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Uncertainty with Aidan in Taichung City

Taichung City, Taiwan, March 2016

I brought my family to Taiwan. We offered to help out a friend who was working on an art installation in the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts in Taichung City. It was a relatively short trip that had its share of ups and downs. But what loomed over my head insidiously was an unmistakable change in the behavior of my son that started a month prior. It was something I tried to dismiss, but really couldn’t. It wasn’t until much later when the pieces were put together that I had a better understanding of what was going on.

On our walks in the city, he had this penchant of walking ahead of me with no regard to anything around him. He never looked behind to check if either of his parents was still nearby. He tried to break free every time I tried to hold on to him. I always found myself having to catch up to him in corridors and walkways as he kept moving. The pictures below will offer you glimpses of what I dealt with.

We also spent time with an artist couple who had a daughter roughly the same age  who I understood had her own little developmental issues. But even then, she was significantly ahead in many aspects and was more conscious of her surroundings.

At nearly two years old, close friends and his grandparents were already noticing how he actively avoided eye contact and wanted no part of anybody other than his mother. Even I had a difficult time interacting with him. It was a stark contrast to the baby boy that always smiled and laughed to the delight of everyone around him.

Little did I know back then that autism had become a distinct possibility for him.

Perhaps my ignorance back then was a blessing in disguise. It would be months before I was adequately educated of my son’s condition. By then I could already look back at the pictures below with amusement. Otherwise, I’d be picking up a very different story immediately after taking these pictures.

These seemingly symbolic scenes of him walking alone in the huge expanse offered by the parks in the city evoke strong emotions that haunt me, which I am sure some of you can relate to. I still choke up a little bit as I type this post.

The difference seen in the pictures here and our Hanoi trip more than eight months later was dramatic. It was almost like he was in his own world in Taichung. Hanoi saw a boy significantly more engaged with his surroundings and the doting people around him.

Nearly one year after, I am relieved to say that things have improved significantly. The doctor still doesn’t want to completely rule out autism, and he continues to attend therapy sessions to address his issues. But at this stage, the possibility of the condition that I dread for my son has become highly unlikely.

There is still a fairly long trail that lies ahead. But at least now, I am confident that the worst of this issue is over and things will be looking up.

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Hanoi trip notes (December 2016)

It is in this trip where it occurred to me that I can now start to live vicariously through my son. I didn’t think it would come so early. He’s years away from shooting his first hoop or playing his first three guitar chords.

From start to finish, there was always something.

He was quite a center of attention during the conference amusing everyone in sight. I had officemates more than willing to look after him. I was told a Vietnamese student offered to change his diapers. He stole the show for a short while during his mom’s presentation.

At Ba Dinh Square, just before I took this picture, there was another family with whom we stuck around with for a few moments. They had a friendly little girl who wanted to play. I’d have let them if I wasn’t so worried about Aidan’s habit of pushing other kids (we’re still working on that).

Before we checked out of the hotel, the receptionist asked what time we were leaving. When she realized she wouldn’t be seeing us again, she gave Aidan a hug then asked if he wanted to stay with her (lol, like that’s gonna happen), then said she hoped to see us again.

The man who drove us to the airport was quite feisty on the road and some of us felt he had a bad attitude. But what the rest of the group didn’t know was that before we left, I was standing outside the hotel with Aidan. The driver approached us, smiled, lightly pinched my son at the cheek, then gave me a thumbs up. He was a bit stiff, but I don’t think he’s a bad guy.

Then while we were waiting to check in at the airport, a middle aged Korean man approached my wife. He recognized them, turned his camera on, and showed a picture he took of Aidan while we were at the coffee shop beside the Vietnam Military History Museum the day before. His group was seated some tables away and took the picture (in hindsight, I probably should’ve asked for a copy).

I know he’s cute. But so are a lot of kids. So, it can’t be just that. As my former boss once said — he has a certain character about him, which is now being tempered by his time at A.B.L.E. Center and Bahay-bahayan ni Mariang Makiling — it’s the things he learned from both of them which the other people see. But no one deserves more credit than his own mother. It’s been an arduous learning process not without its share of mistakes on both our parts. But it’s her effort and sacrifice that keeps everything else going.

 

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Auntie Aida

Aida R. Librero RIP

As I try to wrap up work for the year, once again, I find myself unable to focus on anything. And it’s troublesome, as I still have a some more important meetings to attend to, twp of which are coming up in a few hours as I write this.

My Auntie Aida has just passed away, less than three months after his husband. Where Uncle Flor was considered the patriarch of the Librero Family, from my limited time with them, I always saw Auntie Aida as having no lesser of a status in the Recto Family, being the eldest among her family as well, for as far as I can remember.

I had just as much interaction with her as I did with my uncle. Or perhaps even a bit less. She was part of top level management at Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD) under the Department of Science and Technology. I never really knew that part of her life. But what I do know is that until my dad became Chancellor of UPOU, whenever someone older saw my name, I was more often asked if I was related to either Florentino from UPLB or Aida from PCAARRD. And if it was my auntie, that question usually had an air of respect or even a little bit of intimidation about it.

I wish I did knew more about her professional life. I came in relatively late in the academe. Or more accurately, most of my elders were either already retired, or on their way, by the time I started in UPOU. It was only in recent years where I was having actual conversations with my auntie about research and conferences. She had a more practical perspective on the matters, which I think would have been useful. Unfortunately, it usually didn’t amount to much as I was working in a different field and she had already been out of the game for so long. Who knows what I would have learned if circumstances were a bit different.

However, what I am probably most thankful for is what she did for me, or rather me and Vanni. It wasn’t just about their farm as our venue. Being wed in at Panyesanan farm meant all the paper work had to be accomplished at Lipa City, Batangas — a far more tedious prospect than, say, right here in Los Baños, Laguna. My auntie was instrumental and speeding things up and finalizing everything. Vanni told me about my auntie accompanying Vanni to city hall and getting people there to move like a boss (I suppose that aside from being a Recto, being at management in a government institution helps a lot). That would have been an awesome, yet amusing sight for me to see.

Auntie Aida (May 19, 2012)
Photo by Tootoots Leyesa

My uncle’s decline in health was relatively quick and dramatic. Auntie Aida’s was far more deliberate and slower paced. I am actually amazed at how she has managed to endure a major debilitating illness started off by a mild stroke so many years ago. Perhaps it was the constant motion in their farm that kept her health up. But it was only a matter of time when that would no longer help.

Before I left my uncle’s funeral, I hugged Auntie Aida and kissed her cheek to say goodbye. She knew I was fresh off an overseas trip and haven’t really had any sleep yet. She thanked me for making the effort. Saying nothing about the pain of losing the biggest part of her life, this was an old woman who at the time was under hospital confinement, could no longer stand on her own two feet and cannot breathe properly without an oxygen mask. But she found the will to attend. And there she was — gracious about acknowledging MY effort.

I thought I was going to cry with her then and there. And after asking Aidan to wave bye bye one last time before driving off, I silently harbored an unshakable feeling that it was going to be the last time I would see her face and talk to her. It, unfortunately, turned out to be true.

As much as I refuse to remember my uncle as the weakened old man, I will not remember Auntie Aida as I saw her last. I will remember her as the short unassuming lady who seemed to have an almost permanent smile on her face, always the welcoming presence.

We have lost a matriarch. But perhaps we can find comfort from the belief that she is at peace, no longer in pain, and did not have to endure a long time before rejoining her husband, wherever they may be.

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Tino

Florentino Librero (1934-2016)

As imposing a presence my dad can be at times, it may come as a surprise for some people that he actually did not have the last say in matters of the Librero clan. That honor belonged to his elder brother. But that has changed now.

Florentino, Flor, Tino, my uncle, godfather, benefactor of my marriage and patriarch of the Librero family, passed away September 25, 2016 on a Saturday night. My being in Seoul at the time prevented me from being by his side. There were no premonitions, dreams, visions or anything like that — just my dad’s Facebook post the following morning. Yes, I found out just like everyone else outside my family. That could have been upsetting by itself. But what made things even more difficult was that I had to tune it out for at least another day, as there was a conference and a paper presentation that needed my attention. I also didn’t want to dampen the spirits of the amazing people around me at the time. But as soon as I got on the plane back to Manila, all I could do was anxiously tap on my phone’s screen and write much of what you are reading now.

I didn’t feel sad because of his actual passing. All of us in the family knew it was coming. Other things gnawed at me. They still do.

I never really got to know my uncle, at least not as well as I feel I should have. He and my Auntie Aida didn’t have their own children. I was his eldest first degree nephew and I carried the name, which mattered to him deeply. But it were my younger cousins who did a far better job in trying to spend more time with him.

Next to my dad, he was perhaps the one whom I was most scared of disappointing. And I probably did.

Uncle Flor, to me, was a man of contradictions. He was a UP Professor, educated in the West and carried a warehouse of progressive ideas in his mind. And yet, he held on to old fashioned patriarchal family values which the rest of us deferred to.

My uncle was bursting with ideas for Panyesanan, his and my Auntie Aida's property.

My uncle was bursting with ideas for Panyesanan, his and my Auntie Aida’s property. He shared them every chance he got.

He had rather radical visions for his property in Batangas and invested heavily on it. Unfortunately, I could never have a firm grasp of them. I don’t think anybody did, really. Perhaps with enough time and inclination, I would have. But it wasn’t to be. Visiting was not easy. The property wasn’t near where I lived. And I couldn’t stay there for extended periods, as my work required things the place couldn’t provide.

It also bothered me that being the only one still able to pass on the family name, people started assuming I’d be inheriting the entire thing. I did not want that responsibility nor did I want the baggage that went with being the subject of that belief. That is why I actively denied it was true. Not once did I entertain the thought of it.

I believe whether or not it was actually true stopped mattering when my uncle realized that I was not inclined to take over when the time came. I remember one of my visits when he shrugged and said, Wala eh… Di ka naman yata interesado… (What can I say? It doesn’t seem like you’re interested…).

Tino

Sometimes, I wonder if our struggle to keep up with his thoughts and ideas frustrated him.

It felt like I failed him there. I never was able to shake off the feeling of guilt.

In another of our one on one talks, he told me of the benchmark he set for my dad. He used himself as measuring stick of what he expected my dad to achieve. He was a former Dean of the College of Human Ecology in UP Los Baños. That was the level my dad needed to reach, he told me. Of course, my dad reached that level and surpassed it by multiple levels. I may have not known my uncle as I had wanted, but I knew him well enough to understand. My dad’s achievement wasn’t his point. It was part of an implicit point. It was a subtle way of telling what he expected of me. Anything less than a deanship in the academe is a failure. Yes, he had this habit of setting the bar pretty high for a Librero.

I obviously didn’t make it within his lifetime. I’m not even sure if I even want to. I just wish he knew how close I am now to being within striking distance of meeting his expectation.

In any case, it would be a while after those conversations before I made things up to him.

It was probably late 2011 or early 2012 when I told him and Auntie Aida I was getting married and asked if we could hold the wedding at his property. They quickly agreed. My uncle then went ahead to tell me as long as we handled everything else, he wouldn’t charge me anything. That by itself was generous. But I didn’t expect how far he took it. It had been a hot and dry summer. But he made sure the entire landscape looked green and fresh. The day before the wedding, I found him building something. I asked him what he was doing and if he needed help. He said, I’m building a platform here going over a canal. This is where you’ll be making your vows tomorrow. And no, I’m fine. Here was a 78 year old man carrying lumber and long steel pipes and was not particularly willing to accept help from the person he’s doing it for. I had mixed feelings towards that platform of which I was obviously in no position to turning down. But I will never forget that gesture and that scene where I just stood there and watched. It would also be the last time I would see him the way I want to remember him – a healthy, strong and seemingly ageless man.

On the platform in question. (Photo by Pol Veluz)

On the platform in question. (Photo by Pol Veluz)

He only wanted one thing from me which he made clear enough during the wedding reception. I took it lightly. But the pressure was actually on for the new wife.

It took a few years, but we did it. We were finally able to give him a grandnephew — the new bearer of the name. Request granted. Mission accomplished. Everyone happy.

For a time, at least.

His health was already in decline by then. No longer able to maintain it, he was forced to give up his property and moved to a smaller house close my aunt’s family as she herself had been in poor health for an even longer time.

My heart broke one day when we visited him in the hospital more than a year ago. Aidan was already learning how to play with toys and was curious with his granduncle’s squeeze ball. I was about to take a picture of them, but decided against it when I realized this bittersweet moment before my eyes was best left a vivid memory and nothing more. His mind was still remarkably sharp, but his body wasn’t even close in keeping up. He couldn’t help but tear up while Aidan was beside him on the hospital bed playing with the ball. He knew he’d no longer have the chance to play with the boy and live long enough to see him grow up.

He did not dwell on it, though. Like a true padre de familia, he took it upon himself to do one more task. He made sure his family would be taken care of. Along with my Aunt, he gave me provisions for Aidan’s education. In a little twist of irony, the person some people assumed would inherit everything actually got nothing — at least, not directly. But Aidan’s future is more important to me than any other thing in this world. And I am eternally thankful for the new layer of security Uncle Flor gave.

Three generations. I know of no other picture. One thing we do have in common is our preference to be on the other side of the lens. Aidan might turn out different, though.

Three generations. I know of no other picture. One thing we do have in common is our preference to be on the other side of the lens. Aidan might turn out different, though.

My son will never personally know his granduncle. But he will know of him. He will know of the love, kindness and generosity that we will feel well beyond his passing. He will know of his legacy and be thankful of the privilege it provided him. And he will know of qualities everyone in the family strive to emulate.

 

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Sharing of Experiences: The Role as System Administrator

It’s a little strange for me to be talking about me experiences as a system administrator. I am known to indulge in a little bit of complaining here and there, but never really seriously. Or perhaps my colleagues don’t take it seriously. I suppose it doesn’t matter. However, actually sitting down and discussing how I do my job and talk about the lessons I’ve learned… I’ve never really done that. Recently, I was asked to do just that for training specialists working across the archipelago whose new task was to learn how to operate learning management systems and disseminate what they’ve learned. Amusingly enough, what ensued was a bit of a demotivational presentation. Well… ok, I am exaggerating. But the audience did fully realize that the work of an IT administrator in UP, or perhaps the government in general, is more difficult than it looks.

 

As of this writing, I am on the final month of my ninth year as an employee of the UP Open University. Back in October 2007, I was barely a month into my job as a junior faculty and was looking forward to being just that in my foreseeable future. Little did I know that the direction of my career had practically been planned for me, the moment I was accepted in the fold.

I was quickly assigned into what was then the Management Information Systems Office of the university. It sounds rather heavy, but it was actually a room with two people who were little more than kids at the time. I wasn’t that much older than them and I had less relevant professional experience. Yet, I was expected to lead them and make sense of what, to the untrained eye, looked like a convoluted pile of hardware and software they called their network infrastructure. My job was to help effect a major transition in the university of which I had been ignorant of. I was expected to have a hand in some of the biggest decisions that needed to be made on behalf of a university which I quickly realized I knew so much less about than I initially thought. And what made matters worse for me was that nothing I had done prior to that time would have helped me prepare for that challenge. I was never given time to adjust and familiarize myself with my new environment without the risk of committing mistakes that can have campus-wide ramifications. I didn’t think it was fair. It was stressful. It was frightening. All I wanted was a relatively quiet job as an online teacher. And now, this…

One of the biggest moves UPOU made at the time I came in was the migration of all courses under all degree programs, and eventually all non-formal courses, to an online learning management system. Face to face sessions were being phased out.

UPOU had already chosen to adopt MOODLE by the time I took over the MIS Office. Everyone was calling it our learning management system. But the reality of the matter was that, with respect to how we were using it, MOODLE was our course management system. I suppose the difference is subtle enough for me to not mind and leave uncorrected. But it was significant enough for me to warrant addressing, albeit in a discreet fashion.

To me, it was clear that MOODLE cannot solve everything for us. And it did not help that its early versions were, shall we say, rough around the edges. The code was buggy and inefficient. For a relatively small number of users, it required a huge amount of server power and Internet bandwidth, both of which we were in extremely short supply of.

Over the course of several years, I was mindful of three things:

  1. Finding ways to improve how MOODLE itself run.
  2. Filling the gaps unaddressed by MOODLE as the university’s needs change and grow.
  3. Being aware if and when something better than MOODLE comes along.

 

Running MOODLE

UPOU started with running MOODLE with an in-house server. However, bandwidth limitations forced us to have our server co-located off-site. While this made hardware maintenance inconvenient, at least it partially solved daily accessibility issues for users. But it didn’t take long for the university to outgrow that setup.

Playing catchup with our needs proved difficult, as doing so required constant maintenance, upgrade and replacement of our own servers. The logical next step for us was to find a way to bypass the need for it altogether.

By 2008, we eventually negotiated a hosting contract with what is referred to as a MOODLE partner. It was one of several companies across the world that is certified by MOODLE HQ and its community to administer systems for organizations of all sizes. This solves our dilemma regarding hardware. And with a datacenter outside the Philippines, better access was all but assured. Lastly, as part of the MOODLE partner’s service, day-to-day administration of the system itself were taken off our hands to further lighten my office’s workload.

It was a comfortable arrangement that lasted for a number of years. We would have kept it to this day, had the service remained consistently good. Unfortunately, for some reason that remains unclear to me, the partner’s quality of service declined to a point when we were already within our rights to declare a breach of contract. That did not happen, but it did herald yet another shift for the university.

It was around 2011 when we ended our working relationship with the MOODLE partner. This was also the time when another team took over administration duties, at least for UPOU’s MOODLE system. But from what I have pieced together, hosting changed hands twice. Administrative responsibilities were relegated back to me in 2013, when the MIS Office was re-tooled as the ICT Development Office. Even though I had been doing the job since 2007, it was only six years after, when I was formally designated as a director in UPOU. By this time a local company was under the outgoing MOODLE hosting contract. It proved capable of performing the duties of a MOODLE partner. But the more interesting aspect of this arrangement was that this was UPOU’s early foray into employing a Cloud-based system. I had recommended exploring it a few years earlier, but perhaps up until that point, Cloud hosting was not particularly feasible. And while actual hosting management still changed hands one more time in these last three years, we have essentially maintained the same setup to this day.

Augmenting MOODLE

MOODLE is commonly referred to as a learning management system. But the reality is that it is rarely fully utilized as such. UPOU certainly is no exception. We do not need all its features. While at the same time, we had several needs which MOODLE cannot provide. In order to address this issue, we had to augment MOODLE with other applications.

Perhaps the most important addition to the UPOU Learning Management System was Google Apps, which we implemented in 2008. The availability of the whole suite of Google’s online applications solve a number of issues, such as official email, Cloud storage and collaboration tools. UPOU had also developed its own academic information management system that handles student admission, records and registration. Unfortunately, circumstances leave us hesitant to implement full integration of these systems to finally implement single sign on, which has been requested for years now.

The exploration and testing of new systems that can possibly complement MOODLE’s feature set is an on-going endeavor at UPOU. My colleagues conduct work of this nature on a regular basis. I am currently studying the use of an ePortfolio system and its full integration with MOODLE. The technical aspect is not difficult to figure out, as both systems have been designed to seamlessly integrate with one another. But it does have administrative and budget implications, which I hope to address in the near future.

Options Aside from MOODLE

Whether it is on behalf of the ICT Development Office or the Faculty of Information and Communication Studies, we are constantly keeping ourselves apprised of the development of learning management systems aside from MOODLE. We are currently active in testing Canvas and are in constant contact with their representatives to assess the prospect of employing the platform. Both parties understand that even if it were to end up being the case, it would still be several years away. However, this is notable in the sense that this has been the farthest the university has come to consider giving up MOODLE.

Lessons Learned

While it is presumptive, even arrogant, to declare UPOU as the foremost user of MOODLE in the country, I can safely say that we have never done better with MOODLE than we have right now. We also accumulated a considerable amount of experience over the past 10 or so years. There were also a lot of mistakes made and lessons learned which I’ll try to highlight the most important here.

  • A system administrator does not need to be the most skilled technocrat in the team. His or her role is, on one hand, to be able to articulate what the team is doing to the rest of the organization. On the other hand, the administrator has to make sure his or her team has the breathing room to work at its best.
  • It is a given that technical staff in UP or the government in general are underpaid, especially with respect to their counterparts in the private sector. That is why you need to find ways to keep your people from leaving.
  • Technology advances quickly. But that doesn’t mean new tech is always readily available to you.
  • Government procurement rules cannot keep up with new technology, services and platforms. Therefore, it is always a good idea to consult with your Legal Office before proposing to adopt anything new.
  • Many people have trouble distinguishing between needs and wants when it comes to ICT. It is your job to help them do so, while at the same time not making them feel like you are imposing how you think they should do their
  • Always have contingencies. Don’t EVER allow yourself to be backed into a corner where you don’t have at least a few possible solutions for every issue thrown your way. When faced with a crisis, few things will infuriate the rest of your organization than telling them there’s nothing you can do about it.

Yes, working as a system administrator in an organization like UP is not easy by any means. You will feel underpaid and underappreciated. Managing UPOU’s learning management system for nearly a decade has been an arduous task, that is for sure. But I have learned a LOT from my experiences and that has helped me adapt. I can’t say I’m a happy employee, but through these basic pointers, I can live with the burden. And if you are reading this, maybe you can take these few pointers, as well.

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The point(lessness) of student evaluation of teachers in UPOU

I’d been going back and forth as to whether or not I should, or should even bother writing about this. It’s definitely not a new issue. But it does continue to bother us at UPOU on a regular basis. Then there is this thing about confidentiality which may or may not apply (I’ve never actually asked nor would I care to, at this stage). But here we go.

Student Evaluation of Teachers (SET) — if you’re a UP student, you have already had filled that survey form to assess the performance of your prof on all your courses. You’ve become so used to it that answering it has become second nature to you. If not, you will.

Unless you are a UPOU student, of course.

The problem in UPOU is that there is no procedure that will ensure that students will answer the evaluation sheets, like in other campuses. Neither is there any policy that will deter students from ignoring the call for evaluation. That leaves the university putting faith on the proactiveness of students…

LOL… ???

With confidentiality potentially becoming an issue, I’ll stick with only one set of data — mine.

From 2010 to 2014, I earned a SET average of 2.68. Breaking this down is going to be a little complicated, but I’ll do my best here by showing the actual sheet forwarded to me. I hope you’ll be able to follow.

SET_LibreroAFD

 

Scores seem straightforward enough. However, there is one important fact which the spreadsheet does not account for. It doesn’t say how many students actually evaluated me. I wish I still had all the numbers as proof, but I don’t. You’re just gonna have to trust that I’m being honest about it. As far as I can tell, the number of respondents exceeded ten only once here — for LVM 202 FS 2012-2013. Now, with the exception of maybe CMSC G in SS 2011-2012, when I only had three students, I typically have at least a few dozen students in a class. That LVM 202 class had 70 students, of which 17 evaluated me. I know because the Faculty of Management and Development Studies gave me the actual detailed results for both LVM 202 classes indicated here (in the second class, there were 6 out 34 respondents). In other classes, I’d typically get between 1-4 respondents. Another noteworthy fact here is that LVM 202 is the only course in that list which is taken by new students.  The rest are taken by students midway through or at the end of their residency.

Seventeen out of seventy was the best the SET could do for me — a response rate of less than 25%. In any other campus that would be unacceptable. But it would be the most normalized score I would ever get. Is it a coincidence that it is the also the highest rating in the list? I don’t know, really.

Now, make no mistake — I have never claimed to be the best teacher anywhere. But I do try to be good. But I have a style that not everybody would take well. No method does. That is why there will always be people who will not regard me or my methods kindly.

From what I have observed, I can surmise that students are more likely to evaluate teachers if a) they are new and are still enthusiastic towards this activity, and b) they have an axe to grind and the SET is a great opportunity for retribution, so to speak.

I admit that I felt hurt the first time I saw these scores last year. It was a big issue, not just for me, but for nearly everyone at UPOU. I don’t think anybody was spared. Do we deserve it? I can only speak for myself, but what I will say is that the only way I’m going to accept such low scores is if they are representative of the majority. If that’s what most of my students think, then so be it. That would also be the time when I say to myself that I really am not good at this and step away from teaching.

I didn’t mind the detractors by themselves. Like I said, there will always be those people who will not appreciate what I do and will make sure the university knows about it. What bugged me a little was that those who do like what I do couldn’t be bothered to evaluate me. But you know what? That was last year.

I saw the above sheet again the other day. And I was like, yeah, whatever… There is, however, a bigger questions to be answered.

Does this even matter?

I really can’t prove it, but I have this feeling that there are foolish students out there who think it doesn’t. So to address anyone who think as much, I’ll tell you why it does.

I started believing it served a purpose back when one of my profs in grad school was being reprimanded. The UPLB administration dug up his evaluation scores and used it against him, even though they were practically cherry picking. He was a highly regarded teacher who had few detractors. Unfortunately, it was those detractors who were passionate enough to detail their displeasure through additional comments. The admin made full use of those and played a small, but significant part in my prof’s departure.

SET scores are also mainstays in our university portfolios. I mean not the one that we would put out in public, but the one that is the basis of our tenure and our advancement. Higher scores earn us more points, which we need to accumulate before being promoted.

Perhaps its most important purpose as far as students are concerned is that it is the basis for the officials in determining what to do with us. Even though the indicator is a number, the SET is actually what keeps our portfolio and performance from being just a numbers game. Students’ feedback qualifies the teaching load we take every term.

Given a sufficient sample size, there are few things as indicative of a faculty’s performance in teaching than the SET. Unfortunately, we never have that benefit at UPOU.

We have now found ourselves in a conundrum. With such gross under-representation in the SET, UPOU has no choice but to stop respecting it as an assessment tool for faculty. That will only change if students stop taking it for granted and start being more proactive in its accomplishment. But since they generally don’t think it’s important in the first place (and is actually somewhat true now), it’s not going to happen.

There is another solution — find a way to make SETs mandatory and properly enforce it. But that is something I will leave to the people in power to figure out. I stopped caring last year.

If you are a UPOU student and has read up to this stage, I’m not going to beg you to start filling those SETs. Whether you do it or not is your prerogative. The important thing is that whatever you do, you accept what it entails.

Again, I never made any claims of being an outstanding teacher. But I do go out of my way to at least try to be one. I certainly believe I am better than a 2.68, so I will ignore it. But on the flipside, without SETs, teaching will completely become a numbers game. There would be no upside in trying to improve. I don’t even need to do this job well. I will earn my pay no matter what. There’s that… at least until I completely lose interest and quit teaching altogether.

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ADL_1897

Maraming Salamat Po, Ma’am Gigi

Today was Dr. Grace Javier Alfonso’s last day as Chancellor of the UP Open University. It brings up a lot of memories and stirs a lot of strong emotions.

It was around a year ago when I realized that I had only had a meaningful working relationship with one big boss my whole life. Of course, it’s not that simple, given how the university is organized. I follow orders and requests coming from a number of people. But all of us ultimately answer to one person.

Immediately after earning my Master’s degree in 2007, I applied for a job a second time at the UP Open University, specifically stating the office I wanted to be part of. Unfortunately, it seemed that they didn’t want or need me. That would have been the end of it. But another office picked up my application. They had other applicants to consider, who were either more experienced, or more gifted than I was. But even though I was at the bottom of that list, they stuck with their decision to include me all the same. That is why I am eternally grateful to Dr. Alexander Flor and Dr. Melinda Bandalaria and I will always be loyal to the Faculty of Information and Communication Studies.

Of course, I am also grateful for Chancellor Alfonso for allowing FICS to proceed in taking me in. It was definitely a turning point in my life. But it was her role in my life milestones later on which I will always credit her the most.

It would be nearly a month after my first day on the job when I finally met the big boss. I was at the UPOU Faculty Room in my little cubicle minding my own business, or more accurately, trying to look like I was busy, when she went in and proceeded to the next room, where the senior faculty members’ desks where at. She went to talk to my Dean, Dr. Flor. When their discussion ended, he officially introduced me to her, and I will never forget her first words to me, as she looked at me with a smile.

It’s nice to finally meet you, anak… Madami akong ipapagawa sa iyo.

Of course, the best I can say is, sige lang po! But I was really thinking something along the lines of, oh shit, there goes my plans for a quiet career as a junior faculty…

I had no clue as to what was in store for me.

It wasn’t long before I found myself sitting on an honorary seat in the UPOU Chancellor’s Advisory Council. I was barely 30 years old straight out of grad school and being asked to either provide advice, or worse, actually make major decisions on how to run a university I barely knew from the inside. I thought it was a great honor to be entrusted with that power and responsibility. Then reality sank in.

It was difficult. Overwhelming. I had wanted to quit. Several times. You had to understand that this was before the UP Charter change that ushered in the new salary rates that UP faculty enjoy today. Had I not been single and living with my dad, I’d never live a life I wanted on my own with that salary. The administrative work that was the source of huge amounts of stress provided a monthly honorarium that would not even be enough to pay for a day of confinement in the hospital when I eventually broke down due to stress.

It just wasn’t worth it. I had found a passion for teaching. But I could barely live with the other responsibilities that were tied in with being a teacher at UPOU. This negativity was compounded by the realization that even though I did as much work as the other mid-level managers, I did not receive the same benefits they had. For a time, I regarded myself as the lowest paid IT manager in the country.

Two years into the job, I finally said to myself I have had enough. It was also not helping that I was struggling to move on from a failed long-term relationship. So, I built the nerve to walk into the Chancellor’s office to ask that I be allowed me to resign. At the very least I was going to negotiate that I be relieved of my administrative duties that had helped destroy my self-confidence and brought me on the brink of depression, neither of which anybody really knew about.

I barely held it together in front of her as I tried to plead my case. Although I managed to not break down crying, I almost couldn’t talk anymore and felt a tear could fall any moment.  It didn’t, but that moment of transparency was not lost to the Chancellor, who almost cried herself (yes, that’s how she is). But she didn’t let me resign. Yes, on paper, she did cut my administrative load in half. But in practice, I still ended up keeping most of my original responsibilities. There was, however, something more profound that happened for me that day.

The Chancellor believed in me, even at a time when I didn’t believe in myself. That meant everything. I was dissuaded from quitting. So, with that no longer an option, I focused on finding ways to stay without burning myself out and running myself to the ground. Even though my desire to work at UPOU wavered, I had become intensely loyal to the person who ran it. Validating her faith became my mission. But not too much, I guess. I was still pissed about the lack of compensation.

I would like to believe that I had started to achieve that validation in 2013, when she asked me to run my newly re-christened office formally as Director, with all the benefits befitting the position. I was a little surprised. I can imagine that she didn’t have a lot of options back in 2007. But it wasn’t the case anymore at that time and I was getting ready to give way to whoever becomes the lucky guy or girl that receives the perks of being a Director that I had wanted for myself. I even told her as much. She already had younger and brighter people to work with. Then she asked me that question.

Who?

Oh, I had at least three names I can give off the top of my head. But I stopped short of mentioning any, just as she probably knew I would. They were just that — young and bright… and green. Perhaps even more so than I was when I started. If I were to recommend one of them, I’d sentence him or her to the same thing I went through for the past six years. It felt like she was giving me a test of character. Or perhaps she just knew exactly how to corner me. After all, there is a good reason why it’s damned near impossible to say no to Grace Alfonso. She was also on her third and final term as Chancellor. I think she would largely prefer to stick with battle-tested people which she had built trust with. This belief made this request an honor for me. So, of course, I accepted. I still didn’t like the job. But aside from the familiarity over it, I was already stronger, thicker-skinned and perhaps most importantly, had the maturity for it (barely). The perks were just icing on the cake. The real reward was that sense of self-validation that took a long time to earn.

 

Ma'am Gigi had a profound effect in both my professional and personal life. It makes me wonder how differently my life would have been (or if my son would even have existed at all), had she not make me stay at UPOU.

Ma’am Gigi had a profound effect in both my professional and personal life. It makes me wonder how differently my life would have been (or if my son would even have existed at all), had she not make me stay at UPOU.

 

Ma’am Gigi turned her responsibilities over as Chancellor earlier today. My own appointment expires a few months from now. On two separate instances, I hugged her and said thank you. But I don’t think those two words muttered twice would be remotely enough in making her realize just how much I owe her and how much I appreciate her faith in me and how I cannot imagine how my life would be right now had she not let FICS take a chance on me and more importantly, if she had let me quit that day in her office.

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Visa Application: United Kingdom

As I write this, I still may or may not make this trip to London which I had been thinking about for the past month. But it didn’t stop me from applying for a visa despite the cost, anyway.

Applying for a visa is always a stressful undertaking for me, as it may be for many of you. I believe I have already earned the credentials to go to just about wherever I want and be allowed to do so. Being an academic makes things even easier. But still, the thought of someone you don’t know judging as to whether or not you are worthy of entering another country kind of affects my self-esteem. Even more stressful is having to compile all the documents required of you and have those closely examined. Applying for a Schengen visa is just that.

However, the UK visa application process outwardly looked more similar to the US visa application as far as requirements are concerned — an exhaustive application form, a rather high application/processing fee and a suspiciously short list of required supporting documents. After all, being used to going through the eye of a needle with Schengen visa applications, I can’t help but think that what if they suddenly ask for something I did not bring with me and all that shit.

So, I searched the Web for all the instructions and pointers I could fine. Aside from the information from the UK Embassy’s own website, I came across Wanderlass’s blog, which I found to be helpful and encouraging. I will now attempt to fill in whatever blanks her blog left and updates to what she laid out (the blog was written back in 2011) which I think might prove useful for everyone.

Everything starts with the online application form. It is long — perhaps longer than the US Embassy’s DS160. It requires information whose relevance you might question. For example, I can’t for the life of me, understand why a savings accounts’ income (interest rate for the rest of us) be more relevant than the actual balance. But I filled it, anyway (which turns out to be close to nothing).

After taking a few days to gradually fill that form, I finally submitted it, and set my appointment for the biometric scan and whatever interview that may arise. This was back in February 10, 2016. The good news is that I had the option to schedule my appointment for as early as February 12, and that’s exactly what I did. I chose to be processed at 8:10AM and then paid US$128 by credit card. Then I waited.

The UK Embassy doesn’t deal with applicants directly. Instead, a third party, VFS Global along Chino Roces Ave. extension at Makati, does it for them. Apparently, they process visas for many other countries, including Australia and some Schengen states, which I found surprising. Maybe I can experience applying for one through them next time. But at the time, I was focused on my immediate need.

I was there early and relaxed a bit. I fell in line exactly at 8:10AM. Then I realized that bags are not allowed beyond the waiting area. It would have been nice to know that prior to my going there. The good news is that VFS Global offers a locker service. The not so good news is that it will cost you P150.

Coming in to the processing area, I was surprised to see a largely vacant seat of benches, especially when you’re accounting for all the countries they represent. This was no US embassy, that’s for sure. I have barely started filling the checklist the receptionist gave me when my number was called. I took a deep breath, assuming that if there was going to be an interview, it would be then and there. I was expecting to have to answer questions of why I did not carry this or that supporting document. Instead, the young man at the counter asked me:

Man: Is this all that your going to submit?
Me: Well, is there anything else I need to submit?
Man: That’s up to you, sir.
Me: Uh… ok. If that’s the case, that’s all of them.

I mostly felt relieved, but not completely, lol. I submitted a certificate of employment, a bank statement, information on the conference I was planning on attending and a hotel reservation confirmation. I thought it was enough, but I can never really know and that would be totally on me. Well played, VFS Global.

I was then asked if I would prefer my passport to be sent back to me via courier and be sent notifications via SMS. I quickly said yes to both, and then got surprised when I looked down at his counter. I saw that the return delivery cost P500 and the SMS notification cost P150. Wow. I was beginning to realize how lucrative a business VFS Global has going. Then again, it is hardly my concern. I just wanted to get this over with.

I waited for a bit to have my picture taken and fingerprints scanned. Then I was done. I fell in line on time at 8:10AM and was out of the building before 9:00AM.

I was told to wait three weeks. But I knew full well that it was a safe and conservative estimate. I was confident that this will not take long in my case. My guess my application will be processed within two weeks. But on February 17, I received my SMS notification that my application has been processed. My passport was delivered back to me the following day. That was six days from my personal appearance at VFS Global to my passport being delivered back to me. Even my original supporting documents along with the passport were returned to me.

This application is on the costly side, but it was quick and smooth. Not bad at all.

 

 

 

 

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The BAMS Survival Guide

Update for 2019:

While valid at the time of writing, I am afraid much of what I wrote here is already outdated and may not be consistent with current policies. For your academic advising needs, please visit the UPOU FICS website and consult the BAMS Program Chair. 

Thank you.

Version 0.21 (May 8, 2016)

changes:

0.1 – first draft
0.11 – expanded foreword and corrected a misquote
0.2 – major additions
0.21 – added list of UPOU officials

Disclaimer:

This guide is not meant to replace whatever official guidelines UPOU has established for students. Much of what lies below are also matters of opinion based on my experiences and observations as a teacher and administrator in the BAMS program for the past six years and are not necessarily shared by the rest of the university.

This is my personal site which UPOU has no control or authority over. It has, and always will be, my intention to help students. Over there at UPOU, I am bound to follow a certain level of decorum in order to do so. But here, I can say anything however the hell I want. Besides, from what I’ve noticed, what you see here seems to be the language most students understand.

If, at any point, you find something in this guide that offends you, then I suggest you stop reading and seek advice elsewhere.

Thank you.

[nextpage title=”Introduction” ]

Introduction

Contrary to what may be popular belief among BAMS students, there are actually established guidelines and protocols that are meant to be followed as they weave through the program. It just so happens that pretty much all of them are subject to change.

UPOU navigates over capricious waters of the times. Perhaps more so than any other UP campus, UPOU is subject to the rapid changes in trends of technology and society. Since the opening of the BAMS program back in 2008, I have seen prevailing ICTs change, from paper-based correspondence to SMS, to content management systems and mobile platforms. This is huge because ICT is the artery bridging the students to the university. We have also seen student demographics and dynamics dramatically change from the population dominated by full-time professionals to the emergence of UPCAT passers fresh off high school.  These things force us, the UPOU faculty, to never stop moving forward to adapt to these changes. Otherwise, we run the risk of getting left behind and be doomed to irrelevance.

The BAMS Survival Guide is meant to be a supplement for whatever official guide or handbook is issued to you by the UP Open University. It aims to cover issues which any official guide cannot. It is also meant to keep pace with sudden changes to anything that relates to your being a student, unencumbered by the rigorous process an official guidebook has to go through before being approved by the university.

With that said, this is not meant to replace any official guidelines issued by the university. If you find any sort of conflict, unless it is explained clearly in this guide, you, the student have to trust that the official guidelines supersede this survival guide.

At the same time, this guide is only meant to point you to what we feel is the right direction. This guide will never be complete in the sense that everything you need to know will eventually be here. That is what we call spoon-feeding — students expecting it and teachers practicing at are deeply frowned upon around here. As UPOU students, you are expected to practice a certain level of autonomy and proactivity. If you can’t do that, you may have to do a bit of soul-searching and figure out for yourself if you are in the right school.

Lastly, as it is emphasized here, when all else fail, talk to someone with authority and ask for help or perhaps directions. It’s part of why we’re here as mentors in the first place.

Al Francis Librero
BAMS Program Chair, 2014 to present


I, Student

There are generally two types of students – the full-timers and part-timers. Full time students are typically encouraged to take on a full twelve unit load for each trimester. Part-time students, whom we presume to have full-time occupations, are advised to take three or six units.

However, based on what I have seen, classifying students is much more complicated than that. We also have to take educational background into account. That leads us to the following:

  • UPCAT passers coming straight out of high school
  • International Baccalaureate Diploma holders
  • Transferees from other UP campuses
  • Transferees from other schools and universities
  • Admitted students who have finished certificate or ALS programs

These have yet to cover so many other parameters in what is the student demographic. It may take a while to do so. But what this means is that the UPOU studentry is a highly diverse group of people, all of which must be fairly accommodated. Does it sound like a daunting task? You bet.

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[nextpage title=”General Pointers” ]

General Pointers

Sooner or later, you are going to have problems. And then I, or whoever the program chair will be when that time comes, will have to go through the repetitive process of helping you out. Now, it’s ok if such things are isolated or are easily resolved. But there are times when neither is the case.

Therefore, it is also in my best interest to help you prepare early on with how to go about your business not just in BAMS, but in UPOU as a whole.

Let me start with the most important thing:

  • MATUTO KAYO MAGBASA AT INTINDIHIN ANG INYONG BINABASA.

I’m not pertaining to any specific case or person (even though doing so will not be difficult). Being careless about instructions and content is sadly endemic to students as a whole. I think at least half of your potential problems can be avoided just by reading intently, whether it is your course site/manual, the academic calendar, AIMS, or whatnot. Aside from preventing yourself from making mistakes, it also saves you time because you won’t have to needlessly make inquiries to me, your learning center or OUR and move on with whatever you need to do.

  • SEEK CLARIFICATIONS WHENEVER NECESSARY

Ask me, other faculties-in-charge, the learning center coordinator or your fellow students. Whatever happens, DO NOT keep any questions to yourself hanging and lingering until it’s too late. Whenever there’s a problem, an excuse that starts with I would like to ask that you reconsider [a ruling for whatever it is I screwed up]. I did not know that… is probably one of the worst that you can come up with.

  • KEEP YOUR FACULTIES-IN-CHARGE AWARE OF WHAT’S GOING ON

Like I said, excuses are best made before deadlines. It gives us time to figure out how to deal with whatever problem you’re going through.

We have lots of deadlines ourselves. We are pressured to produce grades on time. Heck, some of you even expect your assignments to be marked immediately. Personally, I am usually able to meet those deadlines under most circumstances. But it gets annoying when somebody sends an email asking for reconsideration, making up all sorts of excuses just to get away from a DRP or 5.0 long after I’ve submitted the grades. Do you have any idea how tedious (and potentially embarrassing) it is to modify official records?

Meeting deadlines is only one issue, however. All of us have our problems. We respect your right to privacy. However, when your problems start affecting your performance as a student, it might already be a good time to let us know enough of what’s going on so we can try work with you to come up with a means to make things more bearable.

If that is no longer possible, at least we can advise you to drop your course(s) or file a leave of absence. It sounds harsh, but in my experience, working students with families are usually the ones facing the most problems and studying is almost always the lowest priority among them. Therefore, letting go of their studies, at least for the time-being, is usually the most practical decision. At the very least, an LOA is much more preferable than an array of DRPs and 5.0s.

Communicating with your FICs is also good practice because, eventually, it is something you will have to do constantly, when you make it to the higher major courses, especially MMS 200. If by then, you still don’t know how to approach your profs, you might be in for a difficult time.

  • UPOU AND ITS PROFESSORS ARE NOT “THE ENEMY”

The first batch of BAMS graduates marched back in 2012. One of them graduated magna cum laude and delivered the valedictory speech for the entire class. She closed her speech with the following passage:

To the graduates, today is definitely a good time to ask for graduation gifts. This is our day. And today we celebrate that in spite of how much our Professors challenged us, we won over them! Congratulations fellow survivors!

A big difference the ordering of two words can make, no?

Regardless of the speaker’s actual intention, it is a reminder for us teachers of what some think. It’s strange to see students behave as if the university and its professors are roadblocks – antagonists or kontrabidas in the stories of their lives. For the most part, such way of thinking has been tolerated. Truth be told, if it can be a source of motivation to excel and succeed, then all well and good. Unfortunately, there are incidents when students take it too far. Aside from being offensive, such incidents are unnecessary.

So, let’s get it out of the way early on. The institution and the people working for it are not your enemies. It is the course contents which you need to win against. The professors are here to help you achieve that, but only if you let them. Win them over and convince them how good you are.

On the other hand…

  • STUDENTS ARE NOT CLIENTS

With students having to pay for tuition, it is not surprising for some to regard themselves as paying customers. Therefore, we should all abide by the old and misguided adage that the customer is always right. This can be a root of a lot of issues and possible conflicts.

Remember this, and remember it well. You are not in UP buying a degree through the tuition fees your pay. You are in UP paying for a chance to prove yourself and earn a degree. That’s a colossal difference right there…

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[nextpage title=”People, Names and Acronyms” ]

People and Names

When communicating with professors, the least a student can do is get their names right. Some of you are probably going duh. But believe it or not, names are gotten wrong more often than it should,even if their email addresses are their actual real names. Whether it is borne of carelessness or ignorance, it is difficult to say. It is awkward, either way (not to mention insulting for some).

Even more awkward and embarrassing is being exposed for not knowing who you are actually addressing. You know the name, but not his or her title, position or responsibility.  I know of incidents where students don’t know who the FICS dean, or worse, who the UPOU Chancellor is. There is no excuse for such levels of ignorance. Do take the time to know about these things.

I’ll make it easy for you.

As of May 2016, the following are the UPOU Officials whom you should know by name:

  • Chancellor – Dr. Melinda dP. Bandalaria
  • Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs – Dr. Melinda F. Lumanta
  • Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration – Dr. Jean A. Saludadez
  • Dean, Faculty of Education – Dr. Ricardo T. Bagarinao
  • Dean, Faculty of Information and Communication Studies – Dr. Alexander G. Flor
  • Dean, Faculty of Management and Development Studies – Dr. Primo G. Garcia
  • University Registrar – aProf. Aurora V. Lacaste
  • Director, Office of Academic Support and Instructional Services – Dr. Sheila R. Bonito
  • OIC, Multimedia Center and Information Office – Dr. Joanne Serrano
  • Director, ICT Development Office – aProf. Al Francis D. Librero
  • Director, Office of Gender Concerns – aProf. Finaflor Taylan

Acronyms

You are in BAMS (not BAMMS, BMS or anything else), the Bachelor of Arts in Multimedia Studies program. It is an undergraduate degree program run by the Faculty of Information and Communication Studies (FICS) at the University of the Philippines Open University (UPOU).

FICS is NOT the same as FIC (faculty in charge). Speaking of, there’s what we call Faculty with a capital F, which pertains to the office (FICS, FEd and FMDS), and then there’s faculty with a small f, which pertains to us, the assistant, associate and full professors.

This is quite important to keep in mind, especially when communicating with UPOU staff. Get it wrong, and you will look foolish. Even though most of us will not mind, it’s still best to avoid that. We’ve encountered instances where a student makes it through graduation without even knowing which Faculty they belonged to. That’s just embarrassing and I don’t want any of you to be the same.

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[nextpage title=”Transfer of Credits” ]

Transfer of Credits

The program chair is actually the wrong person to ask for regarding which courses you took from your previous school or university can be credited by UPOU. He or she is not involved in this particular process. This is handled by the Faculty Secretary and therefore should be the person for you to contact regarding this matter.

However, there are a few things you can keep in mind prior to contacting the secretary.

  • It is typically automatic for students previously from another UP campus, or those from the Associate in Arts program to have their GE courses get credited, unless they were taken from a long time ago. How long? Course contents have varying degrees of shelf lives. Math lessons can stay relevant for decades or even centuries. On the other hand, content information technology related courses can be rendered obsolete within a year or two. UPOU, therefore has to review requests on a tedious case to case basis.
  • Students who took bachelor’s level courses outside UP will typically have to take validation exams for each course he or she wants transferred. Keep in mind that these exams assess how well you might do in the pertinent UP course, not how well you did in your previous school. Therefore, it will be very much possible for you to encounter types of questions dramatically different from what you have previously encountered. Is that fair? From your perspective, probably not. For everyone else, of course it is.

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[nextpage title=”Enrollment” ]

Enrollment

A self-advising checklist is released during registration and can usually be found in the front page of the AIMS student portal. It includes all the courses offered in the trimester.  The instructions in that checklist are fairly straightforward. However, certain questions often come up.

Academic Load

Full-time students normally take on full twelve unit loads for each trimester. Part-time students are often advised to only take three or six units per trimester. However, they are free to take up to twelve as well, if they do so desire.

Under special circumstances, students are allowed to overload and take fifteen units. Permission must be requested from the Program Chair, who will then promptly evaluate the case. Generally speaking, only cases of impending violation of the maximum residency rule (8 years for BAMS) are considered for approval. Otherwise, the request would be denied.

Reality Check:

FICS had become extremely accommodating in as far as allowing for overloads is concerned. This was rooted from the early years of the program when it was in disarray. It was not managed well and left a lot of students without clear directions. It took years to recover from that. Part of the recovery process was to bend the rules a little bit here and there. That also meant allowing students to overload in order to catch up and give some students a chance to graduate on time.

Admittedly, this was taken for granted up to the point when a new generation of students started making use of overloading as a means to accelerate and graduate in less than three years. That is no longer allowed.

Curriculum vs. BAMS Self-advising Checklist

Every now and then, you will find certain conflicts or inconsistencies between the BAMS curriculum found in the FICS website (http://fics.upou.edu.ph) and the self-advising checklist made available to you during enrollment period through the Academic Information Management System (AIMS).These are what you need to know in order to understand why.

First, what is found in the website or BAMS program handbook (if available) is the one that is official, as in approved by the UP Board of Regents. That is the one we strive to follow as best we can. However, there are times when it is necessary to bend the rules a little bit, so to speak. This can be manifested through the checklist.

Prerequisites

OUR’s AIMS is supposed to follow the curriculum originally approved by the UP Board of Regents, as already stated. The problem is that FICS is often forced to bend the rules a little, when it comes to prerequisites. That is why you will often notice conflicts between the checklist and AIMS when you enroll courses. This happens for two main reasons. First, with BAMS students coming in every trimester with widely varying degrees of previous accomplishments, provisions have been made to make sure they have enough courses to enroll in. Second, there are a number of higher major courses where students would do well taking certain lower courses prior, despite what is included in the original curriculum.

So, these conflicts, in fact, happen not out of incompetence, but of the desire to accommodate students more.

Waiving of Prerequisites

If a program chair has the authority to waive prerequisites, he or she will already do so and indicate it in the BAMS self-advising checklist provided during enrollment. An FIC has the authority to waive prerequisites and allow you to enroll even if you haven’t passed them, but only when what we call COI or the consent of instructor is officially prescribed as a prerequisite in the curriculum.

Again, if a prerequisite has not been pre-waived in the checklist, the program chair can’t do anything about it. You need to directly contact the FIC. If one has not been announced yet who can give a COI, as is sometimes the case, you will have to assume that the prerequisite(s), if any, cannot be waived.

Reality Check:

Perhaps the most important thing to note about prerequisites is that they are there for a very damn good reason.

However, waiving of prerequisites also became a sadly common practice in the early days as well. Again, provisions had to be made to recover from the initial shortcomings of the program and graduate on time. The problem is that again, the reasoning behind doing it in the first place had been taken for granted.

I personally found it alarming, as well as insulting, to see students complain when I deny their requests to waive prerequisites. On the other end, I have also received complaints from the side of the faculty about students struggling (sometimes to the point of failing) in courses whose prerequisites they have not taken yet because they have been fricking waived.

So like overloading again, waiving of prerequisites can only be allowed in dire circumstances.


Cross-registration

<sarcasm>Another issue that is dear to my heart.</sarcasm>

Cross-registration allows you to enroll in courses in another UP campus. Take note – another UP campus.

We strongly discourage cross-registering now. Here’s why:

Let’s say you enroll for the first semester in another campus, let’s say in UP Diliman. That will count to your first trimester load here in UPOU. Now, with UPD following a four month schedule, the first semester would still be on-going by the time the second trimester of UPOU commences. That means that 3-unit load at UPD will still count to your second trimester load. That means you can only enroll up to 9 units for the second trimester.

Furthermore, we have no control over whatever happens to cross-registrants in the UPD side, nor can we lend any assistance if anything goes wrong. There are cases where UPOU loses track of students due to cross-registering. It’s actually enough to prevent a student from graduating on schedule.

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[nextpage title=”Curriculum” ]

Making Sense of the BAMS Curriculum

The following is a section in-progress. All courses have their official guides and descriptions. However, they do not tell the whole story. This section intends to fill those gaps which the official documents cannot cover. Each course contains annotations from students and teachers alike in the hopes that you, the student thinking about enrolling in any of these courses, see a clear picture off first-hand accounts from those who’ve actually been there.

MMS 120 Communication and Culture

Student notes:

Approaches to the study of communication and culture; comparative analysis of communication variables, patterns, and systems across cultures — this is the why and how of BAMS and whatever you learn here will serve you as a practitioner for years to come even though it is hard to appreciate for the sheer amount of writing required by this course.

MMS 121 Multimedia and Popular Culture

Student notes:

Impact of multimedia on popular culture — this is where you can expose the world to your inner geek or kabaduyan. Expect to get to know your classmates more for better or worse whether you like it or not. Don’t be surprised if you come out of this with either new friends  or old ones that have started to avoid you. Hehehe.

MMS 130 – Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D)

Faculty notes:

It is one among several courses under the program that define the social relevance associated with UPOU’s approach to multimedia studies. Thus, you may find it different from your earlier courses. It covers lessons learned and best practices on the use of information and communication technologies in programs and projects by the international development assistance community. It is composed of three units: Situating ICT4D; Sectoral and Thematic Applications; and State of Play. All three units, in turn, contain three modules.

Student notes:

Application of ICTs and multimedia for sustainable development — probably the most socially conscious course you will take in BAMS, the theories you will encounter are mind-blowing but the knowledge of how we as BAMS people can apply them are mind-numbing.

 

MMS 131 – Introduction to Knowledge Management

Faculty notes:

Knowledge management was defined in the nineties as a newly emerging discipline that treats intellectual capital as a manageable asset. Since then, the phrase has been misused, abused and has consequently evolved in forms that its intellectual founders would hardly recognize as KM. Nowadays, almost anyone associated with information, knowledge, or management can claim to be a KM expert. This course will provide an appropriate perspective to the discipline by tracing its roots and looking at its application particularly within the development sector. MMS131 is structured into the following: Knowledge; Knowledge Management; and Knowledge Management for Development (KM4D). Each unit contains three modules. The course was so designed that the class will construct the content of these modules collectively. The main readings are contributed by the Faculty In Charge.  In the spirit of constructivism and knowledge sharing, you are likewise expected to contribute to the class resources through a mechanism that we refer to as the learning log.

Student notes:

Foundations, basic principles and applications of knowledge management— this is where interaction with your fellow BAMS students is inevitable so it will be the time to get down from your ivory tower or crawl from under your rock and realize that BAMS people aren’t so bad after all.

The 140 Series of Courses

The 140 series is made up of math and computer science related courses, namely:

MMS 140        Mathematics in Multimedia
MMS 141        Principles of Programming
MMS 142        Internet Technologies and Web Development
MMS 143        Introduction to Multimedia Computing
MMS 144        Principles of Multimedia Information Management
MMS 145        Multimedia Communications and Networking
MMS 146        Object-Oriented Programming

Passing these courses can be a potentially daunting task, especially for those without a firm background on mathematics and computer programming. If you think are one such student, then you are advised to only take one of them at any given trimester. And perhaps more so than in others, FICS is particularly strict about enforcing the prerequisites of these courses.

The Production Courses

The aptly called production courses consist of the 170 series, namely:

MMS 171        Text in Multimedia
MMS 172        Audio in Multimedia
MMS 173        Photography in Multimedia
MMS 174        Graphics in Multimedia
MMS 175        Videography in Multimedia
MMS 176        Animation in Multimedia

Program Chair Notes:

The originally approved BAMS curriculum indicates that there are no prerequisites for these courses. However, if you apply a bit of common sense, you will notice some logic in the sequence of these courses.

All six courses are deeply rooted from MMS 100, the first major course all students should take. Therefore, it makes sense that you take MMS 100 before any of the production courses – not after or even at the same time. Otherwise, prepare for potential difficulties along the way. A student has further argued that the ideal time to start taking any of these production courses is after taking MMS 102. This makes a lot of sense. What adds even more sense is for students to take MMS 100, 101 and 102 during their first year before  starting with production courses in their second year. These three courses can provide all the requisite knowledge on theory and practice in order to fully appreciate these six production courses.

It is also an excellent idea to take these production courses in ascending order, starting with MMS 171, and becomes practically imperative by the time you make it to 175 and 176. In case you’re asking why, if you take a close look, their foundations are actually grounded on the lower production courses. For example, what is video but the combination of sound, moving pictures and a dash of text and additional graphics?

Another thing to note is that while these production courses are potentially the most fun you will have in BAMS, they typically require a considerable amount of work. Therefore, it is recommended that you take no more than one production course for each trimester.

The most common question I get, however, is that regarding required equipment. And yes, it will be necessary to not necessarily own, but have full access to certain hardware and software all throughout these courses.

MMS 198 – Special Topics

Students are often clueless when they enroll in this vaguely titled course. The way UPOU treats this course, it is a springboard for emerging trends and topics in the field of multimedia. It is also the place to tackle topics not covered by any of the other major courses.

The actual topics will vary each time MMS 198 is offered. FICS will go out of its way to announce these topics in advance so that you will have the chance to choose the topic you would be most interested in.

For your reference, the following topics have been covered in the past:

  • New Media Art Practice
  • Mobile Videography
  • Gaming in Education
  • Digital Image Processing
  • Collaborative Online Audio Production

Mobile Videography

Faculty notes:

Mobile Videography tackles the requisite skills required in the craft but, more importantly, underscores a meaningful application of the medium towards a socially beneficial goal. Video is a powerful medium, primarily because it approximates reality. It leverages both the visual and aural senses and exploits the synergies between these two. It captures not only knowledge, but emotions and contexts as well. For so long, the benefits of employing this medium were reserved to the trained professional or the well-endowed artist. Today, technology has allowed anyone with a smart-phone to tap this medium and has equitably decentralized and distributed the power associated with its use. We have become less and less dependent on professional studios and more and more enabled to tell our own stories through video. Personal video stories will be the focus of this course.

 

MMS 200 – Special Project

Faculty notes:

MMS 200 can’t really be considered as just one of your major courses.  It is your capstone. It is the avenue for you to apply everything you have learned from all the other courses to conduct research on multimedia through a project or a thesis.

It is difficult to set boundaries for what you can or cannot do because of the wide scope encompassed by the term multimedia.  UPOU faculty, therefore, have to evaluate students and their ideas on a case-to-case basis.

Only students of senior standing (or have taken 75% of the courses in the curriculum) should attempt to take MMS 200. It is also strongly recommended that most, if not all, of the production courses and MMS 197 are included in that 75%.

Research is a tricky concept to grasp, hence the necessity of MMS 197. What can or cannot qualify as multimedia research is explained in greater detail in the guide for MMS 200.

As for handling MMS 200 is concerned, it is a 6-unit course, taken three at a time.

The following are to be expected the first time you take it:

  • You will initially be supervised by the MMS 200 coordinator. He or she will address any concerns you have early on.
  • Your immediate job is to come up with one or more ideas on what you want to do and how you can conduct research for it.
  • You are to seek out UPOU faculty who you would want to work with and request that you be taken in as an advisee. You may choose according to whatever criteria you desire. But there are two important things that should always be concerned if you want to get through MMS 200 quickly and smoothly. First, he or she must be a full-time or affiliate UPOU faculty whose background and interests are aligned with what you want to do. And second, it would be ideal if he or she is someone you can comfortably work with (to a certain degree, at least).
  • What faculty requires of you before they agree to be advisers do vary. Sometimes, they agree immediately, while sometimes, they will ask you to clearly present your ideas first.
  • You are to write a project or thesis proposal for the approval of your adviser.
  • There are only two possible grades the first time – S (satisfactory) and U (unsatisfactory). To earn an S, expectations #3 and #5 must be accomplished. Otherwise, you get a U and are required to repeat the first take.

Once you get an S, you can proceed to taking the second half of MMS 200. Expect the following:

  • Typically, this is the time for you to implement your project or experiment, and then write your manuscript.
  • You will be under the direct supervision of your designated adviser the whole time.
  • Under no circumstances should drafting manuscripts be taken lightly. It is not your run-of-the-mill term paper. It is the measure of how you stack up as a BAMS student and practitioner. Prepare to deal with BAMS faculty at their most demanding.

In addition, you still have to understand that the world does not revolve around you. Be considerate and heed the following:

  • Professors do not accept advisees lightly. It is a serious commitment due to the complexity of the work involved. Therefore, do not ask one today and expect to be accepted immediately just like that.
  • The burden of communication and coordination will always rest on you. Do not expect anything to be handed to you freely. You need something, you work for it.

You typically would have one academic year to finish MMS 200. However, the 3-3 distribution was based on a semestral schedule. So if you still want that whole year to work with and not have any grade issues, it is a good idea to have a one-trimester gap when enrolling. For example, as a senior student, you enroll the first time during the first trimester. Assuming you pass, don’t enroll MMS 200 again until the third trimester arrives. You use that break during the second trimester to conduct the implementation of your project or experiment (while still under the supervision of your adviser). So, when the third trimester arrives, you will only have to worry about writing your manuscript (or the finishing touches of your implementation, depending on its extent).

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From AA to BAMS

It’s fairly common for graduates of the Associate in Arts program at the Faculty of Education to continue studying and take BAMS. If you are one such student, please be guided by the following:

UNLEARN YOUR BAD HABITS!

Of course, I have encountered excellent AA graduates over the past eight years. Some of them move on and do well in BAMS. But I have noticed a few trends among the majority.

  1. Complacency – Just because you have 2-4 years worth of study experience in UPOU doesn’t mean you can let up and chill in BAMS. Employing that attitude is an insult to your former professors and a waste of your or your family’s hard-earned money. It also serves as a bad example for new students to see. If you are one such student, you should be ashamed of yourself and might as well donate your tuition money to someone who deserves it more.
  2. Cluelessness – Yet, another thing to be ashamed of. I’ve seen AA students to whom the concept of a discussion is completely lost. Most AA students treat discussions as if they were assignments, which is completely wrong. Then there’s the annoying habit of flooding the forums with posts near or at the final day of classes.
  3. Half-expecting profs to be considerate – I know my colleagues mean well. But I do honestly believe their kindness, at times, have become a detriment to the maturity of some students. They also inadvertently pass on headaches to others such as myself. And that is something I do not appreciate. If a prof doesn’t accept a late submission from you, it doesn’t matter if others before him or her did so. If you rightfully failed a course and your prof refuses to give you consideration, deal with it. Just because some kindly teacher bailed you out doesn’t mean the rest of us have to do the same. It’s your fault and you should be mature enough to own up to it.
  4. Overconfidence – Homaygawddd… I observe this on a painfully regular basis. BAMS major courses are collectively more complex than the GE courses taken in the AA program. The lack of appreciation for that fact has often led to failures, or worse, quitting school altogether. It’s good to believe in ourselves. But there is a fine line between confidence and arrogance that is best left uncrossed. Yes, your prior experience should make all of this easier now, but be mindful that there are higher levels of difficulty for you to deal with now, which AA has not fully prepared you for.
  5. Jadedness – It is possible that this is a primary root of most of the behaviors previously mentioned. Perhaps there were a few profs who did not do their jobs well in the students’ eyes and somehow think everyone else are like those few. Or maybe deep down, they know that distance e-Learning is not for them but for some reason are forced to keep studying at UPOU, anyway. Whatever the reason, even though this is what annoys me the least, it is what saddens me the most.

It’s nothing personal. But the point is, as an AA graduate, there is a good chance that you have lost your way as an online student. I hope you don’t exhibit any of the above behaviors. But if you do, UNLEARN THEM.

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Frequently Asked Questions 

  • Can I enroll more than 12 units in a trimester?

You could be given permission to enroll 15 units (please see the part on Academic Load). But it’s not very likely.

  • How about 18 units?

Are you kidding me?

  • Will the credits from my previous school be transferred?

If you came from a non-UP school, it is not automatic, and therefore must be explicitly requested. Remember that the program chair is NOT the person to ask about this. This is the FICS secretary’s job (fics-secretary@upou.edu.ph). Alternatively, you can inquire through the FICS mailer (fics@upou.edu.ph).

  • I would like to take a course even though I have not taken its prerequisite. Is that possible?

Only if you have COI, or the consent of instructor. The program chair cannot give you the COI, unless he or she is the actual faculty in charge of the course you want to take.

  • … actually I have taken the course, but its FIC hasn’t given me my grade yet…

You still need the COI. However, in such cases, faculties in charge tend to be more lenient since the shortcoming is from the university’s end.

  • What courses can I take?

There’s always a checklist made available for you so you can decide which major courses you can take. For GE courses, you can check out postings from the Faculty of Education. Cross check the available courses with your academic record, while keep in mind of prerequisites. This is something students are expected to figure out for themselves.

If you’re a new student, it’s a good idea to take MMS 100 as soon as possible. Among GE courses, Math 1 is arguably one of the most critical, being the prerequisite of MMS 140 which, in turn, is a prerequisite for other courses in the 140 series.

Also, keep in mind that while we do what we can to ensure that it is possible for any student to be able to enroll twelve units in a trimester, regardless of standing, there will unavoidably times when it is not going to be possible. This is not uncommon, especially for those who are not following the prescribed plan of study, which assumes that you started your life as a BAMS student on a first trimester. Those who don’t start on a first trimester can regard themselves as irregular students. Again, while UPOU does its best, it is not obligated to accommodate irregular students as far as ensuring twelve unit loads is concerned.

  • There’s course Y which, according to the curriculum, has course X as prerequisite. But the checklist says there is no prerequisite. Which one is correct?

Technically, the official curriculum is correct. However, due to circumstances covered in this guide, there are times when prerequisites need to be waived. If a program chair can do so directly, it will be reflected from the checklist. Therefore, if the checklist does not indicate a prerequisite for a given course, it means that its official prerequisite has been waived, at least for the duration of that trimester.

  • I would like to take a production course even if I haven’t taken MMS 100 yet. It’s not listed as a prerequisite, after all. It’s ok, right?

Well, yes and no. Yes, because you are correct. MMS 100 is not officially a prerequisite. But it is crucial is preparing you for what’s to come in all the production courses. If you proceed, you do so at your own risk.

  • I would like to take MMS 200, but I haven’t taken MMS 197 yet. Is it ok?

MMS 197 is to MMS 200 the same way that MMS 100 is to the production courses. So, yes and no…

  • I successfully enrolled in MMS 200 even though I am not yet of senior standing…

Stop right there. Unfortunately, AIMS cannot account for senior standing as prerequisite. It’s a system limitation that has not been addressed as of this writing. Therefore, the coordinator goes through academic records manually and will have your enrollment cancelled if you are actually not qualified to take MMS 200 yet.

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Reaper Screenshot - Nasan Ka Kaya

Nasaan Ka Kaya? – the first product of the UPOU Soundtrack Project

By now, you’ve probably heard of Mix 3 for the song Nasan Ka Kaya. In case you’re still not familiar with it, this song was written by one of the BAMS students, Bem Favorito.

 

Now, Bem was kind enough to let us use his songs for what we’re currently dubbing as the UPOU Soundtrack Project.  Nasan Ka Kaya was chosen as the first guinea pig, so to speak. I grew up in the 1990s and it was probably the time when I listened to music the most. When I first listened to Bem’s demo, I was immediately reminded of the sensibilities, as well as recording qualities of rock and indie bands of that era. It was imperative that we capture some of that vibe for this song.

Three people have directly contributed to the production of this song. Bem is based in Metro Manila and recorded the vocal track. JM Agbayani played and recorded her bass guitar from the other side of the world in Dubai. I provided a basic backing track for them to follow and record with. And then they sent their recorded track to me online. I live near UPOU Headquarters in Los Baños, Laguna and I recorded the electric and acoustic guitar parts of this mix.

Reaper Screenshot - Nasan Ka Kaya

So, above is the main window of REAPER 5, the DAW software I used, or rather, am using for my audio production work. I am going to break this mix down, which I hope can give you a better understanding of how we went from Bem’s old demo to this mix.

As you can already see, the whole thing looks complicated for a relatively simple song that can be played by a three- or four-piece rock band with relative ease. It is complicated in the sense that the closer you get to the sound that you like, the difficulty in finally making it there increases. But you really don’t have to work that hard or have an extremely high level of proficiency to get something to sound decent. I would also like to say that I do not consider myself an expert in this line of work, nor do I believe that my way is the only way to get this mix to sound good. But I will say that I am happy with this whole learning experience and that while I believe there will always be room for improvement here, I can live with what I have here now.

 

Drums

Recording drums is one of those things that intimidate me in this project because I’ve never done it before. But I do look forward to learning how to do it. Unfortunately, as of this video clip, we still haven’t had the opportunity to do so. That is why we had to make do with a virtual instrument, at least for now.

I used a software plugin called EZDrummer 2. As the name implies, it is an easy-to-use virtual drum software, with a large library of MIDI-based loops and actual drum recordings. Creating a drum track for the entire song was largely just a drag and drop affair. I used stock loops, except in parts of the chorus where the snare, kick and cymbals are hit in unison with the guitars and bass.

 

This is very much usable. But I would like to point out that I look at EZDrummer more as a songwriting tool than an all-around replacement for a real drummer. I would still very much rather have live acoustic drums in the mix. Hopefully we’ll still have the opportunity to record that.

 

 

Bass Guitar

Just like the drums, I had a MIDI Bass Track prepared for this song. I was already resigned to the proposition that it will be as far as we will go for this song. That is why I was so happy that JM came forward and volunteered to play bass for us. She had an actual bass guitar and a USB interface. She even elected to use Reaper for the first time. All these were fortunate on my part. I asked her to send me a dry or effects-free recording. This is important because it makes thing more convenient for me while mixing. Applying effects would be easier and more predictable. And cleaning up any noise or unwanted artifacts would be less complicated.

 

While it needed some more work, the dry track sounded surprisingly good. It would probably be ok if I just left it as is. But I eventually decided that I wanted it to sound like it was being played through a bass guitar amplifier. I also wanted to reduce the faint noise that was audible when the bass track played alone. But I didn’t need to be too aggressive with the editing, because any noise in the bass track was adequately masked by the other tracks.

 

Acoustic Guitar

This is where things start to get a little fancier… well, despite outward appearances.

In a previous mix, I used an electric guitar with a synth pickup to simulate an acoustic guitar sound. It’s fine for live work, but I wasn’t particularly happy with how it sounded. So, I opted to just record this part again, but with a real acoustic guitar. This entailed a few matters that needed attending.

The reason why I first used a guitar synth was to not worry about acoustic considerations. Like everyone else in the project, I don’t have a professional grade audio studio at home. I can hear just about any noise outside or inside. I also don’t have a room with honest to goodness acoustic treatment. What I do have is some space in the middle of my house which I haven’t gotten to cleaning up. It worked out surprisingly well. In fact, I hadn’t noticed that it was lightly raining while I was recording until I took off my headphones. Luckily, the sound of the rain wasn’t picked up.

ADL_1417

My makeshift recording room

 

I had a cardioid condenser mic aimed at or near the 12th fret of my guitar at about 12 inches away. This was my intended main acoustic guitar sound. But since my guitar had a built-in pickup, I thought that I might as well, make use of it. So, I recorded the same performance with two sound sources. It turned out to be a good idea.

 

The sound from the microphone isn’t bad by itself, as you can hear. But to me, it sounded like it was a little short on bite.

As for the pickup sound, well… it sounds different. It’s also good, but is not as mellow as the mic’d sound.

I probably wouldn’t want to use it by itself for recording. But when you blend it with the microphone recording, you can get something different, and dare I say, better. They mutually make up for each other’s weaknesses.

 

Electric Guitars

These are probably the set of tracks which I put the most thought over. And yes, it does have something to do with these being my part. Most people will hear the electric guitars as if it were just one, or maybe two instruments. It’s not that simple, and I’ll show you why.

I plugged in my guitar directly through my interface and used the same software I used for the bass to simulate a guitar amplifier’s sound. I could have mic’ed a real guitar amplifier – I actually have a real version of the simulated amp that I used. But I decided against it. I didn’t want to deal with the acoustics of my work area. Of course, if it didn’t sound good to me, I would have opted to use a microphone like I did with the acoustic guitar. But BIAS FX, the software I used, made things so much easier for me. More importantly, given the circumstances, I doubt I could have gotten a better sound within the same time span.

 

The thing that helps keep the song together is the rhythm guitar track, which doubles the acoustic guitar, creating a thicker sound. But at the same time, I didn’t want it to dominate the mix, so it wasn’t really that much louder than the acoustic guitar here.

The lead guitar is also a straightforward affair. It’s nearly as loud as the vocals, and with a bit more distortion applied. The melodies themselves… well, they’re not what I would normally like to play, but they do work well for the sound and feel that Bem wanted for this song. He seemed to agree, so I kept them all.

 

I simply repeated the verse vocal melodies for the guitar solo spot, but to keep things from being too monotonous, I recorded a third guitar track to provide some harmonies. Then I added a fourth electric guitar track in the background to build up the song towards the climax at the final chorus. As far as keeping the 90s indie feel went, this was the part where I veered away from it the most. They didn’t do much ambient guitar stuff back then. But I still think it works well with the song. At the very least no one’s complaining about it, so it hasn’t been taken out.

 

Vocals

Whenever there is singing, it will almost always be the main focus of a song. That goes for just about any music genre out there and it is difficult to find exceptions. And no, this song is no exception either.

That is the point of working on mixing in the vocal track last. With the accompanying tracks close to being set, Bem sent me his recording. My job was to lay it down front and center and adjust the rest.

The dry vocal track itself needed work. But at the same time, I didn’t want to completely lose its rawness. So, I employed a technique I learned called parallel processing. It’s where I leave the dry vocal track pretty much as is, and then I send the same signal to a new track where I apply all the effects I wanted. And then like with the acoustic guitars, I had the option to easily blend the two tracks together until I get a sound that I want.

 

As far as effects were concerned, I used a plugin called IzoTope Nectar Elements. It’s a stripped down version of IzoTope’s more professional, and yes, more expensive line of effects plugins. But it has all the basic things I needed for the vocals. I started off with Nectar Elements’ Indie Warm and Dry preset. It essentially adds a little bit of reverb and then sets the EQ as a high pass filter. I further tweaked it by amplifying the signal and adding a bit more high end.

 

Panning

I kept panning simple for this mix. Since the bass guitar and vocals work on different areas of the frequency spectrum, it’s ok to keep them both at center. Lead guitars were also at center. It should also be fine because even if it lies relatively close to the vocals in terms of frequencies, they almost never play at the same time, anyway. Acoustic guitars are slightly panned to the left, while the electric rhythm guitar is equally panned to the right. The guitar fill heard at the final chorus actually doesn’t stay in place. I’ll explain that next.

 

Automation

Automation in DAWs is something you might not know about. I don’t know if it will ever be talked about in MMS 172, but I certainly don’t remember touching on it last time. But it is possible to tweak just about any parameter in the mix while the song is playing. And you can set the DAW to do it for you and by how much.

For this song, my automations made subtle changes, but I do think they make a big enough difference. The most obvious one is with the guitar fill where I played a bunch of natural harmonics in the last chorus. I laid down this track to add just a bit of ambience to the chorus and make it sound bigger. I certainly didn’t want it to muddy up the mix. So, rather than let it sit in one place along the stereo spectrum, I thought it would be cool for the harmonics to pan from left to center and then right to center.

 

Another part, or rather, the other parts where I do it are during the choruses where I temporarily raise the volume of the rhythm electric guitar track just before the vocals go nasan ka kaya…. and anong ginagawa to emphasize the downstrokes of all the guitars with respect to the rhythm.

 

Final Words

A great deal of my work here dealt with the faders to set the volumes for each track. It may have contributed to my seemingly endless series of tweaks, but I followed no definite rules for this. The important thing for me is that, in the end, all the tracks have to be audible in a manner that are good to my ears, and none of the volume meters should go red.

The 1990s indie vibe is definitely there. I started asking other people to listen to the song. Every time somebody mentions The Eraserheads, I know that the mix worked (though such a remark may have to do with Bem’s vocals more than anything else). Still, there are other influences and aspects that shine through the mix, which I’m particularly happy with, such as the 70s-ish guitar sound and harmonies, as well as a little bit of ambient effects – my personal little imprint on the song.

It is demanding part-time work. But I do enjoy doing creative projects with colleagues and students. I hope this song will only be the first of many to come.

 

 

 

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No longer just for adult learners

The degree programs of UPOU, or at least most of them, were designed and developed with the adult learner in mind. It made sense since most of what we have are graduate degree programs catering to working students. And then came the Associate in Arts program, then Bachelor of Arts in Multimedia Studies, and then Bachelor in Education Studies – all formal undergraduate programs. While young students started coming into the woodwork, they were still largely a minority at the beginning, especially outside AA.

Things have started to change, though. Last year marked the first time we admitted passers of the most recent UP College Admission Test (UPCAT) – students fresh out of pre-K-12 high school. Before I knew it, a substantial contingent of 16-18 year old new students had arrived. This year, it got slightly more alarming, as we actually have students who are barely 15 years old. At that age, I don’t think I could even imagine myself being in college, let alone being sure that studying online was for me (although to be fair, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as the Internet when I was 15 back in 1992).

At first, I did not think too much about it. My line of thinking was that things will sort themselves out eventually. Besides, we didn’t ask these kids to come. Adjusting has to be their problem. I certainly knew it was mine when I went to college.

However, I began to realize my lack of foresight at some point. I have always treated my students like mature adults. I always aim to put up some sort of challenge for them and employ any tool or method I think is necessary to facilitate that. Suddenly, it occurred to me that I may not be able to do that without additional restrictions. I became fully conscious of this matter in my Photography class when a student initiated a discussion on the work of a well-renowned photographer who was famous for his work on nudity and erotica. Some colleagues would argue that it’s nothing new. Well, like hell it’s not. Sure, I’ve had my share of mature themes in the classroom. But it was a physical classroom and stayed there. Those were simpler times. Whatever happens in the classroom no longer stays in the classroom, or the campus, for that matter. Whatever happens in the classroom can easily spread anywhere, thanks to social media, where things can easily be taken out of context.

Yes, I acknowledge the possibility that there are kids who can handle mature topics. I’m fairly sure some in this bunch can. But it doesn’t matter. All it takes is for one strict parent or a judgmental crowd in social media to see what’s going on and blow it out of proportion. It could even lead to a formal complaint. It’s not like I’m a stranger to such things, but it doesn’t mean I enjoy it.

Effectiveness of certain teaching methods have also been affected. A skills-based topic such as photography is still best taught hands-on. I know that. That is why I do hold face to face sessions when I can in order to augment the online discussions and activities. Historically, the barriers which students deal with when trying to attend are schedule conflict, distance and maybe inclination. AY 2014-2015 was the first time I became aware of a case where the student wasn’t allowed by parents to attend for fear of kidnapping. On the other hand, maybe it’s just an excuse. I’ll probably never know, but what I am sure of is that it will always be a plausible reason.

While face to face classes are logged by learning centers, they are not necessarily formally part of courses. I definitely do not put out formal letters of invitation and waiver forms. At the same time, when you have a minor included in a group, you are obligated to help ensure that he or she safely makes it back home, especially at night. That is not easy to comply with. UP usually makes students sign waivers before taking them in field trips. I question the practice and how it can realistically protect the university. That is why I don’t want to bother with it. I’d rather not schedule anything at all.

I’m still, as of yet, unsure how this matter will be dealt with, if at all. However, I do think this has to be looked into more intently. When updating courses, we usually only have content in mind. It would seem now that we will also have to re-think how we teach some of our undergraduate courses. Don’t get me wrong. Change entails a lot of work which I’d rather not take on. But if it is deemed necessary, then it must be done.

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ADL_0906

DIY Project: Acoustic Panel/Blank Canvas

Setting up my home office has so proven to be more costly and work intensive than I had first imagined. I took for granted the fact that furnishing it does not end with a good-sized desk, a small steel cabinet and a few shelves. But everything that I have done so far has been fun and fulfilling. And I would like to share one of my favorite projects, so far.

Since I was also going to dabble into audio production (both as a hobby and part of my work), I was going to need to deal with the acoustics of the room. Doing it the proper way by installing fixtures that can absorb and diffuse reflections is an expensive proposition, which I am still not willing to get into, or at least not for now. However, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t experiment a little bit, learn how to deal with acoustics and decorate while I’m at it.

I wanted two relatively small panels which I can move around the house or even put together as a makeshift sound booth, if necessary. After a bit of thinking, I got myself two pieces of 1”x2”x10’ framing wood. Each plank was cut to four pieces to build a 36”x24” frame. Rummaging through my dad’s old stuff, I found a mitre clamp which I found extremely useful in putting frames together, helping me ensure the pieces of wood are perpendicular to each other. I wish I had at least four of these. It’s also a great means to compensate for my poor sawing skills.


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I don’t like using nails, so I opted to use woodscrews instead, which also involved some pre-drilling. I even installed brackets along the corners. It’s likely to be overkill, but I’d rather be safe about this since I’ll be experimenting with different insulation material as time goes by.  It’ll also help in keeping the frame in shape.

 

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I had intended my panels to serve two purposes – sound absorption and decoration. The first thing that came to my mind was canvas, so that’s what I looked for and bought. National Bookstore sells them pre-cut to less than a square meter for nearly P100. However, my local fabric store sells them at P85 per yard. A single yard is actually cheaper and bigger than the one sold at NBS, and you can get much larger cuts. So, I bought some and cut a portion to fit my panel. It was then I realized that I didn’t know how to properly stretch canvas over a frame. Luckily, I did figure out a way. And it is here where this project’s most essential tool comes in. I managed to do a decent job stretching the canvas and fastening it with a staple gun. Every household should have one.

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I first experimented with old clothes to use as insulation to stuff the back of the panel. But while window-shopping at the nearest HMR branch, I found used 60cmx60cm gypsum tiles selling for P90 in HMR for a batch of five pieces. I just had to buy some. They’re dusty to work with, but should be fine when kept dry and contained properly. Having them behind a frame affixed to a wall ought to be proper enough.  They also make for bona fide sound absorption material.

 

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Had I chosen a different fabric, the project would have already been done at this stage. But I did choose canvas for a reason.

 

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My baby boy’s recent exploits in the playgroup his mom takes him to on weekends inspired me to turn this into a family project. I realized that his work or if you want to put things into perspective, random splashes of watercolor on paper will fade or get lost sooner or later. I wanted something more permanent. So, I had my wife prime the canvas with white latex paint and prep Aidan to work on his first big work of art.

 

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This part turned out to have taken the longest time. My wife did what she could to guide the boy, but what can you expect from someone who’s barely more than a year old, short attention span and all? So, while I was excited about the result, there was no pressure on my part. And whatever turns out will look great to me, no matter what. And look great it did!

 

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As of this writing, the second panel I built remains blank. I might decide to attach a different fabric on it, but it can wait. Besides, the wife might decide she wants to paint on it herself. But the first one is finally done and proudly hanging on my wall.

 

 

 

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The five courses that impacted me the most

* This is a re-write of a past blog. Along with a few dozen others, I lost it when I screwed up my site’s database late last year.

 

Honestly speaking, I am taken aback by the seeming obsession of some UPOU students with their grades. It would be ok, if this obsession went hand in hand with a drive to achieve actual excellence. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

This got me thinking about my time as a student. I have been a part of UP for most of my life, the biggest chunk of it as a student. After a high school diploma, three degrees and more courses than I care to count, I still recall milestones that has shaped me, not just as an academic, but as a person. Some of these milestones came in the form of courses that I took.

 

Social Science II – Social, Economic and Political Thought
Grade: 4.0 (second take: 2.25)

This was probably the only instance where I strongly believed that I didn’t deserve my grade. I still don’t. The prof also had a reputation for having it in for children of fellow faculty. At the time, I am a UP faculty’s son. So was one of my classmates. I gave him the benefit of the doubt and took it as a personal challenge. My classmate promptly transferred to a different class. I will never definitively say that the prof was one spiteful little prick because I had no concrete proof. But one thing was certain, I went on to be handed a conditional failure, while my former classmate, who was  more or less my academic equal at the time, passed the course with no issues. Granted I didn’t really take the course seriously at the start, but by the second half of the semester, I carried that reference book wherever I went and read it. Too bad, it wasn’t enough.

I had the option to either take a removal examination from him or just start over and enroll again, but with a different prof. As I had already started to believe that he did have some sort of vendetta against students like (hey, I was young and didn’t want to blame myself), I opted for the latter. While I didn’t get a high grade either, it was ok. I didn’t exert much effort but still passed.

Another thing that bothered me was that this prof was the only person who has ever told me that I had terrible, terrible English. It was on my second long exam bluebook. I was under pressure and had too many things in my head to write about in an effort to answer his exam questions. So, there was bound to be a few grammatical errors. Damn, you can diss my handwriting. You can call me out if my answers are bullshit. But telling me I had terrible, terrible English hurt. It hurt even more than the time I was not deemed qualified to be in Advanced English classes back in high school. And along with that exclusion, I will remember that prof for the rest of my life because of his comment. In fact, it has become a source of motivation for me. I have been complimented for my English proficiency and writing abilities in different countries. I got a respectable score in the TOEFL iBT even without studying and coming in over half an hour late for the test. I had even been given the chance to write a full page article (and continue to enjoy an open invitation to write) for the country’s leading broadsheet. All of those, I dedicate to this prof like a knee to his gut. Nah, I’m just kidding… But in all seriousness, for each of my achievement that involved any sort of writing, I remember him. No other prof managed to motivate me quite like the way he did.

 

Animal Science 181 – Poultry Sanitation and Disease Control
Grade: 5.0 (second take: 3.0)

ANSC 181 was a curious case for me. It was one of the last major courses I needed to finish before graduating. It was also one of the most difficult in the bunch. So, there was a bit of pressure coming in. But what was really in my mind at the time was the professor. Dr. Batungbacal (which, no shit, literally translates to iron stone) was legendary in the former Institute of Animal Science. Despite that frail-looking frame of hers, as far as the students were concerned, nobody in the institute carried an air of intimidation the way she did. Her reputation always preceded her. The semester hadn’t even begun and I was already scared. That was a fatal mistake. Looking back after my first take, I realize that I had already failed the course even before it started. I would not make that mistake again. I barely passed the second time around, but that by itself, was considered quite the achievement. And I did so without the burden of pressure and intimidation during the first take. Seated literally in the middle of the classroom, I even had the nerve to doze off every now and then in her three hour lectures, much to the chagrin of my seatmates. That made life so much easier.

I didn’t appreciate it back then, but the thing about Ma’am Bato (as we fondly called her to her back) was that she knew bullshit when she saw, smelled and heard it from her students. And she never hesitated to call students out on it, whether through clever sarcasm or straight shooting. Sometimes all she had to do was stare a hole through you. She had a knack for putting students in place with little or no effort. I always respected that.

I suppose that, as a teacher, I do take to her in some ways. And it is only now that I begin to understand where she was coming from all those years ago.

 

Computer Science A – Discrete Structures in Computer Science
Final Grade: 5.0 (second take: 1.5)

Computer Science D – Data Structures and Algorithms
Final Grade: 5.0 (second take: 2.25)

The Diploma in Computer Science program is peculiar. It lied between being a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree program. Coming in, it was also the first time I looked at myself as an adult learner. It was also the first time I realized what that really meant.

CMSC A and D were handled by the same prof during the same semester. In no way am I taking away from her abilities, but it was being under her when I realized that I no longer had it in me to sit through certain teaching styles, which sadly included her. Mathematics-related courses or subjects were difficult enough as they were. But them being taught the way they would be in high school, I could not take it anymore at age 22.

My failing both courses marked the first time I ever felt self-doubt about being able to earn this degree — something I initially thought was going to be easy, given my inclination towards computers. I re-took both courses, but with different teachers. CMSC D was taught in a similar manner as before, but with the class being particularly small (there were only two of us), mentoring was a lot more hands-on. I think I responded well to that. CMSC A, on the other hand, was taught in an almost radically different manner, in which I surprisingly excelled at. This was my first encounter with Prof. Connie Khan who went on to be part of my panel when I took my Master’s and my senior colleague at UPOU.

I may have forgotten how to prove mathematical equations or write good pseudocode over the years. But as a teacher, I realize that there is no one-size-fits all as far as methods are concerned. My own experiences in failing to connect with my profs is the driving force for my need to employ any means necessary to reach out to my students and help them get through my courses.

 

Environmental Science 255 – Environmental Psychology
Final Grade: 2.0

It might be a little strange for some to see me conclude this list with a course in which I got a decent grade in the first take. But the thing to take note here is that ENS 255 was a Master’s level course. Anything lower than a 2.0 was practically a failing mark.

I was finishing my course work in the MS Environmental Science program. Environmental Psychology was not part of my curriculum, but I thought it was interesting. So, I took it as an extra course. And yes, I still believe that it is one of the more interesting graduate courses that I have ever taken. I thought I was doing well enough — I made sure I attended all the classes, took the time to read books, submitted requirements and all that.

The main requirement for the course was a term paper to be presented and submitted at the end of the semester. I did those and ended my oral presentation with a fair amount of confidence. And then it came… my prof asked, So, where is the psychology component in your report?

I had no answer. And I was not alone in the class. She asked the same question to my other classmates. No good answer, either. Our prof, may she rest in peace, had that look of disappointment and exasperation that broke my heart. I failed her. I failed myself. It was kind of her to give me a final grade of 2.0. I didn’t deserve it. It was too high. She could have given me a 2.5 or something and I still wouldn’t have complained.

I learned a hard lesson here. For the first, time, I truly realized that you cannot achieve excellence through effort alone. Second, more than ever, I realized the importance of communicating with my teacher. I was never good at it, and it almost caused my downfall at the end. I could have asked my prof for help and avoid the embarrassment, but I didn’t. And I paid for it.

When I first thought about writing this blog, especially given the title I had in mind, I didn’t realize this would end up being a list of the courses I performed especially poorly in. But it makes sense. Unlike in the courses I did well in, these were the ones where I faced real adversity which weren’t overcome, at least not at first. The immediate rebounds were not always spectacular, but the long term effects of these ordeals were the ones that built character. And while it is true that these grades on my transcript almost left me ineligible to teach at UP, I do believe that these are what actually make me a better teacher today.

Of course, at the time, I certainly did not see these experiences in a good light. And while I never had the sense of self-entitlement nor the arrogance to question any of these grades, I admit that there would be times when I was not above laying blame over everything except myself. Self-accountability is a sign of maturity that, while I understood its need early on, took me a while to genuinely take into heart.

Knowing what I went through myself, I cannot expect students today to be happy the moment they see low grades in their records. However, it is my hope that, in the future, they will also revisit what they went through and at least try to see the good in them. They might be surprised.

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New guitar: to where the dreaming began…

I remember the time my parents took me to the mall to buy my first electric guitar. It was the old Park Square 1 in Makati around 1993. There were like four music stores there at the time. But it was in JB Music where my eyes got fixated to this guitar sitting on a shelf on its own. It was my first glimpse of a white American-made Fender Stratocaster. It’s difficult to recall what it was, exactly since I hardly knew anything about all the Fender models back then. I wasn’t able to look at it closely either, as it was off-limits to all but the most serious buyer — you couldn’t just test it (which, come to think of it now, was quite douchey of JB Music). But to the best of my recollection, it was either an American Standard or a Richie Sambora model. I don’t remember how much it was being sold for either, but it was definitely way out of reach as far as I was concerned. I was wowed and I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. However, my feet were still firmly on the ground and understood full well that I, or more specifically, my parents, would not be able to afford something like that. If I recall correctly, I ended up not buying anything at the time and eventually got some bad Kramer copy from Raon. Still, as we went back home, my mom had the heart to tell me, anak, ang mahal, pero makakabili din tayo niyan (son, it’s expensive, but someday we’ll be able to buy one like that for you)…. She said that lots of times to me throughout her life. She didn’t always deliver, of course. But the promises never really got old and I love her for it.

While I have fond memories of those very first trips to the music stores with my parents, I never thought much about the Strat again. I mean, I did my best to avoid Strats at the beginning. I just thought it was ordinary and uncool. But when that phase was over, I realized that a Strat was exactly what I wanted and that holds true to this day. And so I went through a few of them over the years.

Last year, I thought my guitar purchasing days would be coming to a stop for a while. We were expecting a baby and I was worried by how much will my expenses pile up. I wasn’t doing too badly, but at the same time, the money wasn’t exactly pouring down on me like a waterfall. The luxuries had to be put on hold, and that included guitar gear. The abstinence was short-lived, though. A month before my son was born, Yupangco, the local Fender dealer, announced what would probably be one of their most awesome promos ever. Suddenly, it was going to be possible to buy two new American Standard Fender guitars for roughly 70,000 Pesos. That’s less than the regular price for one of these things — it was practically a buy-one-take-one deal. Even though I resisted at first, I eventually caved in and made the trip to their showroom. Of course, my financial status never ended up being in danger. My wife bore a healthy baby boy without complications. But I really had no way of knowing at the time.

I had already decided that I was going for a Strat with a rosewood board and a Tele with an all-maple neck. The Tele was going to be easy because there weren’t a lot of choices left as far as Teles went. The Strat, however, was going to be tougher. A far as colors went, I was still undecided. When I finally made it to the display cases, I found it — 2012 model Olympic white Stratocaster. It was the first one I tested and I did so for a while. I already wanted it, but I thought that since I was already there, I might as well go through some more of the guitars. There were the ones in black, sunburst, red and that cool Mystic Blue. I even tried another white Strat, but with a maple board (which I would find out was actually the one reserved for me). All in all, I went through at least eight copies. They all pretty much sounded the same. But there was something about the first one I tried. Maybe it was because it was the only one on display whose bridge wasn’t set to float or the one with the least fret buzz. Or maybe it was because of the fretboard which somehow looked different than everything else*. Whatever the reasons, I eventually went back to that white one I tested first.

It wasn’t until I unpacked the guitars at home when I suddenly recalled the childhood memory I wrote about at the beginning of this blog. I realized that my mom’s musing just came true. Perhaps not exactly as what either of us had in mind, but it was reminiscent enough as to make me remember. A white Fender American Standard Stratocaster finally made it to me. And a happy New Guitar(s) Day it was.

Fender guitars

Mom, wherever you are now, I’d like you to know… I finally got it!

 

* As it turned out, it really was different. Jun Castro confirmed that, instead of the usual Indian Rosewood, the board was actually made of Pau Ferro, which Fender only uses on some signature and custom shop models. Never had I seen it on a mass production model. This was definitely a special buy.

 

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Pau ferro fretboard

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The philosophy of the pig

Last week, I had a brief conversation with one of my former teachers in UP Los Baños, Dr. Pidz Agbisit, who is now the Director for the Animal and Dairy Sciences Cluster in the College of Agriculture. We were having a little discussion on some opportunities for collaboration. We’ll see where that leads to in the coming months. I don’t get to spend much time with people from my college days anymore, but it’s always interesting when I do.

Pidz is someone who I have always looked up to, both as a former mentor and as a senior brod in the UP Animal Science Society. Some of the little things I do in my online classes were adapted from my experiences as his student. Not being able to apply much of what I learned in college at work, this, to my estimation, was my most important take-away from him.

I am reminded of one of his lectures in Swine Production class. He talked about a certain behavior observed among pigs. I don’t know if he actually tells it this way, but this is how I remember it:

Let’s say you have a swinehouse with 100 pens and at full capacity and all 100 pigs are just standing or lying around quietly minding their own business. Now, go inside and feed one pig. It doesn’t matter which one. You can even feed the one on at the farthest corner of the house. When you do, it will not take long before all the other 99 pigs would rise up and LOUDLY squeal in anticipation. It would be as if all these 99 other pigs rose in protest of the injustice of them being left out, demanding to be fed immediately. The noise will not settle down until each and every pig is fed.

That is what Pidz called the philosophy of the pig.

I’ve forgotten all but four of the swine breeds commonly raised for production. I don’t know how to how conduct a feasibility study for swine production anymore, at least not without studying it again. Feed formulation? Right now, even the basics are out of the question. But the the philosophy of the pig… it wasn’t really part of any of his syllabus, nor did he include it in the exams. And yet, it is what I have continued to hold on to even after nearly twenty years.

I wonder why?

 

 

* feature image credit goes to Dr. Orville Bondoc and his book, DNA BARCODING: Livestock and Poultry Breeds and Strains: Going beyond taxonomic classifications.

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