Shrinking Island

So my mom, her colleague and I went to this little island barangay in the town of Tubigon to conduct a disaster and risk assessment training to the locals funded by a non-profit org.

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Approaching barangay Ubay from afar. It really looks like it is about to shrink even when it is a low tide.
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Mangroves spreading on the other side of the Barangay.
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Locals preparing their fishnets for a sail. Fishing is the primary livelihood of the people in Ubay.
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My mom’s colleague, Sir Peddy, giving notes on Disaster Risk Reduction Management.

Ten months ago, Bohol (a province in the Philippines) was shakened by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake. Several homes and buildings destroyed by the quake and a lot of people suffered. More than that, sinkholes emerged in specific places, the seabed the coasts of the eastern towns rose and some island barangays shrunk. One of these island barangays happened to be Barangay Ubay, a 5-hectare island at the northern part of the town.

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Some remnants of the 7.2 magnitude earthquake.

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Indaya, one of the locals, thought that there will be a Tsunami on the onset of the quake. Big waves started to roll up towards the coasts of the barangay. The people were frightened. Surrounded by the body of water, they had no choice but to go to their boats and ride along the big waves.

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Nang Indaya pointing towards the direction where the big waves came.

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But the Tsunami was a false alarm. The big waves were a sign that their barangay had slowly shrunk. Instead of preparing their boats, they hid on the safest spots in their barangay.

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water marks left by the seawater reaching inside the rooms of the elementary schools on high tides.

When I was there a week ago, the people were already calm. They have not experienced strong aftershocks for the past few months. Looking from their faces, you can hardly tell that they have survived from a devastating shock. Everyone was cheerful and positive.

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happy kids.

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Everyday is a humid day for the locals in Ubay. Electricity operates only on the evenings. This day has no difference at all. But all the worries wore off during the training.
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Here is an old man enjoying his Siesta time.

An island like Ubay is a very vulnerable barangay especially when situated near a fault-line area. People would have a hard time looking for a secured place to go especially that it will still take a 30-minute boat ride from the island to the nearest downtown. They have no police officers, no nurse or doctors, no immediate response in times of calamities and disasters. It is important that the government should give efforts on effectively reaching to the people living in these areas and providing them the necessities.  The people have to be educated on disasters to prepare their selves for the next catastrophe that has yet to come. Think about the number of lives that will be lost, think about the children’s dreams of becoming a “somebody” someday. If we will not show our concern, if we do not act on it, then everything else will be shakened, shrunk and disappeared forever.

Plainly said, well-understood

“To become an effective public speaker, please beware of platitudinous ponderosity in promulgating your esoteric cogitation orarticulating your superficial sentimentalities, and amicable philosophical or psychological observations. Eschew obfuscation and all conglomerations of flatulent garrulity, jejune babblement and asinine affectations.”

What?!

I might end up writing something like this to you if this book did not save me.

Plain talk. I never thought of it as an art. For all I know, I was stocked up in the thinking that long sentences with complicated words create good writing. But it is not.  I was just trying to impress, not to express. It was not effective at all.

Since elementary, we have been taught how to write and read. It started from a simple word apple; then it became a red, round, crunchy, delicious fruit. Then ended to: Malus domestica is a moist, seeded, yet luscious, polished, succulent, pomaceous ripened ovary of the flower belonging to the Rosaceae family… It reached to the point that we do not already know what we are reading or writing about. We preoccupy the idea that wordy English sells out. But it is not; and that is the first thing that this book has taught me. It taught me how to write simply, concretely, clearly, effectively.

The cover page of the original book.
The cover page of the original book.

Let me point out the importance of plain talk. Plain talk discusses the importance of plain English; why we should go down to it. And why? We have to know our audience. Audience is the common person; the one who does not need jargons in their everyday communication. The one who has other stuff to focus on; and this stuff is not looking for a complicated word (that you wrote) in a dictionary. They talk plain and simple. They speak things that are understood. A writer should not write for herself. I write for everyone to read it, not for me to read it; and so should you. We talk to people who never talk to us back. Reading is a one-way communication and that is why you will never know whether that person understood you or not. It is like, how can you be friendly to a dog when you cannot even tame it? What you need is to check your performance. Without it, you will never befriend a dog. That is how this art is all about: learning how to speak and write so that people understand what you mean.

But you see, need not worry. For this book is not just a make-up out of a writer’s imagination, it is rational and logical. It is based on scientific principles. I am not a plain English writer too, I could say. There are so many instances when I attempted to add complexity to my sentences. I thought this was the right thing to do; but it is not. And so, after reading I came up with the most important points that make a plain talk:

  1. One sentence, one thought. Let us go back to elementary, when we were learning about sentences. What is a sentence? It is a group of words expressing a thought, not thoughts. It has one subject, one verb, one predicate. That is, subject-verb-predicate. So why mix two or more thoughts in your sentence when in fact it is not a sentence anymore? Now it becomes a paragraph, a group of thoughts. Make it short and simple. The point here is writing complex sentences and stuffing all thoughts in one sentence makes it hard to read.  But the issue here is not about how easy it is to read; it is all about how you keep the readers on track. It is about how readers follow and enjoy the game, and let them finish it to the end.
  2. Totally full, neither half-empty nor half-full. Full words are those which mean something; empty words are just grammatical gadgets. There are three types of empty words: relative pronoun, compound prepositions and conjunctions, and connectives. Empty words only add up to the length and confusion of a sentence. Why do you need to say for the purpose of when you can say for?
  3. Affixes-fixed and firmly attached. Words are composed of two parts: the root word and an affix. What we do not know is affixes are harmful. It would make understanding of words time-consuming: you have to chop the words first, analyze the meaning of every affix and root word and assemble it again. Since they are fix and firm, it would be hard to get rid of them. That is why we need to change the affixed words into their equivalent words that are purely root words. The lesser the affixes, the easier it would be to understand the word and the sentence.
  4. Make your adjectives active. It is said that adjectives are the enemies of the noun. This could be true when it is too much used. Way back in high school, we have been taught that adjectives add color to a sentence. But too much of it could steal the spotlight. Instead of the readers focused on the real meat of the sentence, they would remember the adjectives. For example, the ravishing math teacher. The tendency is readers would most likely remember the teacher as ravishing than teaching math. The solution: split the two adjectives into two short sentences; and turn them into active verbs or predicate. The teacher teaches math. The teacher is ravishing. That is better.
  5. Use active verbs. We all know what active and passive verbs are. From the word itself, active verbs strike the object. It gives life to sentence. Meanwhile, passive kills the predicate. It sounds dead when we read it. Take these two sentences as an example: She is the person I will marry someday; I will marry her someday. So which sentence is the passive? Which do you prefer to use? Passive voice is not that appealing. It even invites other empty words. It does not make sentences on the go.
  6. The human touch. It is based on scientific fact that people are better at reading about other people than anything else. This is totally true. Man knows more than anything else but man. No doubt that you are much more interested in He died because of heart attack than Heart attack is a cardiac disease… This is because you can relate to it. The key to a more interesting article: keep talking about people. If your topic is not about people, then make the people involve. You know you have added human interest when you count all the names of people, personal pronouns referring to people, and human-interest words. The more of these words, the bigger human hands touched the subject.
  7. Avoid rhetoric. Rhetoric means the art of words. The book itself is an art, the art of plain talk. However, it is not a part of being rhetoric. By rhetoric we meant figures of speech, high-sounding phrase and fancy words. Most of us use rhetoric all the time; it even comes out from our pens unconsciously and naturally. There is nothing wrong with using rhetoric. However, it brings danger when not used properly. You see, rhetoric is about playing and juggling words. It is arranging words that create pattern and rhythm and so on. It makes a sentence fancy. But the problem is it might confuse the reader, especially if there is no explanation of what your metaphor is all about. Let us avoid misunderstanding. And to avoid misunderstanding, avoid rhetoric. I am not saying that you should totally abolish rhetoric words in your mind; but also remember to keep the art simple. Consider if your audience would understand what you mean. If not, then do not use them without explanation.
  8. Punctuation power. Never underestimate the power of punctuations. They maybe small and unrecognized, but they have great uses in writing. Punctuations add the speaking power in print. It serves as a guide when you do short and long pauses between words. It separates ideas which make it easier for you to read and understand.  In plain talk, there are two important punctuations: hyphens and semicolons. Hyphens are good empty-word reducers. The lesser empty words you use, the more you rely on word order. It would make you realize that it is more important to show that the words should be gathered closely together. Semicolons are also of great need. They chop off long sentences into two or more short sentences.  Through semi-colons, you could show more of the connection of sentences.  So you see, punctuations give a clearer relationship of the sentences. It is not only through words that we make ourselves understood but also with pauses, stresses and pitch.

Those are just some of the most important points that make up plain talk “plain”. But not following these points does not necessarily mean bad writing. For these points are no set of rules. They are just set of standards. It only serves as a guide for us to understand better on our writing performance. It does not even mean that we have to limit our vocabulary, or never learn how to understand technical and scientific English. The point here is: how will you go down to your reader’s level to be sure that your ideas will get across them? What I meant is not the reader’s level of intelligence but there language and reading ability level. Going down does not really mean to be illiterate. My point is, your target maybe reaching the peak of the language level; but you are writing for the people who do not have the same target as yours. Being a word-and-sentence expert does not mean being smart. As Flesch says it, you are only up to a given grading level if you can translate everything on that level down to the Standard English.

We just want to be readable, not illiterate. After all, plain and simple talk appeals because it has clear and honest motives. And as Flesch goes on, anyone who thinks clearly and honestly could express his thoughts in words and sentences in a more understandable manner. Do not sound textbookish. Because textbooks are not written for students; they are meant for teachers. It is just a guide and a laborsaving device. Writing textbookishly would sound like you are just trying to impress your boss, or teacher, or reader. Make modern English modernly plain and simple; develop it as our new style and hip. Let us save our present language from the curse of confusion. Read and practice the art of plain talk.

By the way, in case you have not figured out the quote on the first part of this article, it simply says “Be brief and concise.”

 

To get a free PDF copy of the book, click the link below:

http://dc135.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/flesch-the-art-of-plain-talk.pdf

Beating Procrastination

Examination is set tomorrow. But here I am, waiting for the last minute of my life. I sulk in the couch  and chat with my friends.

PROCRASTINATION. A word not new to hearing. I may not recognize it but I am doing it. It is putting off things that I should be focusing right now, usually in favour of doing the more enjoyable or comfortable things. In short, procrastination is killing time. It is good only if delaying small things is done to focus on big tasks, or prioritizing the most important. But when it is the flip side? Now that is a bad procrastination.

I wait for the last minute, the eleventh hour, before completing my tasks. I prepared a To-do list, but end up finishing just fifty percent of the things being listed. Perhaps, this is the reason why I make my homework as a “classwork”. I watch a movie in my laptop instead of making my report. I view my facebook before researching. I become unproductive for the rest of the day.

Why killing time? Because I do not feel like doing my tasks. I think that the tasks are difficult and I cannot make it. I am like most of the people who mistakenly believe that motivation precedes the action. But what is true is that action precedes motivation.

In psychology, there is a thing called present bias. It simply means that what you want now is not the same thing you will want later. It explains why you keep on delaying things due to your ever changing ideas and desires.

Everybody procrastinates. Even the perfectionists tend to procrastinate. It is something in life that I cannot delete. However, I may try to live around it, and defeat it.

Overcoming procrastination is absolutely something anyone could learn. There are ways that would help everyone fight procrastination and achieve success and that this is what I have been doing:

The 10-minute rule
I am sure you know that when a task involves too much hardwork, there is a greater chance of getting it postponed. The bottomline is to beat procrastination, you have to do the work. However, you could break the job down into small, manageable parts to make it easier to handle. Start at the basics, one thing at a time. Let us say your goal is to get slimmer. A 30-minute jog around the Visayas State University lower oval sounds tiring. How about doing a 10-minute warm up aerobics while listening to your favorite disco music? Sounds more appealing and realizable.

The three magical question
If you feel like becoming sloth, take a piece of paper and write these questions down. Where are you? What do you need to do? How will you feel after doing it? After answering these questions, visualize a picture of yourself doing it. You would feel fulfilled. This is simple yet it works like magic.s

Ultimate goal versus Immediate desire
Very often, our ultimate goal is in conflict with what we want to do right now. For example, your ultimate goal is to have a research of your assignment over the internet but your immediate desire is to log in and check your Facebook account. Procrastination is all about choosing what you want versus what you need.

Wants never go away. You never planned to be tempted. The trick there is exchanging your ultimate goal with you immediate desire. Make your research homework your immediate desire. Would you prefer to be pressured and to waste your precious time? Think about it.

Procrastination stopped me dead. It created a big impact in my self-esteem, personal life, and work performance. It lessens productivity, adds depression, and multiplies stress. It gave me a sense of guilt, of regret. And the same will happen to you. Think about it. Make the future you into a now you. Realize that there is the you, who sits there now, reading this. Beat procrastination, start today because tomorrow is another day.

The Power of Web 2.0

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Dropbox, Google Maps—these are just a few of the websites of the Web 2.0 generation of the internet.  You know what is common with these websites? It is YOU. You have the power to create your own content and get control of it. And that is what the era of Web 2.0 is. It is the new version of the World Wide Web. Before Web 2.0 arrived, websites were centralized. It was a one-way communication flow. They provide you the information, and you can only browse and retrieve it. With the arrival of Web 2.0, the internet became a participation-platform. It targets the end-users.  Every person browsing the internet can not only view, but also share, interact and collaborate with the other users. Social Networking Sites, tagging, blogging, user-created websites, and self-published platforms are just some of its features. It provides opportunity for everyone to be not just a user but a contributor of the web.

Surely, Web 2.0 has a lot to offer. It is dynamic and user-friendly. It further develops characteristics such as openness, freedom and collective intelligence. It empowers all the aspects of the society such as education and the government. But the more loosely it is, the more it invites incidence of spamming, trolling, and the most common which is cyber-bullying. That is why, as a user of the internet, you should be more careful on what and what you should not post, publish or create. It is important to think before you post.

Even I am an active user of the internet. Web 2.0 helped me improve better. It is very useful in my academics and personal life. I love to post meaningful things on the internet and share it. I get to connect and interact with people from different kinds of nationalities. I have many SNS accounts—twitter, facebook, instagram, LinkedIn, Googleplus, and much more.  I get to do so many things, and that is thanks to the Web 2.0.

Imagine life without the Web 2.0.  We would not be able to enrich ourselves. We won’t be inspired and encouraged to move, take action and bring about change.

For the Love of Science <3

What an amateur Science Journalist’s got to do

Science. Whenever I would think about it before, it makes my nose “bleed”. I remembered when I was in high school; our teacher would tell us to explain the complicated Nitrogen Cycle. And I would say… Oh here we go again. Gobbledygook, difficult to grasp, boring, and then my attention would divert to something else—sleeping perhaps. Then the cycle goes on and on.

But that was before. How did the cycle stop? I could not trace the history of how science gradually changed my views as a learner. But one thing’s for sure, Science Reporting has something to do with it. And now I realized, I definitely owed a lot from Science.

I never dreamt of being a Science journalist. It is not a part of my future plans after graduation, but it touched my heart and mind. It taught me not only to be a responsible journalist but also it taught me the essence of being guided and dominated by truth in my everyday living. As journalists, we would always face difficulties and challenges as we enter the field of producing science stories. I am a beginner and I only knew a little in the very first place. However, that did not stop me to achieve what it takes to be a successful and responsible journalist. But what does it really take to be the ideal science journalist you can be? Here are some learning experiences I want to share with you. To tell you, communicating science effectively is not an easy task. But it sure is worth striving for.

Patience. I needed much of it especially during interviews with scientists. We could not always have all the time we want, we have to wait for the scientists to be free with all the business from work, especially when he/she has a lot of duties to take care of. We also need that when articles are rejected and need to be revised. One word may be enough for a wise man; but submitting your science article draft for only once without a single error? As a beginner, I doubt it. Just refuel patience. Because as they say, patience is a virtue.

Establish a rapport with scientists. Be friendly to your scientist. Take note that scientists and journalists always work hand-in-hand to achieve a common understanding. You should always know what kind of scientist he/she is. Remember that as science journalist, we are not only responsible in communicating to our audiences. We also have to approach scientists for more up-to-date science discoveries.

Seek the facts, not the fiction. That is one trouble I have observed. Whenever we were unable to interview a scientist, other students would just make up statement from them. How are we supposed to communicate honestly when we can’t be honest with ourselves? Just speak the truth, even if it hurts the readers. As the old proverb says it, the truth shall set you free.

Simplify jargons, keep it accurate. Remember that what you may consider as a simple word could be hard for a farmer to understand. Like the word Irrigation. Do you think an uneducated farmer would understand its concept? It might be easy for a college student like you. But to them, it is gobbledygook. Transform scientific terms into layman’s language. For me it was the most challenging part. A journalist needs to be equipped with skills in simplifying words, in using plain talk. And facts should not be compromised with plain talk. In simplifying, facts should also retain its accuracy.

Make stories, put the human touch. We like stories about people because we can relate to it, and stories bring you to your imagination as you read it. This is one thing I have learned. The human element spices up your article and surely, your readers would want for more. But always make sure that these are fats, not fiction.

Cite credible scholarly journals. The media is a source of almost every piece of information, may it be true or not. Be careful when choosing which sites are credible or not. It is important that when searching for the information you want, site is reviewed by professionals of that field.

Know thy subject. How would you be able to disseminate relevant science stories when you do not even understand what you are writing and talking about? Read, read, and read. This is the most important learning that would apply not only in science journalism, but also in every aspect of my college life. We cannot simplify jargons if we do not search and read. We cannot find facts if we do not read. We cannot determine credibility of articles if we do not read it. It pays.

Fascination for Science. Finally, I have a question for you. Do you love Science? Can you feel your heart tickling your brain to discover more science concepts and ideas? Then you might be in love—with science. One cannot show passion when there is no love. Start living intellectually curious. It is about time that you, me, should embrace science in our lives. Without it, everyone and everything would not come to existence.

When Your Pet becomes a Threat

The danger of Rabies and other Zoonotic diseases

Fallacy: Letting your pets lick your hands and sleep with you in bed is always sweet, comforting and healthy.

Fact: Kissing and hugging your pet and letting them lick your hands and faces, and sleeping with them could be dangerous to your health.

One day, you were sitting in your dining table, eating lunch. You are busy enjoying your favorite dish when suddenly; your dog approached near you. He was staring at you, asking for a little food; but you ignored him. A few minutes later, you heard him whining. You looked at him getting a little pissed off. But oh –look at this sad, little creature! He is so adorable that you cannot resist him. You can’t help yourself but offer him food while you are eating. He licks the food from your hands. You pat his head as he wags his tail in happiness. He has not taken his bath for ages, but you did not care at all. You happily finished your meal together with your pet, and so what? As long as you feel the love, that is all that matters.

Does this scene seem familiar to you? Are you one of those pet owners who are fond of showing affection to their pets through cuddling them or going to bed while they’re on your side? Then I’ll tell you what, whether you like it or not, you are prone to infectious diseases. Whether you like it or not, it is time to examine how you get up close with your pets.

Yes, I know you are worried with what I said earlier. But research reminds us that there are certain lines to draw when showing love and affection with animals. Pets are really irresistible. Touching, cuddling them raises the oxytocin –a stimulating hormone produced by the pituitary gland–levels in your body, providing you the feeling of contentment. They are like an emotional balm, a soothing remedy when you feel depressed, confused or anxious. They love you unconditionally.

It’s no surprise that most pet-owners are unconcerned of the risks. According to a survey conducted in the Netherlands, 50% percent of the pet-owners allow their pets to lick their faces. In the United States, a surprising 56% of dog owners sleep with their dog next to them. I’m not saying that keeping a pet as companion is not advisable. It is just that there are some risks and precautions you have to take when getting up close with your pets. But you ask, at what point do they become a threat to our health?

Zoonotic diseases, these are diseases that can be passed on from animals to humans. They are carried by animals like your pets. Among the Zoonoses carried are bacteria, virus, and parasites. According to Dr. Eugene Lañada, a Zoonoses specialist, almost 75 percent of the total emerging human diseases are Zoonotic. Even deadly diseases like Leptospirosis, Dengue, Tetanus and H1n1 flu are Zoonotic too. But the most common, as they say, are the most disregarded. Perhaps this is because most pet-owners are unaware that a single lick from your cat or even a single hug from your dog can already expose you to these Zoonoses. But where do I get these Zoonoses anyway? Let’s find out.

Saliva. A pet’s oral cavity is considered a breeding ground for most Zoonoses. The most common: Rabies. It is actually a virus attacking the Nervous system of the animals; and is at its most active when an animal is dehydrated. The World Health Organization reported that dogs are actually the main host and transmitter of rabies. According to Dr. Lañada, “Dogs have the highest Rabies, with a 90 percent rate. This is followed by cats.” Almost 55,000 people die annually worldwide because of Rabies. Aside from animals, Rabies can also be transmitted from human to human contact.

So you see, your dog’s saliva is powerful that it can kill you. “Rabies is 100 percent fatal, but also 100 percent preventable,” Dr. Lañada adds. That is why, it is important to vaccinate your dog regularly.And do not forget to feed them with water, especially during hot and humid seasons; for these are the days when your pet is most likely to be dehydrated.

Maybe now you feel a little bit confident that there is a little chance of getting infected with Zoonoses. Me and my dog are regularly vaccinated, you justify. I feel secured with my pet now, you say. But to tell you, it is not just the Rabies my friend. Although these Zoonoses are not that deadly compared to Rabies, they still impose risks to your health. Let’s take Pasteurella as the best example. Pasteruella multocida is a Zoonotic bacterium that is found out to be present in most dogs and cats. In a study conducted by Dr. Chomel and Dr. Sun in 2009, an infant has been reported to have meningitis after a family pet dog licked the baby’s face. In France, meningitis also developed in a 67-year-old patient. Pasteurella multocida cultures also grew from his right ear.

Then here comes Staphylococcus. It is another Zoonotic bacterium found in the oral cavities of the dogs. It might sound like a food-borne disease, but they can be carried through your pet’s saliva too. Patients infected with Staphyloccus intermedius have had physical contact with their dogs, including frequent licking with their faces.

But Zoonoses don’t only end to your pet’s mouth. Most of us love to hug, kiss and sleep with our pets. And having them bathe regularly is enough for most pet-owners to be confident about cuddling or sleeping with their dogs. But is it?

Actually, any part of your dog or cat’s body –fur, skin, paws, ear—could be a possible source of Zoonotic disease. Although it is uncommon to healthy pets, the risk of transmitting Zoonotic disease from close contact through bed sharing, kissing and hugging is real. According to Dr. Chomel and Dr. Sun, three different kinds of diseases were documented to pet-owners who frequently share their beds to pets. Your pets could even be hosts to vectors to some common diseases like Lice and scabies.

The lists of Zoonotic diseases are endless. But what’s dangerous is that most Zoonoses acquired through bed sharing, cuddling and licking are transmitted through your skin, which means the more close your contact is, the more vulnerable you are to these diseases. What’s worse is some common Zoonotic bacteria are starting to be anti-microbial resistant. Research proved that household pets such as dogs and cats are reservoirs of Staphylococcus, Salmonella and even E. coli anti-microbial resistant bacteria. Sadly, these resistant bacteria are given little attention in the field of medicine.

A dog a day is okay. Keeping a companion is not wrong, having a friend to stay with you is not wrong. But always remember that your best friend could also be the world’s best enemy. As for a friend like your dog and cat, this could be avoided. That is, if you used your common sense when showing affection to your “friend” animals. Start putting an edge over you and your pet now before it gets worse.