POSTSCRIPT / December 14, 1999 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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How come no pictures of jellyfish were shown?

SO it was allegedly jellyfish that did in the Sual power plants and triggered that Luzon-wide blackout last Friday.

We have no evidence to the contrary, that something else stalled the power generators, so we’re not in a position to challenge that claim.

But have you noticed that until this late date, we have nothing but the word of the power plant managers that jellyfish were the culprits? It’s much like a fellow angler telling us of the one that away.

Nobody has produced pictures of the supposed 50 truckloads of jellyfish gathered from the mouth of the cooling system of the Sual plant. Nobody has shown pictures of the clogged intake and showed the layout of the plant.

Was it really jellyfish or some other jelly?

* * *

MALACANANG is being reckless when it moves to protect a crony’s gambling business at the expense not only of the Philippine Stock Exchange but also of the entire economy.

President Estrada was ill-advised in ordering Chairman Perfecto Yasay of the Securities Exchange Commission to go slow in investigating and reporting on the suspected manipulation of the stock trading of the gambling firm BW Resources Corp. headed by businessman Dante Tan.

BW shares started trading early this year at P2 each, soared to P107 by October, then dropped — leaving many traders holding practically worthless pieces of paper and a few well-connected players running off with millions in profits. No wonder many investors, including foreigners, have been shying away.

Civic groups Kilosbayan and Bantay Katarungan have written President Estrada voicing their concern. Among the signatories are former Senate President Jovito R. Salonga, former Justice Secretary Sedfrey Ordoñez, former PCGG Commissioner Quintin Doromal, and Bantay vice chairman Jose S. Balajadia.

Other groups should link up with them to strengthen the SEC and shield it from political pressure.

* * *

WE’RE about to bore you with a small technical detail about the strong earthquake that jolted Luzon around 2:04 a.m. last Sunday.

Newspapers variously reported the tremor as being of intensity VI (6) or VII (7) or, sometimes 6.8. The confusion is understandable, although not to be dismissed lightly. There is a widespread confusion over “intensity” and “magnitude,” which are not the same terms. Media sometimes add to the confusion by carelessly using them interchangeably.

Intensity is a subjective measurement of the effects of a quake — like how people and animals reacted, if structures swayed or were damaged, if objects fell from their perch, or cracks were seen in the ground, etc. Depending on the gravity of these observable effects in a specific area, the quake is then given an intensity rating for that place.

It follows that the farther the observer is from the epicenter, the lower is the intensity felt or observed. While the intensity of last Sunday’s quake was VI (6) or VII (7) in places close to the epicenter off the coast of Zambales, it was necessarily lower in more remote places.

Whenever we report the intensity, we have to say where that intensity was felt or observed. Another detail: Intensity is preferably written in Roman numerals so as not to confuse it with magnitude (another term that I will explain below) which is written in Arabic numbers.

* * *

THE government agency concerned, Phivolcs under Director Raymundo Punongbayan, has adopted its own scale of I to X (1 to 10) for assessing and reporting intensity in this quake-prone archipelago. Some countries use their own scales and standards, but the variation from the Phivolcs scale is not significant.

When the quake starts being destructive in a certain locality — like toppling objects, cracking walls and inflicting such damage — its intensity rating for that place climbs to VII (7) and higher.

Generally, when the intensity is VI and lower, there is only vigorous shaking and people getting scared, but no physical destruction or damage to structures. It is usually safe to go back to sleep after one inspects his house and finds everything intact.

* * *

IN contrast, magnitude is not subjective or dependent or colored by varying human perception. It is computed using a formula from data collected by such devices as seismographs.

Unlike intensity, which is measured against a scale of I to X in the Phivolcs system, magnitude is open on both ends. It could be very low (even negative) or very high, depending on what the computation produces based on the data fed by sensing devices.

While only whole numbers are used for reporting intensity, magnitude measurements can have fractions for more precision, such as 5.5 or 6.8, etc.

Intensity is based on subjective reports of human observers in the areas affected, but magnitude is a cold measurement by machines.

* * *

A COMMON analogy is a light bulb. A 100-watt bulb is always 100 watts from whatever position or distance you look at it. Even when you do not look at the lighted bulb, it is still and always 100 watts.

The bulb’s wattage is like the quake’s “magnitude.” It is constant.

But your perception of the effects of the lighted bulb changes as you change your position or distance from it. If you’re near the bulb, you get more illumination, and this gradually fades as you walk farther away from it, until you reach a distant point where you hardly see the lighted bulb – although it is constantly 100 watts.

This subjective perception of the bulb’s brightness is like a quake’s intensity. An earthquake’s intensity changes depending on many factors (we won’t discuss them here), including the observer’s distance from the epicenter.

* * *

LOOK at the maps given out by Phivolcs and those published by newspapers. The intensity usually goes down farther away from the epicenter. But the magnitude of the quake is constant in all those areas that feel the quake in varying intensities.

In last Sunday’s quake, the magnitude reported was 6.8, which some newspapers erroneously referred to as “intensity” 6.8. Regardless of the location of the observer, whether near or far from the epicenter, the magnitude of that quake was a constant 6.8.

So when we read that a quake has a certain rating, like 6, let’s find out if the reporter is referring to intensity or magnitude. We’re assuming that the reporter knows the difference and is careful with his facts.

* * *

WHILE we’re in a technical mood, let’s share some information from Postscript reader Christopher Concepcion that he refers to as “low tech solutions to Y2K.” He expressed concern that the Luzon-wide blackout and the big earthquake that followed may add to the Y2K or Millennium Bug panic.

Unlike the Y2K-obsessed bank client who withdrew his P2 million deposit only to lose it to robbers, depositors are advised by Concepcion to ask their banks to issue them a manager’s check or draft for the balance of their account and to keep a photocopy.

As for worms and viruses that sneak in with attachments to email, he says: “If your friends do need to send you attached files, ask them to write the subject field in Tagalog. This will block out most of the self sending/replicating worms as their authors do not program them (so far) to use different languages.”

That’s a smart one. Remember, we have announced in Postscript that for fear of viruses, we have been deleting (without caring to open) attachments and files with .exe extensions. The use of Tagalog for the subject field is a crafty way of beating that problem.

* * *

CONCEPCION adds: “Use older versions of software such as Windows 3.11 and Eudora Light. Eudora Light lacks all the fancy web page links, special fonts and imbedded pictures, but it is too simple to be affected by the newer viruses that rely on the special features of more advanced email software to do their mischief. Best of all, it’s free.

“Also I haven’t seen viruses for Word version 6.0 for Windows 3.11 or Excel 5.0 or, for that matter, Wordstar (anyone still remember that?) anywhere on the Network Associates top virus list for the past year. Word 6.0 lacks all the special features to replicate and send email worms. You only need to worry about the simpler macro viruses, most of which are known, and have cures.

“If you are really addicted to Windows 95 or higher, use Sun Microsystems, fully compatible free version of Microsoft Office called StarOffice. Forget your worries about terminated or disgruntled employees complaining to the BSA. It’s free to copy and distribute.

“This is Scott McNealy’s version of giving Microsoft’s Bill Gates an endoscopy. The only disadvantage is the file is 65 MB, which will take you quite a long time to download and a zip disk to store and pass around.

“So get a friend with a dedicated high speed link to download it and share it with friends. It is much safer to use than MS Office, because most of the known viruses are targeted at Microsoft products.”

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 14, 1999)

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