Synergy in the time of dial-up: Of webzines and HP and Intel’s Synergy ‘98

Once upon a time, before blogging became mainstream, I had a webzine called The Babel Machine Zone.

I launched it in 1998 when I was freelancing (a.k.a. bumming around), after leaving my full-time job as a staff writer for the Philippines’ pioneering information technology newspaper, Metropolitan Computer Times, and its sister publication, PCWeek Philippines, which was licensed from Ziff Davis.

I had a number of gigs after leaving that job, which was the first one I had as a tech journalist. I decided to put up this site because I discovered webzines and thought they were pretty cool, and because I wanted to embrace online journalism and write purely for the web. Instead of, you know, writing for a print publication and just having the same content uploaded on its website.

It was just a fun experiment while I was looking for paying gigs, and I had a great time teaching myself HTML, incorporating different interactive features on the site, and interacting with different people online.

And in an awesome turn of events, this webzine got me invited as a speaker when HP and Intel launched the first Synergy IT symposium in El Nido, Palawan in 1998. This was thanks to Richard Burgos, who was then with HP.

Synergy was his brainchild, and he invited me to talk about online journalism at the inaugural symposium, because of my webzine and the work I’d previously done for the IT publications I joined.

I think that’s the great thing about digital: that it’s a powerful platform that enables us to share our ideas, connect with different people, and make a difference — whoever we may be and wherever we may be in the world.

Embracing digital early on helped me interact with people of different nationalities from all walks of life, travel to different places, and make a lot of my dreams come true. If all this was possible during the days of dial-up, imagine what more we can do now.

Nothing is impossible. I truly believe that.

The only limits are the ones we create because of our failure to imagine.

Kudos to Scribd, the ‘Netflix for Books’

Good news, fellow Scribd fans! The “Netflix for Books” is proving that the subscription model also works for digital books.

According to this Fortune article, Scribd now has one million paying subscribers around the world.

In 2018, Scribd introduced an unlimited subscription model, which has since grown the paid base by 40% year-over-year. Scribd also boasts that more people are listening to audiobooks on its platform more than ever before, at 100% increase in audio users over the course of 2018.

Scribd has also expanded its digital library and padded its subscription service through bundles and test programs with a variety of other digital publishers, such as The New York Times, Waze Audio Player, and Spotify.

How about you? Do you love digital books?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The comic book reboot

Vampire: “The Slayer! The rumors are true!”

Buffy: “Oh? What would those be?”

Vampire: “That you really work at Tunaverse?”

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is back. In high school, that is.

As a huge Buffy fan, I’m excited that BOOM! Studios has launched a new comic book series that reboots Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This new series, which is different from the planned TV reboot, is set in contemporary times instead of 1997, which is when the TV show debuted.

So why did BOOM! Studios decide to reimagine Buffy for a new generation? Check out this IGN article — spoilers if you haven’t read the first issue yet.

Surviving the apocalypse

Do you also love science and technology? One non-fiction book I highly recommend is Annalee Newitz’sScatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction”.

This beautifully written book, which I’ve read twice already, is truly inspiring. Yes, I know that’s ironic, considering that it’s tackling the inevitability of one apocalypse or another causing mass extinction on Earth. Yet it fills me with pragmatic optimism that humanity will survive, not because of some vague hope, but through science and the strategies that our ancestors and different species have employed in order to avoid extinction.

As Newitz put it:

“My point is that regardless of whether humans are responsible for the sixth mass extinction on Earth, it’s going to happen. Assigning blame is less important than figuring out how to prepare for the inevitable and survive it. And when I say ‘survive it,’ I don’t mean as humans alone on a world gone to hell. Survival must include the entire planet, and its myriad ecosystems, because those are what keep us fed and healthy.”

We are survivors. We must never forget that.

Zen and the art of self-maintenance

Breathe.

It’s a simple reminder from Zen Habits author Leo Babauta. But one that has helped get me through a lot over the years.

“If you are worried about something coming up, or caught up in something that already happened, breathe. It will bring you back to the present.

“If you are discouraged and have forgotten your purpose in life, breathe. It will remind you about how precious life is, and that each breath in this life is a gift you need to appreciate. Make the most of this gift.”

It’s not easy to stay zen all the time. But coffee helps. So does having a wonderful wife and daughter.

Breathe.

AI demolishes StarCraft II pro gamers

Notable Protoss gameplay screenshot courtesy of Blizzard press site.

Game over.

In the latest victory for Google’s DeepMind subsidiary, its AlphaStar AI defeated human pro gamers in a series of test matches.

Though to be fair, the pro gamers weren’t world champion caliber. And the AI was beaten when it had to use the same restricted camera view as a human. But still, this is just the beginning.

“Beating humans at video games might seem like a sideshow in AI development, but it’s a significant research challenge. Games like Starcraft II are harder for computers to play than board games like chess or Go. In video games, AI agents can’t watch the movement of every piece to calculate their next move, and they have to react in real time.”

So, which arena will AI conquer next?

What if you’re not the Chosen One?

If you haven’t read “The Rest of Us Just Live Here” by Patrick Ness, do yourself a favor and check it out.

The premise? Telling the story not of the stereotypical Chosen One, but of his or her ordinary companions and other normal people who are usually on the sidelines.

This is my favorite quote from this book:

“Not everyone has to be the Chosen One. Not everyone has to be the guy who saves the world. Most people just have to live their lives the best they can, doing things that are great for them, having great friends, trying to make their lives better, loving people properly. All the while knowing that the world makes no sense but trying to find a way to be happy anyway.”

Cyclops returns

More than two years after he died, Cyclops is back!

Uncanny X-Men Annual #1 is a beautifully written and wonderfully illustrated story that reveals how Cyclops came back from the dead. It’s one of the most inventive, if convoluted, methods for resurrecting a comic book character.

Cyclops is my second favorite superhero after Spider-Man, and I grew up reading the X-Men, which is my favorite superhero team, so this issue was quite poignant for me. Here’s hoping Scott Summers will lead the X-Men back to glory. But first, he has to rebuild the X-Men, after what happened in Uncanny X-Men #10.

Check out Polygon’s article about the return of Cyclops. Spoilers, of course, if you haven’t read this annual and Uncanny X-Men #10.

“After Marvel teased his return all fall, we got our first glimpse of the resurrected mutant leader in the final issue of the Extermination miniseries. This week, Uncanny X-Men Annual #1 gives us the full story of how Scott Summers, killed in 2016’s Death of X #1, is back among the living.”

Only when you Leav: Lang Leav and Instagram poetry

Lang Leav is one of the most popular poets. Though some people would say she’s not a poet, or, at least, not a good one.

I admit: I tried reading some of her poetry, and, well, it’s not my cup of tea. I actually think Taylor Swift, who has never claimed to be a poet, writes better poetry, though of course as a longtime fan I’m definitely biased.

Instagram has been instrumental in popularizing the works of Leav and other modern poets. Depending on how you see it, Instagram is saving poetry — or spreading an Instagrammy style of pop poetry like some virus.

Some have decried the hate spewed against Leav and other pop poets, such as Rupi Kapur. And whatever you might think of her poetry, there’s no arguing that Leav has legions of fans, including those eagerly awaiting her return to the Philippines on Feb. 23 and 24.

How about you? Do you like Lang Leav?

Would you fall in love with a robot?

I love robots.

I’m talking as someone who grew up watching Japanese super robot cartoons (which we didn’t call anime back then), with Voltes V being my favorite, followed closely behind by Mazinger Z.

While giant robots might take a while longer to become a reality, robots are becoming more mainstream. The robot revolution is happening, and, no, we’re not talking about Skynet.

Here’s how the future of robots might affect humanity, according to this Forbes article.

“As you might expect, support with housework and chores topped the perceived benefits of robots in the home, with 27% of people thinking a home robot could save them two hours each day, but companionship followed closely behind. Almost a fifth of people said they wanted a home robot simply to keep them company.

“While 13% said the arrival of a robot companion would mean they’d never feel lonely again, more than a third (38%) of people saw wider social benefits; more time to improve connections with friends and family, more time to pursue and master new interests, and more.”

Though it’s great to see people having positive feelings about the integration of robots into human society, it seems that they are being treated as high-tech servants.

Which I guess isn’t surprising, as we might think of robots as appliances, computers, toys, or gadgets. In fact, “robot” was originally derived from the Czech word “robota” — the forced labor of serfs. Karel Capcek introduced the word in his 1920 science fiction play R.U.R., though when the word became popular he explained that it was his brother Josef who coined it. Sadly, I still haven’t read R.U.R. or seen it performed, but if you’re interested you can read the English translation by David Wyllie published online by The University of Adelaide.

Yet as they grow more intelligent, autonomous, and human-like, shouldn’t we start seeing robots as equals? What rights should robots enjoy, and how are we to protect these rights, when it’s already hard to protect human rights?

And, yes, would love between humans and robots become accepted in human society? As this New York Times article shows us, some people are already identifying as digisexuals.

“Self-identification is not the same as identity, and some classes of description now may be closer to metaphor. But the idea that flesh-and-blood humans may actually forge fulfilling emotional, or even sexual, relationships with digital devices is no longer confined to dystopian science fiction movies like ‘Ex Machina’ and ‘Her,’ stories in which lonely techies fall too hard for software-driven femme fatales.

“In real life, pioneers of human-android romance now have a name, ‘digisexuals,’ which some academics and futurists have suggested constitutes an emergent sexual identity.”

As we confront the reality of robots becoming part of our everyday lives, it might be good to reexamine our views on robots — and our ideas of humanity. As Wired points out, the Japanese don’t seem to have the same Western fear of robots. The writer said that this might be due to a difference in the concept of “humanity”:

“The Western concept of ‘humanity’ is limited, and I think it’s time to seriously question whether we have the right to exploit the environment, animals, tools, or robots simply because we’re human and they are not.”

Perhaps in embracing robots, whether literally or figuratively, we will end up becoming more human.