Twenty Six

We had a rocky start. You called it off when we’ve barely even begun. I was too stunned to do anything at first, but decided to call you later and ask you to reconsider, which you thankfully did. My folks were doubtful about you and your background. You didn’t want your dad to know about us. Six months later, I would be in the hospital after being stabbed coming from your place. I thought it would be over, but we just held on.

One year passed, then two, then three. We had many good moments — sharing a pizza, seeing a movie, chatting for hours in your house, or in your car in our school parking lot on Sunday afternoons, me getting to know your friends and you getting to know mine, and your dad finally knowing that I was not just another male friend. We had some bad moments too — the silent treatment, the occasional spat and misunderstanding that goes with any relationship.

And then it was graduation time for me, and I left you in Manila to become a teacher back here in Davao. We spent four years in a long distance relationship without cellphones or Facebook. I kept a photo of you on my desk in the faculty room so that you were always smiling at me as I worked. We met only once or twice a year except for that time when you surprised me with an unannounced visit, or when I did the same to you.

Then we tied the knot and settled in Davao (or so we thought). We tried our hand at network marketing which I (the one who hated selling) ironically dragged you into, even though you swore not to touch it after your friend invited you to the same. We relocated to Manila just a few months after “settling” in Davao when our business took off there, and we would stay there for the next 10 years doing this and that, trying to forge our own path. I went back to teaching while you, ever the entrepreneur, was always trying out this or that business idea — ice candies, siomai, theater-show buying, developing and selling a discount card, bus advertising, website development, and even organizing a wedding fair. I also tried my hand at a little quail-egg farming. We made money, we borrowed money, and we also lost money.

Amidst all these, our babies were born — our little bundles of joy, who are not quite bundles right now. Raising them was an experience of going to heaven and descending to hell in the space of a few moments. I cannot forget the screams they made when putting them to sleep, or the struggle of waking up in the middle of the night to change their diapers. It was especially hard when they got feverish and you had to constantly cool them down with sponge baths. The struggle we had loading the stroller, the car seat and all the baby stuff in the car or in the plane whenever we traveled to visit Davao.

But I also cannot forget their first time talking and walking, or how Faith hugged and thanked me after bringing her to see the quails and spending time with her. I remember coming home late and seeing Aidan, our little stressbuster,  in the crib and all worries would just melt away. I remember Drei with her toy guitar and shades singing “I’m a rock star.” Then all three would gang up on us on the bed and jump around and there would be pandemonium, albeit a happy one.

You journeyed with me as I searched for truth, as my concept of church, God and spirituality constantly evolved until I eventually let go of all of them. But you did not let go of me.

When I finally decided to move our family back to Davao, you respected that decision though you had tremendous fears, and they came true but you endured and even thrived. I can only marvel at your strength, I who thought of giving up once before when everything seemed so bleak and hopeless.

Twenty-six years seems like a long time, but they have gone by like episodes of Game of Thrones. We are both a bit fatter than we were before. Your hair has started turning grey while my head has long been deforested. The kids have grown but they still like to gang up on our bed. I am still in love with your voice, except when it is nagging me to go to sleep when I am still playing Watchdogs.

Happy 26th!

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

Avatars and Data

Last January 25, I was at the Blockchain and Bitcoin Conference Philippines at the EDSA Shangri-La Hotel and I spent the whole day listening to various speakers talk about blockchain solutions as well as their own projects.

A couple of projects were particularly interesting to me. One was Ubiatar (ubiatar.com) which was basically a video-streaming application that allowed people to either be usars or avatars. A usar is someone who hires an avatar to be his eyes and hands in a remote location. For example, a usar in Davao can hire an avatar in Paris to go to the Eiffel Tower and look around, providing a virtual tour for someone who might not be able to afford, or who might not be physically able (i.e. someone who is paralyzed from the neck down) to make the actual trip.

Usars give instructions to the avatar by typing commands in a chat box or by simply using standard onscreen icons to command the avatar to go forward, back, left or right, and even to interact with objects. The icons provide a great way to communicate especially if both do not speak the same language.

Usars can find avatars in different locations in the world via UbiatarPlay (ubiatarplay.io) and initiate contracts which avatars can either accept or refuse. Usars and avatars can also rate each other, much like online services like Uber or AirBNB where vendor and vendee rate each other. UbiatarPlay will also act as mediator in case of disputes, e.g. if the usar commands the avatar to do something dangerous, immoral or illegal, which the avatar, of course, has every right to refuse doing.

What attracted me to this project was that a lot of the technology has already been built and can be tested. I visited the Ubiatar booth where Francesco Raco, the company CFO, demonstrated the platform. First, we “hired” an avatar in Italy and I use the word “hired” loosely since all avatars at this point are simply on a volunteer basis and you can only use them to look around wherever they are. Anyway, our avatar showed us the window view from what seemed to be his or her apartment and we could tell the avatar to move right or left and even take a still photo of the view.

Next, I downloaded the Ubiatar app on my phone and became an avatar while Francesco issued commands for me to go around the conference hall. The video streaming quality was surprisingly good and impressive.

Other possible applications for this included business deals where a property buyer might hire an avatar in a remote location to scout a place first before actually traveling there, saving time and money. One can also use the platform to create a business like an online game where the players control real people to interact with a simulated environment (e.g. crime scene) where they have to solve the case by looking at various clues around the place.

The other project that caught my attention was Datum.org, which was presented by its CEO and co-founder, Roger Haenni. This project seeks to provide a marketplace for data, empowering individuals by giving us control over the various types of data collected from us by our smart devices, social networks, phones, websites, and so on, and we can choose with whom to share or even sell this data.

The user submits his/her data by connecting to the platform and paying a small fee (using DAT tokens) to store the data. This information is then encrypted and anonymized and sent to the Datum blockchain. Buyers can then look for the type of data they want and pay for that data which is then paid back to the users.

What interests me with this is the ability to monetize our own data rather than just having other entities use it for their own purposes without giving us anything in return.

All in all, attending the conference and getting to meet other experts and enthusiasts was an enriching experience. I had minor blooper while looking around at the other attendees nametags. I noticed that a lot of people had BBC Philippines printed on the bottom part of the tag, and I thought, “Wow, BBC (the media company) sure sent a lot of people to cover this event.” When I looked at my own tag later in the day, I was surprised to find out that I also had BBC Philippines printed on it. That’s when I realized that BBC was not referring to the media company but to Blockchain and Bitcoin Conference Philippines.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

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