the ingredients for Worcestershire sauce, catsup, cosmetics and paints. In an oil burner’s combustion chamber, a water-oil emulsion is fed into the flame; the water droplets explode into steam, shattering the surrounding layer of oil and exposing its maximum surface area. This provides more efficient and complete combustion.

Cottell tested the process in his very own home furnace and reduced his fuel consumption by 25%. A scaled up demonstration in Long Island’s Adelphi University’s heating plant during winter saved more than 3,500 gallons of oil a week-about a 25% reduction- and it cut down soot emissions by 98%. Despite of the fuel savings and a dramatic reduction in pollution, there was no apparent reduction in energy output. Cottell plans to produce his ultrasonic reactor units for household oil burners. This would be no larger than a telephone handset and costs between US$200 to US$450.

I wonder if Cottell’s invention works on gasoline powered cars, then the world could beat a path to his front door.

Oil Companies versus the Kyoto Protocol

Majority of petroleum companies at present doesn’t agree on the Kyoto Protocol’s plea of carbon dioxide sequestration, but that’s about to change.

By: Vanessa Uy

The Kyoto Protocol is seen as Bolshevism by most of the existing petroleum companies who don’t have the fiscal incentive to find an effective and low cost method of storing the carbon dioxide by-products of oil and gas extraction process. The emphasis here is on the effective method of carbon dioxide storage/sequestration since future legislation might impose stiff fines on the companies who aren’t in line with the Kyoto Protocol.

Natural gas is by far the cleanest fossil fuel in current use, but it contains up to 10% carbon dioxide as it is extracted from the well/mine. Today, only a handful of environmentally conscious petroleum companies extract this carbon dioxide that’s mixed with the natural gas and return the carbon dioxide back to the mine in sandstone formations underground so that it won’t contribute to global warming.

The Insala Gas Plant in Nigeria has been doing carbon dioxide capture and storing them back underground since 2004. That’s way before precedents are agreed upon by the Kyoto Protocol. Although petroleum companies that does this on a voluntary basis are still the exception rather than the rule. Norway’s STATOIL also practices carbon dioxide capture/sequestration of their petroleum extraction by products and they posses the most sophisticated underground carbon dioxide storage facility to date as recognized by the IPCC, the inter government panel on climate change.

New Extra Solar Planet Found

As if the astronomical community can’t get any more exciting since Pluto’s status as a planet was questioned, now a new Earth-like planet is discovered outside our Solar System.

By: Vanessa Uy

It’s official, an Earth-like planet was discovered using a Chilean astronomical telescope system designed specifically to hunt small extra solar bodies. This Earth-like planet, the smallest so far discovered outside our Solar System, is located 20 light-years from us. This planet is five times the diameter of the Earth, which makes it’s the pull of gravity on its surface several magnitudes stronger than that found on ours. Astronomical instruments have detected large bodies of water on the surface of this new planet and also the presence of an Earth-like atmosphere. Since this new planet is too far away for conventional photography, only computer- generated models are published. Except these models are generated using the data gathered when observing the new planet.

Even though the new planet’s orbit is very close to its parent star which allows it to have a “year” of just 13 Earth days. Despite of this, the new planet lies within the “Goldilocks Zone” of its parent star which means the new planets surface temperature might be similar to Earth’s. The “Goldilocks Zone” is the technical term coined by the astronomical community to describe the region of a star’s orbital zone that’s neither too hot nor too cold from the “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” nursery tale. In our own Solar System, this averages around 93,000,000 miles or 150,000,000 kilometers from the Sun’s surface. Since the new planets parent star is much smaller than our Sun, its “Goldilocks Zone” is also much closer and hence the shorter it’s orbital period will be.

This is quite different than from just five years or so ago where our extra solar planet detection technology can only detect “gas giants” (i.e. Jupiter-like planets with no detectable solid surface) the size of Jupiter or larger. The only way to find out if there is life on this newly discovered planet or how the life forms compare to Earth’s is via space probes. Since the new planet is located 20 light-years from us, it might take a very, very long time for a space probe to reach it using our current rocket technology. How long does the trip lasts? Several million years is one guess.

Fighting Bugs with Bugs

Almost anyone of us has probably heard the phrase: natural is best, the empirical and scientific evidence really does speak for itself.

By: Vanessa Uy

For more than thirty years, it’s well known that fighting one insect with another is a more effective and infinitely less destructive to the local wildlife community than the wholesale application of pesticides. A good example of this is the Japanese beetle infestation in the United States back in the 1960’s. The infestation was effectively checked when some 34 species of predatory and parasitic insects, all of which the Japanese beetle’s natural enemies, were imported from the Orient after favorable results from small-scale field trials.

The female wasp of genus Tiphia vernalis proved deadly effective. This wasp instinctively searches a Japanese beetle grub (i.e. young offspring) and lays a single egg into the grub. Upon hatching, the larval (i.e. young) wasp devours the Japanese beetle grub from the inside out.

An even more effective and efficient method of controlling the Japanese beetle population is the method of injecting into the soil a bacterial disease that infects the beetle’s grubs. The method is inherently safe since the pathogen evolved over time to only infect the Japanese beetle’s grubs while it is harmless to earthworms, crops, other beneficial insects and pollinators like ladybugs and honeybees, and warm- blooded animals.

Using biological methods of controlling pest population is more effective and it works out to be cheaper in the long run since it doesn’t harm the environment. Unlike the previous methods of using chemical pesticides in the DDT family which affected avian physiology. As described in Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring.”

Fear and Loathing on the World Community’s Efforts for Climate Protection

Now that there’s a consensus that global warming is primarily caused by our industrial activities, should we be optimistic about a solution that serves everyone’s interests.

By: Vanessa Uy

Have you noticed that anything designed by a committee is seldom aesthetically and functionally pleasing? I hope that this fate doesn’t befall the well-intentioned actions of the Global Community / Powers-That-Be to limit the impact of our industrial processes on our climate. Believe me, I’m all for establishing resolutions to limit the generation of greenhouse gasses that’s causing global warming that would eventually cause a catastrophic climate change and sea level rise. But chances are, the United States will have the loudest voice on formulating policies to solve this somewhat intransigent dilemma because herein lies the true extent of the complexity of the task at hand. But first, lets take a look back on the United States Government’s track record on how might they deal with this problem.

During the end of the 1960’s, the gravest threat to the Global Community was the all-out nuclear exchange between the U.S. and the then Soviet Union. The Nixon administration at that time was in a unique position to declare a détente or and end to the “Cold War” and the ability to enforce it. Sadly, the U.S. Administration at that time was extremely reluctant to reformulate the “canon” of their “interests” and foreign policies. This was immortalized in that famous Richard M. Nixon quote; “Peace in our time with honor.” A lot of people will argue that it was a good thing because the almost imminent all-out nuclear exchange was postponed indefinitely. But as time went on, this flawed foreign policy has created Al-Qaeda and despotic Persian Gulf Heads-of-State.

If the U.S. Administration’s involvement in formulating laws that are of benefit to the Global Community in tackling catastrophic climate change is still based on a 40-year-old “canon” that protects U.S. interests in maintaining their Military-Industrial-Complex above all else would probably result in two scenarios. One, it would be doomed to fail; two, it would create more problems that it intends to solve.

Maybe, we should take solace on what Abraham Lincoln said about slavery more than a hundred years ago. He said that the institution of slavery was “formulated on both injustice and bad policy.” This is much like our present “agricultural subsidies” that only benefit the rich and powerful. Policymakers really should think carefully on how they should formulate solutions to protect our climate that not only benefits the poor but also rich industrialists can live with.

Most “common folks” that I know have been doing their part in protecting our planet. Some of them for more than thirty years by reducing energy consumption and recycling in order to conserve our dwindling natural resources. Let us just hope that when run-of-the-mill politicians use their heavy handedness on environmentalism, Russian Literature buffs won’t be saying: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Review of Research Papers / Publications on Science Education, Part I

Vanessa Uy

Science Education: Where Do We Start?

By: Roger Osborne

The Australian Science Teachers Journal, August 1981

Roger Osborne was very insightful in noting that the students / pupils might have misconceptions about science which they might have picked-up early on. These ideas should be corrected by the teacher-at-hand. Because they might be dangerous to the life of the individual if he or she stake their lives on a certain uncorrected misconception.

A few months ago, my playmate’s younger brother once thought that as long as there is an electric fan turning in an air tight, hermetically sealed room, a person or an animal can still live. Even though all the oxygen contained in the air sealed inside, is consumed by the respiration process of the person or animal therein. To remedy this misconception, my playmate and I, both aspiring scientists, made an experiment. Using common household materials: a large jar about one gallon in volume, a basin filled with water large enough to fit the inverted jar, a styrofoam float, a candle and an “unfortunate” grasshopper set up so that the jar faces down with an air pocket. Inside, the floating candle burned. Accelerating oxygen consumption while a small battery operated fan whirls. The grasshopper died after several minutes after the candle flame was snuffed out due to the oxygen being exhausted even though the fan is still running. Basing on what we’ve learned so far about respiration, the grasshopper didn’t die because of the candle’s flame but due to lack of oxygen, and the fan is useless as a life support device at this point.

Top 10 Signs that you’ve just enlisted in a Bad Airsoft Team

By: May Anne Uy

Since the airsoft phenomena gained big time popularity here in the Philippines during the latter half of 2005 due to the proliferation of value-for –money (re: cheap) weapons systems. The number of airsoft clubs as a result also increased like wild mushrooms during the rainy season. Since the working title of this digression is about what makes a bad team/group here is ten of my pet peeves:

10. Everyone on the team thinks that the one hit you’re out rule is for sissies.
9. Everyone on the team thinks that guys who are into classical music (Bach, Mozart,Beethoven, etc.) are gay.
8. The team leader runs the club like David Koresh runs the Branch Davidians in Wacko, Texas.
7. Everyone on the team thinks that classic rock (Lynyrd Skynyrd, Kiss, Scorpions, etc.) are for Satanists.
6. Everyone on the team thinks that women have something better to do than play airsoft games.
5. Everyone on the team thinks that anyone whose weapons system costs less than PhP10,000 lives in a shanty town and blows his nose on his shirt or one of his 14 children’s shirts.
4. Most of the members want the best airsoft weapons system, but wont shell out the required money.
3. You got kicked out for mentioning “Medical Marijuana.”
2. Everyone on the team thinks that rationalism is a left leaning thought.
1. The team leader’s claim to fame on his leadership skills is that he loves to boss around other people in an indignant manner.

There you have it. If your team manifests a couple of minor problems, all is not lost. Three or more, then you have a better chance of carving your very own team- mate out of a mango. Megalomaniac leaders are a special case in itself. In our Filipino culture, we usually deal this problem in an “Emperor’s New Clothes” or in a “yes men” kind of way. There are good even great teams out there, so shop around.

Introduction to Beowulf

By: Vanessa Uy

Beowulf is a perfect example of an Old English Poem, which survives to this day. Written probably in the 8th Century A. D. The author’s identity was lost to history. The poem has about 3,182 alliterative lines.

Cast of Characters:
BEOWULF – the hero of the poem, born of the royal house of the Geatas, a tribe living in a part of what is now Sweden.
HEARDRED – son of Beowulf.
SCYLD – the child who arrived in Denmark, then became a mighty warrior, one of Beowulf’s ancestors.
KING HYGELAC – maternal uncle of Beowulf whom he served as a henchman.
KING HROTHGAR – the Danish king terrorized by Grendel.
GRENDEL – the troll who came every night to kill and eat those he caught.

The action opens in Denmark. The Danish king can’t do anything about Grendel, so he asked Beowulf for help. Beowulf heard of the “haunting”, so he with his 14 followers took ship for Denmark. King Hrothgar welcomed the Geatish troop and allowed them to use the castle’s hall for the night.

That evening, Grendel came and fought with Beowulf. Grendel’s arm was dismembered by Beowulf’s very strong grip. Grendel escapes to the bottom of the sea leaving behind his severed arm. He died soon after he reached his underwater abode.

The next evening, Grendel’s mother took revenge by abducting a high ranking Dane. Beowulf came after her and made his way to her hall at the sea- bottom and slew her using a supposedly lucky sword that he found there. After the hard fight in which the sword he had taken with him proved useless. Beowulf nearly lost his life.

When he and his men returned to Geatland laden with gifts, he made report to King Hygelac, who rewarded him with a huge grant of land. Some years later Heardred died in battle. Then Beowulf became king and ruled for 50 years.

A dragon began to lay waste of the Geatish countryside, in revenge for a theft from his treasure hoard. Beowulf, now a king, with the aid of his young kinsman, Wiglaf and ten other warriors set out to hunt the dragon down. When they neared its lair, Beowulf made his men wait while he advanced to fight alone. The fight went bad for Beowulf, thus Wiglaf came to his aid as the others fled. He and Wiglaf finally killed the terrible beast, but Beowulf was mortally wounded. When all was over, the “cowardly ten” came forward to bask in the glory of victory. Wiglaf rebuked them, and condemned them to the life of outcasts. The news of King Beowulf’s passing despite having slain the dragon brought the royal court to the scene, and the poem ends with the heroes funeral and words in his praise.

Beowulf falls into 2 contrasting parts. Part one (lines 1 – 2,199), the hero is young, an ideal foot-soldier, eager to risk his life for the good of others in high adventure to far away lands and beyond the call of duty. Beowulf fights single-handedly and always wins, despite long odds. His followers, though faithful, are smart enough not to interfere in his moment of glory. In part two (lines 2,200 – 3,182), the hero is older, an ideal ruler. Beowulf still goes to battle, but only when duty calls him to defend his own people. Still victorious but with only a kinsman beside him that’s willing to die for him; his followers proved useless in his hour of need, all but one.

The anonymous poet who wrote Beowulf attempted to reconcile both his pagan ancestry and his present Christian faith and culture at a time when Christianity was spreading unabated throughout Scandinavia. Beowulf could be viewed as a Cathecistal story to be told to the still non-Christian people of the British Isles during the 8th Century. Beowulf has pagan elements of bravery and courage mixed in with Christian values like charitable service. For me, Beowulf, which in my experience is now fashionably taught in High School could serve as a pre-requisite for someone interested in Wagnerian Operas of similar theme like Lohengrin or learning Nietzschean values like the “warrior ethic.”

“Who Really Invented Radio?”

By: Vanessa Uy

The working title of this article should have been “Please, For The Love Of God Tell Me Who Invented Radio!” If you’re among the sorry, countless individuals who thought that Marconi solely invented radio, this article is not for you. For those with a passing interest for Nikola Tesla, you would find this either enlightening or a bit humbling. So without further ado, let me take you on a journey.of exploration.

Our story starts in the latter half of the 19th Century. The chaps, most of them from the United States, have a very interesting story on how they invented radio. One of them is Nathan B. Stubblefield of Murray, Kentucky. He began working on experiments and devices related to radio as early as 1892. His notable public demonstrations, like the one he performed on May 30, 1902 did not go unnoticed by serious publications and journals like Scientific American. But today this Murray, Kentucky native is a relative unknown to anyone not from his hometown.

At about the same time, Dr. Mahlon Loomis created a crude tuned-antenna circuit. Despite his prolific genius, he never received the grant he sought from congress. If he did, the invention of radio might have advanced a few decades. Even in Virginia, Dr. Loomis is probably known only to history buffs.

Two electricians that are being conveniently left out by the Tesla advocates are Oliver Lodge, whose patent anticipated Tesla’s in 1898 and John S. Stone, a month earlier than Tesla in 1900.

In 1880, Alexander Graham Bell created a device called a photophone. It worked by using a voice signal to modulate a light beam, but this was never more than a technological object d’art exhibited at world fairs. It’s the same principle behind fiber optic laser telecommunications.

One of more significance was the wireless telephone patented in 1886 by Amos Emerson Dolebear, a physics professor who demonstrated it publicly in the United States, Canada, and Europe. At about the same time, John Trowbridge at Harvard was doing extensive experiments in both induction and earth-or water-conduction wireless apparatus. Thomas Edison, the noted superstar inventor and de facto anti Tesla, developed wireless telegraph / telephone systems to communicate with moving trains during the 1880’s. Granville Woods and Lucius Phelps also developed a similar wireless communication system.

A chap called Alexandr Popov, who the Russians claimed invented radio, is also a viable candidate. When the former Soviet Union launched one of her first space probes to explore the far side of the moon. A crater was named after him.

When the United States Supreme Court entered into “The Great Radio Controversy” in October of 1942. A can of worms was opened, luckily its influence only affects history academics and Tesla fans. Though the invention of the radio had long been famously attributed to Gugliemo Marconi, the Supreme Court justices were intrigued by patents and scientific publications which pointed to Nikola Tesla as radio’s true creator. In June of 1943, the Court decided that Nikola Tesla had, in fact, invented modern radio technology. They ruled that Marconi’s patent were invalid and had been “anticipated.” Tesla was vindicated-though far from victorious. Some five months before, alone and destitute in a New York hotel room, the great inventor had passed away. His papers and notes were confiscated by the United States Alien Property Office, and are now housed in the Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. I hope to visit there someday.

It’s not easy, but basing on existing proof. I pick Nikola Tesla as the true inventor of radio. To me Stubblefield, Loomis, and Lodge, as well as the others mentioned still await more proof in order to rise above their present status as mere “hometown heroes.” Which is also the similar predicament of Alexandr Popov.

Despite having a heavy metal band named in his honor and being portrayed by David Bowie in the magic show movie called “The Prestige”, Tesla is still a relatively unknown genius even today. Ask most accomplished electrical / electronics engineers today about who invented radio and most of them will answer “Marconi.” It’s one of those things that make you a bit sad, doesn’t it?

Review of Research Papers / Publications on Science Education, Part III

Vanessa Uy

Students’ Perceptions about Science: The Impact of Transition

From Primary to Secondary School

By: Wendy Speering and Leone Rennie

Research in Science Education, 1996

While evaluating Speering and Rennie’s paper. I found out that there is a method of teaching science that is only familiar in elite schools and on special genius-level classes that could advance science education here in the Philippines. This method is called a “master class”. Dismissed as an elitist method suitable only for those learning institutions with more money than common sense. I believe this method could work here, and is a good value-for –money program. For example, if the topic for discussion will be about sound and acoustics, I would invite a famous musician or a recording engineer whose job is related to my science topic and give a lecture to my class. I believe this method could make my students value science because most of our kids today think that science only belong to the textbooks as opposed to real life. And these are also very high -paying jobs that could catapult the practitioner into celebrity status, thus allowing the guest speakers to meet their fans at the grassroots level.

Introduction to Geoffrey Chaucer

By: Vanessa Uy

Geoffrey Chaucer was born in London about 1340, the son of a well-to-do and well-connected wine merchant. In his youth, he served as a page to the countess of Ulster, and later as a valet in the royal household. In 1360, after his capture while fighting in the French wars, Edward III paid his ransom, and later Chaucer married Philippa de Roet, a maid of honor to the queen and sister-in-law to John of Gaunt, Chaucer’s patron.

Chaucer spent many years in royal employment, as a comptroller of customs for the port of London, as justice of the peace for Kent, as a Member of Parliament. His appointment took him on various missions to France and Italy, where he probably met Boccaccio and Petrarch and discovered the poetry of Dante—influences that are evident in his own writing.

Chaucer’s body of work is often divided into three periods. The French period (to 1372); consisting of such works as a translation of the “Roman de la Rose” and “The Book of the Duchess”. The Italian period (1372-1385), including “The House of Fame”, “The Parliament of Fowls” and “Troilus and Criseyde” and the English period (1385-1400), culminating in The Canterbury Tales. In 1400, he passed away, leaving 24 of the apparently 120 tales he had planned for his final masterpiece. The 24 he wrote were sufficient. Chaucer became the first of England’s great men to be buried in the Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey.

Chaucer’s literary works are an example of a form of Middle English dialect then in use in Medieval London, which evolved into the Modern English of today. On the Canterbury Tales, his metrical versification of choice is the ”heroic couplet”, which is composed of pairs of successive lines, in iambic pentameter (regularly five feet, or ten syllables), that rhyme. Sometimes, Chaucer also uses “Rhyme Royal” as in Troilus and Criseyde, and Terza Rima which is rare in English prosody but is used in Part II of one of his minor poems, Complaint to His Lady.

The Canterbury Tales is probably the most famous of Chaucer’s works. It is a collection of tales set in verse form about various pilgrims on their way to pay homage to St. Thomas a Becket, a martyr murdered at Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. The pilgrims have various tales of their own which they told during their stay in a local inn. These tales could be described as the religious, moral, and philosophical views in Medieval England. Like the Pardoner’s Tale, which preaches that “the love of money is the root of all evil” or the Clerk’s Tale, which is about the virtue of patience taken to the extreme. The tales could also be viewed as a satire aiming to expose, and sometimes to correct (His Retraction), personal, social, or spiritual follies or vices.

The various pilgrims of The Canterbury Tales in order of importance to the society of Medieval England:
1. Knight 15.Tapestry Maker
2. Young Squire 16. Cook
3. Yeoman 17. Ship man
4. Prioress 18. Man of Physique (Medical Doctor)
5. Monk 19. Wife of Bath
6. Friar 20. Parson
7. Merchant 21. Plowman
8. Clerk of Oxford 22. Reeve
9. Sergeant-of-the-Law (Lawyer) 23. Miller
10. Franklin 24. Summoner
11. Haberdasher 25. Pardoner
12. Carpenter 26. Manciple
13. Weaver 27. Author
14. Dyer

Various characters of the “Tale” and their profile:
1. The Wife of Bath/Dame Alice – She’s very open about her private sex life. And she’s not ashamed to tell everyone about it during her drinking spree in the inn. Described as “gap-toothed”, which in Chaucer’s time would mean a woman of considerable sexual prowess. Too liberated for Medieval England and her “kiss and tell” attitude is anathema to my politically correct sewing circle.
2. The Pardoner – His “de rigueur” preaching about “The Love of Money is the Root of All Evil” borders on the point of obsession. Made a fortune by selling false religious relics. The only redeeming trait about him is his honesty about his wicked schemes or maybe this is just a way of rationalizing his guilty conscience. His present day counterparts include Vice President Dick Cheney and former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Is the Canterbury Tales a story on how Medieval England perpetuated a culture of inequality?
During Chaucer’s time, there are very rigid class barriers that cannot be transcended. Like the “Haberdasher” never ever contemplates on becoming a “Knight” someday.
Women were treated in an arcane system that is a cross between being a property and a holy cow. They are pampered by their spouses or suitors lavishly, but have little by the way of individual rights. Women back then can only develop their intellectual prowess if they’ll enter into a convent and become a nun.
People back then have a strong faith in God and they believe that He keeps their universe in perfect working order.
In my opinion, one cannot ignore the message the tale is trying to tell. It treats anything as trivial and irrelevant as the reader searches for the moral of the story. Someone well versed in English Literature studies might defend the work by stating this story’s raison d’être is prosody, literary structure etc. and tells me that this is not a philosophy class. In the end, I’d rather live in a future that has undeniable proof that we descended from animals than to live in a past that believes that we are the pinnacle of God’s creation but can do nothing else like the proverbial “Taliban Cardiologist”.

First Woman in Space

Was the Soviet Space Program a milestone for feminism or an esoteric footnote in history to be gawked at by academics?

By: Vanessa Uy

In today’s world where feminism is a living / breathing ideology, Why is it that virtually no one knows who is Valentina Tereshkova. Most feminists worth their salt within a stone’s throw from me don’t even know her. Even more surprising is that a majority of those who knew her exploits are men over 32. Isn’t that weird? She started working as a mill hand in Soviet Russia. Then probably served the mandatory required military service, which is quite common in the former Soviet Union. During her military service, Valentina Tereshkova became a skilled skydiver which didn’t go unnoticed by the powers- that- be in the Soviet Space Program. On June 1963, the then 26- year- old Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space almost 20 years ahead of the next woman astronaut, an American named Sally Ryde. Valentina Tereshkova made 48 orbits in the Vostok VI spacecraft. Later she became the bride of cosmonaut Andrian Nikolayev.

In the beginning of the 20th Century, almost yesterday in terms of advancement of women’s causes, feminists in England are brandishing their allegiance to Marxist-Leninist Socialism in the hope of advancing their cause. Isn’t Valentina Tereshkova the proof of Socialism’s amicability with feminism or is she just a casualty of the Catholic Church’s exercise of “Posse Comitatus” on Left-leaning views?

Review of Research Papers / Publications on Science Education, Part II

Vanessa Uy

Student’s Preferences for Different Contexts for Learning Science

By: Jung-Suk Choi and Jinwoong Song

Research in Science Education, 1996

Choi and Song’s research paper has a scope that’s not only limited to teaching natural science subjects, like biology and physics. It can be applied to social science subjects as well, like Political Science. One evergreen topic that is often discussed in a political science class is feminism, which most middle-class-unmarried twenty-something college women can relate to. As a “cause celebre”, these women are within their rights to question our present patriarchal status - quo which to every quid pro “for blurry” quo, the dismay of a male professor not mindful of these things. Like the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision on Roe versus Wade abortion issue. An intellectual discussion that parallels in formulating a theory that works in uniting Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity with Quantum Mechanics. All sides of the issue must be put into account. Like is it better to abort a life not yet human than to subject that said human to a life of socio – economic scapegoat. In this post 9 / 11 word, majority of the civilized world rejected the ”Taliban”. I hope that through education, we will reject the path of barbarism.

Problems Facing Science Education In The Philippines

By: Vanessa Uy

Isn’t the working title of this article, seem so ironic? I would not be surprised that right now in a remote corner of our country, a science teacher is being burned on the steak a la Giordano Bruno. In order to formulate a viable solution, lets examine the dilemma faced by our science educators.

The problem facing science education in the Philippines is that there is an incoherence of the three levels of curricula. It is a threefold problem first caused by a lack of a concrete educational philosophy / aim / mission of our own. Second, some subjects are not in harmony to our Filipino culture. Third, some curriculum planners have more than enough resources but lack creativity in formulating brilliant solutions to mundane problems.

Maybe there will be enough brilliant people who are fed up by these second hand tragedies that they would create an educational “renaissance” here in our country. But the main obstacle is the first problem mentioned. Most of what we know (i.e. being taught in schools) about philosophy is the Western Judaeo-Christian sort. Every intellectual worth his or her salt knows that this is inferior compared to the best the East or Orient has to offer like Sun Tsu or Deepak Chopka. (Is this just a quirk of genetic memory that I’m kind of uncomfortable with most of the teachings of “The Holy Bible”, or a topic to be discussed in the near future?). We need first to grow as a society to solve problem number one. A solution whose critics say “a big waste of time that we do not have. Problem number two is being solved at present but at a pitifully slow rate. Its solution is hindered by politics, incompetent powers-that –be, and by book publishers (Attention Vibal Publishing!) who conduct their business like Arab dictators. Problem number three may be waiting to be solved by the new generation of curriculum planners, but when? Should we wait until the government’s jingoism suits our fancy? The need is immediate, and I think this is the right time that the teacher should apply their leadership skills. Teachers should also display integrity and genuine sincerity to the well being of their students / pupils so that they will be able to influence them the value of hard work and intelligence and all those teaching strategies / techniques will come naturally, like water flowing downhill.

Introduction to Edmund Spenser

Literature can be defined as the collected oral and written works of a society that depict the people’s beliefs, values, mores and aspirations, as well as their struggles in life.

In this column, Vanessa and Bones will publish their views and reviews on English Literature hoping to provide insight and aid to those interested in this subject. Whether you are taking English Literature as part of your course and presently suffering from lazy-ass syndrome or just into it out of love here’s to ya.

The works in question are not presented chronologically but by availability and demand for the said topic.

Due to the rarity of material about Edmund Spenser and some college professor’s insistence on assigning “fool’s errands” to unfortunate students. This is a good place to start.

Edmund Spenser (c. 1552-1599)

Edmund Spenser was born in East Smithfield, London. He first studied at the Merchant Tailors’ school and then to Pembroke Hall, Cambridge (that’s England). At college, he was fortunate in getting acquainted with Gabriel Harvey, a notable scholar and critic back then. Harvey was instrumental in getting the young author appointed to the Earl of Leicester’s household. Thus earning the patronage of royalty that later allow Spenser to be noticed by the greatest patron of the arts in all of the British Isles at that time, Queen Elizabeth I.

Edmund Spenser’s Contribution to English Literature

By: Bones

Spenser developed a format in poetry called a Senserian Stanza. A kind of Iambic pentameter that is very useful in describing vivid imagery in a poetic sense that is widely adapted by latter poets like Keats, Milton, and Pope.

His use of allegory in subtly describing his own political beliefs or opinions won the praise of readers and critics throughout the ages for its artistry and intricate imagery.

His epic poems are a challenge to read through, but satisfying once you’ve finished them like Bjork’s Homogenic album.

The Faerie Queen

A critical reflection of one of Edmund Spenser’s most famous work.

By: Vanessa Uy

The Faerie Queen to me is a political and moral allegory that establishes the views of Edmund Spenser regarding the local and foreign policies of Queen Elizabeth I’s kingdom. At the time, most of the nations of the world were ruled by a political system called “Absolute Monarchy.” Artisans like poets, painters, sculptors, and architects were vying for patrons. Luckily, monarchs like Queen Elizabeth I was a very generous patron for the arts. She employed Spenser as a royal poet. After this, Spenser only has to worry about writing poetry, because Spenser would be provided with amenities: like food, shelter, or means of travel by the Queen.

The poem is divided into six books. Each book tells how various virtues allow a knight and his lady or paige to accomplish their mission given by Queen Gloriana, the Faerie Queen. The first book is about the virtue of holiness typified by the Red Crossed Knight. The second: temperence; the third, chastity; the fourth, friendship; the fifth, justice; and the sixth, courtesy. There were supposedly twelve books that should have been completed by Spenser describing the twelve Aristotolian virtues that would make a person noble.

Two of the characters that I can relate to in this poem were Talus the Iron Man, and Brittomart the Lady Knight. Talus the Iron Man was Queen Gloriana’s instrument of retribution, which also makes him known as “the punisher.” Together with Artegal, they punished the thieving Saracen King for his crimes against the traders and travelers passing through his domain. Talus is like an allegory of the American foreign policy of “dropping the hammer” on her enemies. While Brittomart, one of the knights appointed by Queen Gloriana to hold Archimago’s plans at bay. Spenser’s engendering her the virtue of chastity might be an allegory for integrity which means her ideals cannot be corrupted by the “false teachings” of Archimago. To me Brittomart is more an allegory of a woman in power like the then Secretary of State Madeleigne Allbright or Condeliza Rice than a female U.S. Army ground pounder.

Spenser conveys the description of Queen Elizabeth I’s kingdom as faerieland maybe because most common people have difficulty understanding the rigmarole of running a kingdom. The domestic and foreign policies that are to be enforced i.e. the clash between Anglicanism and The Roman Catholic Church and the raids committed by the Saracens (read that: lawless Arab Muslims) on the merchants with cargo from the Orient (silk and spices from China/Cathay) which have to pass through Arab lands before reaching their European buyers. These things might have left a lot of people stumped. But by using allegory and some elements of classical Greek and Roman literature, Faerie Queen could be accessible by most of Queen Elizabeth I’s subjects with reading skills a few rungs above the basic.

Spenser’s portrayal of some Muslims as bandits might be viewed as prejudicial in today’s culturally sensitive and politically correct climes. It’s just to bad that there’s been very little progress in forging understanding between the Islamic World and the West.

Art of Election

After World War II, art academics describe Dadaism as an artistic movement hijacked by politicians to embellish their propaganda machines. Here’s some of the how and the why.

By: Vanessa Uy

Whenever election time comes around, I tend not to take my civic duties lightly. Since this is one of the few times when we ordinary folks are granted the power to decide the future of our nation and for the betterment of everyone. But there’s no ignoring that art, for better or for worse- plays a much larger role than you think in the coming political races.

Dadaism, as defined by Webster’s dictionary as an artistic movement based on deliberate irrationality and negation of the laws of beauty and organization. If at first we steer away from the political connotations, Dadaism in my experience has a fixation with the absurd or flippant imagery, object d’art or actions were presented as opposed to conventional art works. For example, a wooden bust of George W. Bush were presented with a machete attached by a chain, visitors are invited to chop at it if they so desire. Dadaism’s strongly represented protest against the conventional sentimental admiration of art. The movement gained popularity in France, from 1916 until the start of the 1920’s, when a sect of Dadaism that has grown tired of politics merged into surrealism. In more recent times, surrealism is more commonly displayed in the cover art of albums by the Rock group Yes and the Salvador Dali-esque Anthrax’s “Persistence of Time” album cover art.

One Dadaist symbolism that’s been hijacked by political forces was the “fasces”. The fasces were formed by a bundle of rods bound with a red cord, which was carried by the lictor (attendant of a magistrate) in ancient Rome. The fasces symbolized the magistrate’s authority to enforce obedience. Outside the walls of Rome, an ax (securis) was carried in augmentation to the bundle of rods; the ax indicated that the, magistrate, as a military commander, could exercise the power of life and death over those under his command. The fasces, was chosen by Benito Mussolini as the symbol of his 1919 movement in Italy, which became the “Fascist Party”.

The Marxist-Leninist Socialism’s iconic hammer and sickle emblem, which symbolizes Communism, was used on the Soviet flag. During the Cold War, the hammer and sickle was a very ominous iconic symbol, which the Western powers say best symbolizes the “Evil Empire” which brought humanity to the brink of nuclear annihilation.

One politician here in the Philippines has an electoral poster designed to make this certain politician look like an Orwellian “Big Brother.” This poster design, castes the politician in a sinister light even though this certain politician has a good track record with an altruism that doesn’t pave the proverbial road to hell. Better consult your “focus groups.” Just like the wooden George W. Bush bust with the machete, political/election posters are torn down after election in a cathartic expression of renewal.

To know more about Dadaism, check out DW-TV’s Arts21 web site.

Monday, April 23, 2007

How Green is Nuclear Fission?

After hearing the news from the BBC and Germany’s DW-TV that the EU is strongly considering building fission-type nuclear power plants to lessen carbon dioxide emissions prompts everyone to ask: How green is nuclear fission?

By: Vanessa Uy

This is by far one of the most controversial proposals of the European Union: Evaluating the idea of increasing the number of fission-type nuclear power plants to meet the European Unions growing demand for energy while limiting the carbon dioxide produced by this activity. Even since commercial use of nuclear energy began in the 1950’s, scientists are already concerned that there comes a time in the future that carbon dioxide generated by burning fossil fuels can increase the green house effect causing global warming. The Chernobyl nuclear plant incident back in April 26, 1986 caused the cancellation of any proposed nuclear power plants due to safety concerns.

Commercial fission-type nuclear power plants have always been targeted by picketing and protesting environmentalists for all the good reasons; radioactive wastes. This is one of the inevitable by - product of generating electricity via nuclear power and they can stay dangerously radioactive for up to a million years. “Radwastes” need a safe storage space where they can’t cause any harm for that length of time. Also, fission-type nuclear power plants generate excess heat and this is usually released in nearby large bodies of water wreaking havoc on the local estuarine ecosystem.

Nuclear power plants have their obvious benefits ever since Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” spoke of the dangers of increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere via industrial processes causing global warming. Day by day, nuclear fission gained legitimacy because it doesn’t generate carbon dioxide once in full operation. A very attractive process despite concerns on safety, radioactive waste storage and the threat of terrorists and rogue states acquiring weapons grade material.

Another problem that the experts haven’t discussed or are reluctant to is that the mining and refining of uranium or other similar fissionable material is very energy intensive. I’d be amazed that there is a nuclear fuel refinery in existence that uses renewable energy like wind or solar (photo voltaic or thermal) to process pitchblende and similar ores into yellow cake concentrate to uranium slugs.

“What about breeder reactors?” They can continually generate their own fuel so radioactive wastes will not be a problem and the energy intensive refining of uranium would be minimized. But, and it’s a very big one: the problem with breeder reactors is that the waste that gets recycled back into fuel is plutonium which is very easy to use as a weapons grade material. The problems of terrorist groups and rogue states probably stymied the widespread use of breeder-type reactors. These breeder-type nuclear fission reactors can only be found in easily defended and secure sites and the ones found in the US, Japan and France are the only ones freely talked about in the press.

Breeder reactors are green and eco-friendly in its own way, but like the existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre implies in his philosophical views: “Hell is other people.” If you want to know more about the carbon cycle and view detailed diagrams check out “”.

Celebrating the Best of Osibisa

Here’s a band whose mission is to tell everyone there’s more to continental Africa than wars and despotic leaders.

By: Vanessa Uy

For all it’s worth, almost everyone I knew has a certain ignorant-leaning pre-conception about African music. Most of them conjure up sounds and images of 1930’s Johnny Weissmöler –era Tarzan. But lets face it, those of us who are “in the know” knew that it’s more than that.

Recently, all that we seem to hear about Africa is the crisis in the Darfur Region, “conflict diamonds” or what kind of atrocities the Zimbabwe strongman Robert Mugabe has inflicted upon his political rivals. Even one of the most trusted names in journalism, the BBC seems to have a fixation on the ugly facets of Africa. Well, as always, I’ve put it upon myself to explore what might have been to me an artistic expression that extols this continent’s rich cultural heritage: African Music.

The first time I heard “Celebration-The Best of Osibisa”, I was transported into a parallel universe: A universe were the Catholic Church gained enlightenment the same time Michaelangelo finished his paintings on the Sistine Chapel. A Catholic Church that learned the true meaning of “self-determination” and “human rights”; a universe were slavery was resolved in continental Africa without the European and American powers becoming entangled in its evil rigmarole. You know: an Africa whose art and culture was evolved by people who benefited from self-determination. We’re allowed to dream, aren’t we?

Osibisa are one of those bands that helped launch a new style of music back in 1970 called "Afro-Rock." Osibisa’s fusion of African music and Rock laid the groundwork for succeeding generations of African musicians to benefit the growing worldwide interest in African music. Witness the success of Paul Simon’s “Graceland” album whose roster of South African musicians gave them global exposure.

Osibisa, whose core members hailed from Ghana in West Africa, were catapulted to stardom on their gig in London back in 1970. Their albums became Afro-Rock classics like “Osibisa”, ”Wo Ya Ya”, ”Heads”, ”Superfly”, ”Welcome Home”, ”Ojah Awake” and “Mystic Energy” which collectively sold over 8 million copies-a feat no other African band has ever came close to.

Although passed over somewhat by the 1990’s World Music phenomenon that catapulted Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to crossover stardom in the MTV circuit and specifically, the ascent to stardom of Siphó Gumede and Moses Taiwa Molelekwa at that time. Osibisa created more than any other band, the groundwork for the entire African Rock Music movement to become the vibrantly flourishing culture today.

“Celebration-The Best of Osibisa” is their greatest hits compilation. For the benefit of those who heard them the first time around, the tracks on this album include: “Everybody Happy”, “Happy Children”, “Wo Ya Ya”, “Welcome Home”, “Right Now”, “Ke Le Le” and others taken from their previous albums. Osibisa’s sound and message, even back in the turbulent times of the 1970’s where most of the African continent is in turmoil, has an optimism that anticipated 1990’s post-Apartheid South Africa. To me, this album is highly recommended to Bob Marley fans so that they may gain a deeper insight into the roots of Reggae and Rastafarian culture.

Does NASA Have a Problem?

After the headline grabbing antics of astronaut-gone-amok Lisa Nowak and the shooting incident in their Houston, Texas facility, is NASA infected by the proverbial “Andromeda Strain?”

By: Vanessa Uy

Female NASA astronaut wearing adult diapers for a non-stop 900 mile or so drive armed with an Airsoft/BB gun in the name of vendetta seems like a stuff made for cheesy network TV Serials that’s likely to be found in NBC’s fall lineup, but no. This incident really happened and it’s been a source of fodder for Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien’s starting monologues of their respective shows. Unsolicited comments of NASA staff point the finger at the inhuman levels of competition to be next in line for the next shuttle mission as the likely cause for Lisa Nowak’s bizarre behavior.

The cutthroat competition between aspiring astronauts to gain merits is an unfortunate side effect for an institution that extols excellence above all else. I have relatives who have yet to turn 25 who have graduated from the prestigious Admiral Farragut Academy and I can safely say they won’t be on the shortlist for future missions to the planet Mars.

Also the recent incident of hostage taking and shootings on NASA’s Houston, Texas facility might cause almost anyone to wonder the existence of the fabled “Andromeda Strain.”

How Eco Friendly is Corn Derived Ethanol?

After watching a series of documentaries presented by the BBC in their climate watch series, I think its about time that we reevaluate corn- derived ethanol’s green credentials.

By: Vanessa Uy

Corn-derived ethanol is a bio fuel derived from fermenting corn syrup that can be mixed with varying amounts of gasoline or petrol that can run conventional gasoline engines with varying degrees of very minor modifications. At first, anyone, including the experts will testify that this is a very good way to limit our technological society’s continuous adding of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere, which is the main cause of global warming. Note: that corn plants are continually growing and producing fruits and every time it does this it removes- the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere where the gas increases the greenhouse effect- sending it to the corn’s various parts where the carbon dioxide is converted to cellulose. This is the idea behind “carbon capture” where excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is removed from where it causes the most harm to where it can be stored safely like the corn’s cellulose structure. As we already know, excess carbon dioxide produced by our technological society is contributing to the greenhouse effect that’s warming up our planet thus increasing the strength of new hurricanes causing widespread damage.

This carbon capture solution via the widespread planting of corn crops for use in bio fuel production seems like hitting two birds with one stone. Since corn plants are sustainable because it continually bears fruits where the corn-derived ethanol can be processed unlike “fossil fuel” sources like petroleum in which the gasoline or diesel fuels derived from this doesn’t revert back to petroleum as opposed to a bio fuel like corn-derived ethanol.

So, what’s the problem? After watching those BBC documentaries on their climate watch series, so far, the scientists haven’t yet conducted studies on the extent on how truly carbon neutral (i.e. doesn’t contribute carbon dioxide into the atmosphere) plant derived bio fuels are from all levels of production to usage. After the corn-derived ethanol is burned in an internal combustion engine either for transport or electricity generation, the resulting carbon dioxide gas lingers in the atmosphere for a while. No study yet exists if how long should this carbon dioxide be allowed to linger in the atmosphere before it becomes a problem. It takes a relatively long time for this carbon dioxide to be absorbed into the corn’s cellulose structure compared to the length of time ethanol is produced from the corn. Also, the process of harvesting the corn and fermenting it into ethanol takes energy at present, this energy is likely being generated by burning fossil fuels. And another thing, fermenting the sugars in corn syrup to ethanol produces carbon dioxide that eventually escapes into the atmosphere. Whether this amount of carbon dioxide is more or less than the one generated by the corn-derived ethanol when burned in an internal combustion engine is yet to be studied.

Also, using crops which are originally intended as food so that affluent people could continue to drive around their cars without being penalized by up and coming stricter environmental laws might cause more harm than good. Back in 2005, Mexican corn growers marched in protest against using corn as fuel because this might increase corn prices increasing the burden on the poor who are most likely to use corn as food as opposed to using corn to fill up their cars.

Fortunately until a newer study of this nature is presented, bio fuels like corn-derived ethanol might only be a bit cleaner than their fossil fuel derived counterparts. The BBC, CNN, Discovery Channel, National Geographic or any other environmentally oriented media corporation are not likely to run out of ideas for documentaries about how to take better care of our planet.

To know more about the carbon cycle and view detailed diagrams check out “”.

Elephant Dung Power

About a year ago, I saw a program on the BBC called “World Challenge” about manufacturing paper from elephant dung. As of late, there’s one more use of elephant dung.

By: Vanessa Uy

After viewing a program on BBC called “World Challenge” where large sums for capital are awarded to start-up whose business model benefits their respective local community. A venture about producing paper from elephant dung was proving to be a local success. The benefits of this are a godsend because there’s a large portion of unemployed poor people found in countries that regularly use elephants as draft animals like in the Indian sub-continent and in Thailand.

There’s also a very recent discovery by scientists about a genus of fungus found in elephant dung that’s very efficient in converting it to methane. If developed, it could serve as a basis for a very efficient bio - gas digester and since bio - gas systems has moved beyond its hippie-flower-power-mystic image that it was thirty or so years ago. Bio - gas digesters are now a viable source of cheap methane for cooking and heating in domestic settings.

In their series of “Climate Watch” programs, the BBC sent their alternative/renewable energy correspondents to rural parts of China the past year where pig waste is converted to methane via bio – gas digesters for cooking and heating their homes. This may serve as an alternative to the Chinese government’s program of building coal-fired power plants at a rate of almost one-a-week.

The “beeb” may have to send their alternative/renewable energy correspondents to cover the development stage of an elephant dung bio – gas digester to study its viability. If this works, it may become an inexpensive source of cooking fuel for those living in India, Bangladesh, Thailand or anywhere with a large untapped elephant dung supply.

Silent Spring Revisited

Way before Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” became the environmental rally point for the “Generation Next”, Rachel Carson had a dire warning on the wanton use of pesticides in the 1960’s.

By: Vanessa Uy

To me, environmentalism gained a foothold in the Western psyche in the intervening years after World War II. Even though it’s roots could be traced back to the 19th Century by the ideals of most sensitive, reflective and most observant of folks like Henry David Thoreau whose nature-is-best treatise “Walden” inspired environmental consciousness in America. While John Muir, the Californian naturalist and writer pioneered in protest against man’s rape of the wilderness.

I first learned of Rachel L. Carson’s “Silent Spring” from an educational animated film where the music teacher lectured on how Ludwig Van Beethoven was inspired to compose his then famous Fifth Symphony after listening to the singing of springtime birds. Then the teacher elaborated to her class what would be left to inspire our future musicians and artists if the ongoing environmental destruction continues unabated. To me, those gifted renaissance persons whose skills made the internet into the present very user friendly incarnation that we use today, if I dare presume, must have been inspired by reflecting on nature’s beauty. If they are rather inspired by staring at leaking corroded pipes in home basements and big city alleyways, then I’ll be very much surprised.

Back in 1962, when marine biologist Rachel Carson published “Silent Spring”, she rallied a battle cry for a generation of environmentalists. Carson made the issue of the harmful effects of environmental pollution more than a mere academic abstraction for graduate school ecologists. At the time, extensive research had found out that DDT-type insecticides (aromatic chlorinated hydrocarbons) can interfere with the ability of most wild birds to produce a hard protective shell for their eggs. Thus shedding the light on the cause of the slowly dwindling population of springtime birds in the continental United States hence the title of Carson’s book: “Silent Spring.”

Is environmentalism a lost cause simply because only the environmentally conscious heed the warnings of environmentalists and put it upon themselves to take the necessary steps in protecting our environment? To me, this might have been true for the past 40 or so years, but thanks to the efforts of a new generation of environmentalists like Al Gore, Rachel Carson’s crusade for a better planet is still very much alive.

How Green is Coco Diesel?

After watching a series of documentaries presented by the BBC in their climate watch series, I think its about time that we reevaluate coco diesel’s green credentials.

By: Vanessa Uy

Coco diesel is a bio fuel derived from the coconut fruit that can run conventional diesel engines with varying degrees of very minor modifications. At first, anyone, including the experts will testify that this is a very good way to limit our technological society’s continuous adding of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere, which is the main cause of global warming. Note: that coconut trees are continually growing and producing fruits and every time it does this it removes the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere where the gas increases the greenhouse effect to the coconuts various parts where the carbon dioxide is converted to cellulose. This is the idea behind “carbon capture” where excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is removed from where it causes the most harm to where it can be stored safely like the coconut tree’s cellulose structure. As we already know, excess carbon dioxide produced by our technological society is contributing to the greenhouse effect that’s warming up our planet thus increasing the strength of new hurricanes causing widespread damage.

This carbon capture solution via the widespread planting of coconut trees for use in bio fuel production seems like hitting two birds with one stone. Since coconut trees are sustainable because it continually bears fruits where the coco diesel can be processed unlike “fossil fuel” sources like petroleum in which the gasoline or diesel fuels derived from this doesn’t revert back to petroleum as opposed to a bio fuel like coco diesel.

So, what’s the problem? After watching those BBC documentaries on their climate watch series, so far, the scientists haven’t yet conducted studies on the extent on how truly carbon neutral (i.e. doesn’t contribute carbon dioxide into the atmosphere) plant derived bio fuels are from all levels of production to usage. After the coco diesel is burned in an internal combustion engine either for transport or electricity generation, the resulting carbon dioxide gas lingers in the atmosphere for a while. No study yet exists if how long should this carbon dioxide be allowed to linger in the atmosphere before it becomes a problem. It takes a relatively long time for this carbon dioxide to be absorbed into the coconut tree’s cellulose structure compared to the length of time coco diesel is produced from the coconut fruit. Also, the process of husking the coconut fruit and producing coco diesel takes energy at present, this energy is likely being generated by burning fossil fuels.

Also, using crops which are originally intended as food so that affluent people could continue to drive around their cars without being penalized by upcoming stricter environmental laws might do more harm than good. Coconut based food products would skyrocket, increasing the burden of the poor on their daily meals.

Another problem that hinders coco diesel from becoming fiscally competitive to petroleum derived diesel is the government-concerned-dragging-of-heels in legislating tax cuts and issuing grants to those start up companies who are making coco diesel.

Fortunately until a newer study of this nature is presented, bio fuels like coco diesel might only be a bit cleaner than their fossil fuel derived counterparts. The BBC, CNN, Discovery Channel, National Geographic or any other environmentally concerned media corporation are not likely to run out of ideas for documentaries about how to take better care of our planet.

If you like to know more about the carbon cycle and view detailed diagrams, check out “”.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Perfect Sound Forever?

Electronics giants Sony and Philips introduced the compact disc or C.D. to an unsuspecting consumer electronic market back in 1983 to supposedly replace the vinyl LP with claims of “perfect sound forever.” Does this claim still hold true in 2007, or is this just a triumph of marketing?

By: Vanessa Uy

Perfect sound? As like a bunch of musicians playing in front of me or with me…Well? As a bunch, we audiophiles are no fools. This is evident on why we are always mindful of our “investment” after parting with our hard-earned cash. Even though I’m still a novice in this hobby, my experiences so far, both good and bad haven’t yet disappointed me. As the last three years of being seriously involved in hi-fi, I’ve taken it upon myself to become an audio tourist of sorts. Visiting various camps and schools-of-thought of varying degrees of disparity and of hospitality always interests me. The vinyl LP community was a fascinating revelation since I only own seven LPs. The major bulk of the music software I own are the 500+ CDs and MP3 downloads. In the audiophile universe, LP lovers are extremely influential. I’ve tweaked and set up my CD player to sound as close to a US$1,000 LP turntable as possible to achieve “investment satisfaction” i.e. musicality. Today (to audiophiles it’s synonymous to the phrase: from1989 onwards), we judge a CD player’s performance by how it mimics vinyl LP’s musicality. Isn’t this the most ironic of anachronisms?

Since the release of CD in 1983, experienced audiophiles armed with their golden ears have always doubted on CD’s claims of “the perfect sound” after an extended audition. At the risk of sounding “philosophical”, CD’s shortcomings can be blamed on how Sony and Philips, the two corporate giants who developed CD. To me it’s because first and foremost these corporations are run, by: bureaucrats, as opposed to musicians, who are by- and- large artists. In my experience bureaucrats doesn’t acknowledge that a problem exists unless there is already a solution- at- hand. So that is why during the late 1980’s to the mid 1990’s, Sony and Philips made a concerted effort to explore the shortcomings of the digital “code” that runs CD or any other digital audio processing system then in existence since these are more or less the same. The race is on to better the “perfect” sound.

Toward the end of the 1980’s, audio engineers discovered the root cause of CD’s shortcomings namely jitter. Audio engineers who worked the development of digital audio processing at the end of the 1970’s thought that the effects of jitter cannot be heard by the human ear, so this phenomenon is only of academic interest. Anomalies that then were discovered that affected CD sound quality can only be objectively analyzed by expensive (new ones start at US$1,000) and “specialized” (they don’t play DVDs or make your stereo sound better) equipment like jitter analyzers and harmonic distortion meters. But this does not mean that we can’t hear these problems on a good audio system. Using one’s own pair of ears, a CD player with high levels of jitter manifests itself when a recorded snare drum doesn’t sound quite right. I’ve done this using LP and CD versions of Eric Clapton albums. If the drum/percussion parts sound as if they don’t have the right impact or rhythm or “groove”, then jitter is to blame. The often quoted almost zero percent harmonic distortion of CD only holds true for audio signals near the maximum level allowable i.e. loudest part of the music. I’ve heard this mostly on classical piano recordings. When the music piece are filled with parts that indicate “piano” (small p) on the sheet music or “play this note at 40 decibels sound pressure level" (as loud as someone speaking in a normal voice 50 meters away from you), these notes invariably end up sounding glassy on CD. Compared to Glenn Gould playing Bach on my old CBS LP. The near silent notes, even though almost swamped by LP surface noise, still sound natural compared to CD.

That’s why during the early 1990’s, CD sound quality was “improved” by Sony’s Super Bit Mapping. A digital processing scheme that alleviates the distortion of the low- level signals i.e. quiet parts of the music. Generally this made CD sound less “hard” and “glassy.” Other techniques introduced around this time to improve the “perfect sound” of CD were Pacific Microsonic Incorporated of California’s HDCD. This process makes CD sound as if it has more bandwidth .The 44.1kHz.sampling rate specification of CD means it can’t record sounds whose frequencies are above 22.05kHz. HDCD also has lesser distortion on low level signals (fault of CD’s16 bit data width that makes it unable to reliably record sounds below 40 dB. S.P.L.). Philips also developed their own signal processing technique like dither and noise shaping to make “16bit CDs” sound smoother and more ”analog.” The latest generation of CD players, are designed to have an inherently low measured jitter for better sound.

In my own experience, I swear that these techniques used to improve the sound of standard 16bit CDs does work. I'm fortunate enough to acquire music CDs in both standard (these are likely released during the 1980’s) and “improved” versions whether SBM or HDCD versions (usually mid to late 1990’s re-issues). HDCD have a smoother sound and more realistic bass compared to their standard CD counterparts while SBM versions are more widely available despite of HDCD’s more analog and LP like sound quality. The good thing is that all of them makes CDs sound more focused, more “rhythmically correct” and louder than their unimproved counterparts. The bad thing is they require serious money to acquire.

If I can make a wish, the consumer electronic powers-that-be should improve digital audio by using a specification that is vastly superior to the standard CD’s 16 bit 44.1 kHz. sampling rate like DVD audio’s 24 bit 96 kHz. sampling. What good does it do if I can hear sounds up to 80 kHz. and not enjoy the pleasure of having this ability? What about SACD? Why don’t the consumer electronic powers-that-be use their massive marketing campaign like they did on 16 bit CDs back in 1983? Are these companies too busy being involved with the United States’ Department of Defense on their “War on Terror”?

Even today majority of the public don’t know that better than CD sound quality exists, or that there are still people who enjoy listening to their vinyl LPs on a daily basis. Since high- resolution digital audio was released to the market back in 1998, the consumer electronic powers-that be should have exerted more effort in marketing it because in the end, they would be giving their customers the privilege of what is technologically possible. In short most of us don’t live in a recording studio or are close to musicians that we really like.

Downloadable music and recording your own CDs on your personal computer may be de rigueur to a majority of today’s music loving teens. I’ve experienced first hand the sound quality of these “clones” and I can safely say I’d rather go to fishing. The Music Industry are bemoaning about the incidents of on-line music piracy for almost ten years now. Could this incident be avoided in the first place by campaigning on “good sound quality” or releasing “good to excellent quality reasonably priced music software” to the public and making these widely available? As I witnessed on the ease of “burning” or “cloning” music CDs on your PC, maybe Sony and Philips should change their slogan on CD from “Perfect Sound Forever.” To “Consistent Sound Forever.”

Media Censorship Revisited

By: May Anne Uy

“Nobody can take away the one thing I can depend on, which is enjoying the music.” Say’s Eric Johnson on his December, 1982 interview on “Guitar Player” magazine. On a personal level, I can really identify with him on how music affects our lives. But there’s a monster out there that refuses to die that could ruin our enjoyment of music. Censorship is back, with a vengeance. My best friend, who grew up in the 1980’s has wrestled with this beast most of his life. He’s an aspiring musician whose love for music is a zen-like transcendence. He’s been through the PMRC (Parent’s Music Resource Center) fiasco back in 1989. Back then if you are into music that’s been labeled as a degenerate art by the Catholic Church, like Heavy Metal or Wagner’s Operas, you’re just labeled weird. Then 1999 came, the Y2K Bug, and Jesus don’t like Metal (?) attitude made hip by weak willed degenerates as a fashion statement du jour. Then came 9 / 11, as the Catholic Church became “Talibanized” for five years running, this monster got a new lease on tenure to make us music lovers suffer. Today, you could get fired if your employer finds out that you’re into “degenerate art”. And they say that media piracy is killing the music industry worldwide. Is the future of media censorship painful or interesting? I just hope I can live through this.

Oral Sects

Do audiophiles have a special language of their own, or is it just a symptom of the perception on how skeptical people see as the persistent delusion that everyone of us perpetuate on a daily basis?

By: Vanessa Uy

Ever since I’ve learned how to read and write, I’ve always had a closeted fascination for anthropology. It might be because there’s been a consensus in the anthropological community of late that of all the 6,000 languages documented globally, only half of them are taught or passed on to the next generation. Is this a foreboding that the audiophile community is in danger of waning away into oblivion?

The terms that are also used by those- analytical- bunch called “engineers” whether of the electronic, acoustic, or of the communications persuasion will not be discussed here to avoid duplication. Here, we concentrate on the more subjective terms that can only be assessed by first hand listening.

One of these subjective terms is called “audiophilia nervosa” which means someone is more concerned on how there favorite musical piece. For example Beethoven’s Ninth/Ode to Joy will sound on a certain brand or audio system set-up as opposed to whether the music in question is well-performed or inherently well-composed in the first place. To me, this is the root cause of some audiophile’s apparent dissatisfaction of their hi-fi equipment they already have. Thus spending ungodly amounts of money in perpetual equipment upgrade in search of that “perfect sound”. If you think you are suffering from this sort of mental illness, better take a long hard look at your record/music collection.

Musicality is also a very subjective term. It means when certain stereo equipment can replicate not only the sound of the recorded music being played but also the emotion the artist or performer is trying to convey. As opposed to sounding just like a collection of electronic equipment and speakers. A certain audiobuddy of mine has a rig with a penchant of replicating the sound of a heavy metal band drum kit, albeit a drum kit being played in an acoustically treated space. Civilians/non-audiophiles hate my audiobuddy’s system for the reason that they can’t hear the tweeter working. All they hear are various cymbals, rim shots, and drum skins. Mind you these are the same “civilians” who like their tweeter to sound like a cricket or a cicada screaming its guts out.

Imaging and soundstaging is more akin to using visual descriptions to gauge your audio system’s capability. The individual sounds comprising a sonic ensemble. And how accurately your audio system differentiates them in their respective locations in space is known as imaging. While soundstaging is about how your audio system projects the sum total of the individual sound images from left to right of the speakers or to the front to back of them. Soundstaging usually applies to traditional two-channel stereo where the performance is happening in front and this is the way we preferred it. The lead guitarist never ever sneaks up behind me in real life.

To me, the one that takes the cake is the term called “British sound” or to describe a sound system as “British sounding”. To me, it might be because the Brits have been making hi-fi kit for a much longer time and in greater variety when compared to other industrialized nations. Or more likely, it’s because the typical British audiophile has a certain size and construction of listening rooms: medium sized in global terms, wood floored, and with walls made of plaster or brick. They also prefer a more upbeat sound, or they prize the sense of pace, rhythm, and timing in their audio systems.

So, there you have it. Feel free to drop us a line if there’s anything that we missed, or if you have a first hand experience about these mysterious audiophile phenomena.

Is CD the New LP?

In today’s world of online music downloads, are CDs becoming the new vinyl LP for those of us who still give a damn about sound quality and album cover art?

By: Vanessa Uy

Twenty years from now, I’d be telling wild tales about the good old days to my son or daughter about how airlines back then fly at twice the speed of sound. That it used to take just three hours give or take a few minutes to cross the Atlantic. The sad part about this is that all my children knew all their lives is that it takes more than eight hours to cross the Atlantic by air.

Does today’s trends on passenger flight mirror that of the audio electronic industry’s flawed view on current consumer wants and needs. About the time when I was born during the mid- 1990’s, every serious audiophile was praising the superior musicality of the vinyl LP over that of CD. And thank God that I was fortunate enough to invest in a very good vinyl LP replay equipment even though my music software collection is mostly CD like a hundred times more plentiful than my LP collection.

Now that the “music industry” finally learned how to profit from on line music downloads which almost destroyed it at the end of the 20th Century this inadvertently raised the status of the humble 16-bit 44.1Khz- sampled compact disc. CD thus became the new vinyl LP to the “generation next” audiophiles who still give a damn about sound quality and cover art. Should we audiophiles be up in arms about this? Should we speak out before it’s too late? Well…

Let’s take a look back on why human beings invented/created music recording and playback technologies in the first place. Near the end of the 19th Century when Thomas Edison invented the first phonograph/sound- recording device primarily for educational purposes. But many an entrepreneur saw the money making potential as an entertainment device by selling recordings of famous singers and musicians of the day thus spawned the beginnings of the recording/music-industry. Enrico Caruso, a very famous opera singer at the time became a multi-millionaire almost overnight from the royalties of the recordings being sold. As time went on, the sound recording/reproducing-device was refined. And everyone noticed that for every improvement in sound quality, the closer it sounds to the sounds in nature. Thus making this the driving force to make “man-made” or synthetic sound indistinguishable from nature. Thus the term hi-fidelity or hi-fi which means as close as possible to the original event. Audiophiles old enough to have lived through the “golden age of audio” a period roughly between after World War II to about the early 1970’s were everyone on either side of the “consumer-electronic” fence was happy i.e. the customers and the businesspeople.

When you look at the bright side, online music downloads has recently been extremely helpful to genuinely talented but unknown musicians like Arctic Monkeys for example to break through into the music market without going through the increasingly very cynical major labels. But lets not kid ourselves on why we entered this hobby in the first place. It’s the search for the perfect sound reproduction or to be existential “the uncompromisingly highest possible quality of recorded sound. My older “audio buddies” opined that the multinational conglomerate we call today’s “music industry” has been living a charmed life of source because if MP3 technology and the internet had become as user friendly as its 1999 incarnation back in 1989 when “Heavy Metal” music ruled the charts. Who knows where the “music industry” would end up today?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Remembering Elcaset

Here’s to Elcaset, to further remind us that new doesn’t necessarily mean better.

By: Vanessa Uy

Since I’ve found a Sony EL5 model stereo Elcaset deck and a bunch of Elcaset blank tapes in a garage sale, it started my own “road to Damascus” experience. Upon seeing the goods (the EL5 deck plus 4 user-recorded tapes and 6 unused Elcaset tapes) almost giveaway price that’s equivalent to US$5.50 in our local currency, my lips just flapped “I want one.” Yep, that’s less than half the price of a Full-Priced CD and I know that the items in question are worth way more than that during the product’s heyday in 1976. Also, I’ve been longing to find out first hand the pros and cons about Elcaset which I’ve only read about in old hi-fi magazines.

The EL5 Elcaset deck is one over-engineered (the kind of engineering I like) monster. Out of curiosity, I weighed it on our kitchen scale with a 12kg capacity. It went off the scale. Maybe this deck weighs 13kg. Yes that’s over 12kilograms of brushed aluminum fascia that made it look like a prop from a Sean Connery - era Bond movie and the diecast tape transport with it’s jumbo ferrite tape heads. The sample I bought may had been tweaked and upgraded by the previous owner since the solid state electronics that comprise the input and output amplifiers had been replaced by 12AX7A vacuum tubes. After visually checking the “soundness” of the upgrades, I replaced the tubes that came with the Elcaset deck with the spares for my guitar amplifier for safety reasons and for the “old” tubes to be tested later for faults. My spare tubes are Sovtek 12AX7A with Cyrillic (Russian) markings reputed for their excellent sound quality and reliability. They’re also relatively inexpensive as vacuum tube prices go these days.

For those who are too young or too hateful to remember, Elcaset was designed at the beginning of the 1970’s by an engineering team working for Sony as a possible replacement for Philips compact cassette. Or maybe, just to cash in on the cassette’s popularity at the time. Back in 1963, Philips originally intended the compact cassette as a recording media for speech/dictation. The compact cassette was never intended as a high quality music recording media. But this didn’t stop anyone and their dogs from adapting cassettes for music use. But as time went on, Elcaset proved to be a marketing disaster. Not in the same league as the miserable failure of US President George W. Bush’s administration, but quite close. To me, all the recording media formats that failed commercially through the years show quite an alarming pattern. They have been brilliant, even excellent solutions to a technological problem, but are simply ill - conceived for commercial success. They are quite good but the buying public simply didn’t want them yet. The “yet” part was never been and is never was good for the consumer electronic business.

Not necessarily apparent but quite plausible is that the Japanese Home Base of Sony has a blindness born from insularity (Does this mean that living in an island is bad for you?). They overlook the rising global demand for prerecorded tapes. That was in the 1970’s by the way, the decade that bought us those extremely cool bands like Kiss, Cheap Trick, and The Sex Pistols to name just a few. How they overlooked this is beyond me. And by the way, audiophiles since time immemorial always wanted “reference” samples to find out how their do-it-yourself recordings compare to major label offerings thus the raison d’être of prerecorded tapes. Elcaset was offered only as a high- quality- recording medium. In comparison, an almost similar American tape-based medium that’s invented much earlier-the 8 track- managed to exist for much longer because of the availability of prerecorded 8 track tapes. This was also the obvious cause of Digital- Audio- Tape’s (DAT) ignominious demise at the start of the 21st Century despite being a de rigueur format for digital studio recording since 1983. The music industry was much powerful then and very fearful of the concepts of copyright infringement, home recording and music piracy. The music pirates got their revenge though by hijacking an infrastructure that was primarily the sole domain of American and European particle physicists in the 1980’s called “file sharing.” It didn’t take forever for the pirates to become tech savvy enough to utilize the MP3 file compression format that gave birth to “Napster” and other music file sharing sites that bought us the current internet music download culture that’s devoid of both copyright laws and sound quality.

Back in 1976, Elcaset’s specifications can only be described as incredible for a product intended for domestic use. Its tape was designed to run at 3 ¾ inches per second- twice that of cassette’s standard speed. Elcaset’s tape width is 6.3 mm which was the same width as a “standard quarter track open- reel tape” (the domestic kind). As the physics goes in the tape recording universe, running more (thicker) tape at a higher speed past the head gave Elcaset an unfair advantage over their cassette tape contemporaries. The magnetic strength of the signals recorded on an Elcasete is probably more than 10 times stronger than the same signals recorded on cassette. Recently, I’ve experimented on this by way of running my Technics cassette tape deck at twice its standard speed. I could record signals at +10dB on the VU meters without distortion compared to 0dB to +3dB while using the cassette’s standard speed. Therefore, the faster the tape moves- the more signal or louder you can record which was good if you want your music to be much louder than the tape “hiss” or noise. The only disadvantage of this “upgrade” is that cassette players that run twice its 1 7/8 inches per second standard speed are as common as hen’s teeth.

In my hands on experience, Elcasets are very user friendly with a smooth and quiet running. For a product marketed during the time where The Sex Pistols were still tied to their day jobs, the ergonomics (that’s Greek for the working switches and buttons) are excellent. This has always been Sony’s forté. As I evaluated the sound quality of my tube upgraded EL5, it avoided the dull and muddy sound of cassette decks marketed during the mid 1970’s. Connected to my sound system set-up optimized for a Linn Sondek turntable, I inserted one of the Elcaset tapes, which was recorded with songs probably from LP records by the previous owner. The first track on one of the tapes was “Lady D’Arbanville by Cat Sevens (He latter became a Muslim, goes by the name of Yusuf Islam and declared a fatwah on Salman “Satanic Verses” Rushdie). This late 1960’s recording is known for it’s deep and loose sounding bass. The EL5 displayed a trait that surprised this audio greenhorn. I didn’t know that HDCD like bass quality existed back then on a domestic gear no less. This is 1inch two track master tape kind of bass. And that hard to define imaging out of the speakers sound quality that made my quality DIY dynamic speakers sound like their electrostatic speakers that cost as much as a Honda Jazz. Compared to the 8 track I borrowed from an audiobuddy of mine, the EL5 Elcaset deck has a clearer tonally brighter sound with much better soundstage. Compared to the Sondek with a speed regulator, the Elcaset was less focused especially on flute recordings. Noting the lack of focus anomaly of the EL5 deck, I’ve replaced the belts/capstan or anything that might had worn out after all these years. The belts and capstans in use in the EL5 are still available in our local Sony Service Center because all of Sony’s cassette decks supposedly use the same parts. Compared to my Pioneer CD DVD Audio SACD player was slightly less focused when compared to CD even though it has this tonal warmth that’s very attractive. I have recently acquired a SACD copy of Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” album and I immediately fell in love with it even the tape hiss between the songs believe it or not. A note of warning though, the tape hiss on the SACD version of “Kind of Blue” is not the same as that found on standard 16 Bit CD even super bit mapped ones. I call the hiss found on the CD versions of “Kind of Blue” Ugly Betty. The same hiss that lives in Elcaset reminds me of the much gorgeous sounding tape hiss found on the open reel master tape of “Kind of Blue.” Is it insanity when one loves tape hiss? This is where an analog medium like Elcaset has better sound quality than the standard 16 Bit CD.

Maybe, it’s the tube upgrades, maybe it’s the Elcaset. Next time, I’ll borrow one of my audiobuddies two-channel tube based mike pre-amp and a pair of US$1,000 condenser microphones to record my own cello performances. I wonder how does Elcaset sound when recording live performances compared to my Ampex open-reel tape recorder. And by the way, the Sylvania 12AX7A that came with the EL5 deck are still functional after I tested them on an experimental circuit lay out. They just didn’t sound as good as the Sovtek ones.

How I Became an Audiophile

Despite of being introduced to very good sounding audio equipment and the tunes to go with it at the tender age of nine, for good or bad, it’s a journey that won’t end within a foreseeable future.

By: Vanessa Uy

Of all the “lunatic fringe” hobbies available to the relatively- peaceful-industrial-suburb-dweller since the end of World War II, high-end audio is probably one of the most misunderstood. This hobby has always been plagued by an image problem of being a very expensive and elitist pursuit, populated by music snobs who are easily offended by the opinions of anyone who doesn’t subscribe to their views. Here in the Philippines, most people can’t buy at whim audio equipment whose price tags is the same as an effective military junta. Plus the supposedly “great” music scene that’s not to our tastes, pirated software of dubious quality of those musicians not to our tastes is a very good reason to go into do-it-yourself hi-fi. So the odds are stacked against us.

The good news is luck is on my side. I have a good, make that great, “audiophile mentor.” I learned from my “audiophile mentor” how to “MacGyver” my sound system from leftover components of the “U.S. Military-Industrial-Complex stationed here and they say “e-wastes” are bad. There is also the “garage sale” route in acquiring equipment and tweaking which my mentor attributes to the hours of watching “MacGyver” during the 1980’s.

Sometimes my mentor and I are fortunate enough to be able to visit “hi-fi” shows staged in neighboring Singapore or Hong Kong. This shows always bought us a sense of validation when we found out the hi-fi systems we assembled ourselves have a sound quality comparable to C.D. player, amplifier, speaker set-up worth U.S.$5,000 to U.S.$10,000. This just shows how skill and artistry can reward you. Since hi-fi is an evolving technological hobby despite “old technology” workhorses like vacuum tube amps and vinyl L.P.s which still manage to sound more organic than C.D.s, it’s best to be updated by really good hi-fi publications like Stereophile and Hi- Fi World. Looks like I’m hooked into this “noble pursuit” for life.

Sad to say that this isn’t currently possible with the mass- market audio in heavy commercial rotation on TV and the papers. Specialty Hi-Fi shops are a good bet. If your in- the- know of audio equipment, garage sales are a good source of bargains.
In my actual use a good audio system provides a deeper insight on what the musician is trying to convey. Your CDs doesn’t have to be of “audiophile persuasion”. Even contemporary rock and pop releases like Avril Lavigne or My Chemical Romance played on a good audio system can provide the illusion that they’re just a few paces in front of you. So if you have the extra cash with the skills in case of, go take the audiophile plunge. It’s a lot cheaper and way more rewarding than you think.

Deconstructing the Feminist-Filipina

Is Feminist-Filipina a socio-political construct that will eventually evolve into this uber-being or just a soapbox for empty materialism as a corporate byproduct of Corporate Manila?

By: Vanessa Uy and May Anne Uy

The Feminist-Filipina: What a curious beast? Do they define themselves by pledging allegiance to cause oriented groups currently in vogue like “Gabriela?” (Aren’t they always in vogue?). Or are they collectively taking a stance –however unpopular- against a part of our heritage that we should not have been proud of. Like the 500 or so years of the Catholic Church’s hegemony on our nation that has managed to keep the genocidal acts against the native peoples of most of the “New World” and the destruction of these people’s way of life from becoming common knowledge. We –the writers-wonder if the concept of “self determination” and “human rights” means something to The Vatican back then? Is the Feminist-Filipina in essence a stillborn ideology due to preceding historical events? To find out, first let’s take a look into the past.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel saw history as a “dialectic”-a process of constant change brought about by the inevitable clash of opposing ideas. According to this theory, the tension between conflicting ways of thinking caused a struggle for power/control. Out of this struggle came: new ideas, new solutions, and the process cycles back again. Hegel’s “idea-centric” view on the dialectic should make our present day information society a “Dialectic Nirvana” for him. While Karl Marx’s view on this “dialectic” was to us more pragmatic because humanity doesn’t live on ideas alone. Marx’s view on the “dialectic” was not limited to opposing ideas but rather humanity’s ceaseless desire for material self-improvement. In other words, everyone want’s to get rich by any means necessary. To Marx, the “dialectic” was actually a struggle for coveting material goods and the control of the means of producing them. History was the record of this struggle.

If you think both of Hegel’s and Marx’s view on history sounds like a book report on Nicolo Machiavelli’s “The Prince” to you, then you are not alone. Many an enlightened scholar subscribes to this point-of-view. Like the “ideas” extolled by Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” or Miyamoto Musashi’s “The Book of Five Rings” are practically a handbook on how to deal with conflict within the ever-changing socio-political dynamic in a manner that’s still acceptable in our contemporary supposedly-politically-correct-pluralistic society. And just because these works are old, it’s very important not to undervalue the ideas and lessons contained in the writings of Machiavelli, Sun Tzu, or Musashi. We are not talking about abstract philosophies here that might be discussed in the corporate meetings between TV moguls and the “Focus Groups” on how to boost the viewer ratings on upcoming “Pinoy Soap Operas.” There are human ramifications on what the general population perceive, as correct and how these people conduct themselves in our society while harboring their pre-conceived ideas. Believe it or not, the responsibility has fallen upon us-like manna from heaven- to enlighten everyone. Even those who are out to get us feminists!

The Catholic-centered Philippine society has a perception that feminism is much like Darwinism-determination without strategy which they have a disdain for being a Godless ideology. On why after all this time they can’t declare détente is beyond us. Even though the Philippine society in general are somewhat complacent on the issue on the necessity for women in general to learn noble traits which are traditionally reserved for men like militaristic-style honor and self-sacrifice. Is this a holdover from our Victorian past? Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek like the works of Friedrich Nietzsche isn’t exactly curricular requirements on this part of the world.

Are the glory days of the Feminist-Filipina still yet to come, or does it “suffer” from being viewed as just a passing phase or a fashion statement du jour? Must we be at the mercy of the Holy Bible toting folks who continue to confuse their maps for our territory? That’s a shame though since the most interesting parts of the Holy Bible are seldom discussed like Genesis chapter 19 verses 32 to 34 or that Iron Maiden song about Revelations chapter 13 verse 18.