Him: At home by myself on a cold night, A mere shudder on a mirrored pond. Her: On the street by herself at a cold hour, A gentle vibration of the chilled air.
Six lanes of traffic in two lanes of road, the smell of burnt oil and exhaust. Small goats tied to ropes mowing the sides of grassy roads, a man walks his black steer on a rope, a dog gnaws on its back in the silty sidewalk. Face masks of neoprene, a girl rides side saddle, a little girl sandwiched between her father and mother, a boy in a powder blue tshirt drives three girls in pink tshirts, an endless parade of fashion and configuration. A box of pizza held by its rope from the brake hand, a bundle of rebar oscillating over the handlebars, two cylindrical plastic garbage bins secured on both sides of the rear wheels. Men sit in shadows at the foot of doors of wooden shops. Some stores are nothing more than tables in roofed recesses. Scooters slip in and around over-matched and under-powered motorcycle-driven taxi cages. Swarms of scooters dance in and around cars and sugar cane trucks and yellow buses beeping their way into oncoming traffic in the bustle of downtown midday. People crossing in invisible breaks in the flow, vehicles shooting in from sidewalks, driveways, and side streets. No traffic lights or stop signs. Just enough rules and courtesy and caution to make it work. A study in organized chaos. But no time to study, only time to react, dancing with the traffic, avoiding my own bug splat.
“Creating alter trons in iotic space.”
“Wow! I’d probably say that sounds like a lot of fun if I understood a single word you said. Altertrons? In what space?”
Grows impatient. “Which is?”
“Well, you know what robotic is, right.”
“Iotic is just the internet of things, IOT, with ic added. Anything to do with IOT, iotic. Like robotic is anything to do with robots. Iotic space is the integration of data that comes from iotic devices. Your house might be an iotic space with all its devices. You can share with your neighbors to make an iotic community. A space of spaces. You can make a space by combining anything that provides data.”
“I sorta get it. I must be getting old. I need an online class just to know what your job description means. So what was the other thing? Alter, altertrons?”
“A Tron is the representation of a person in cyber space.”
“Oh. Tron. Wasn’t that a movie back in the 80’s?”
“Yeah. Jeff Bridges and the Caddyshack girl, Lacey Underwear.”
“Lacy Underall. Ha, I do know something you don’t!” Gloats a little. “Sorry. Please continue. A tron?”
“So a Tron is the integration of all your data. The GPS from your phone. Where your used your credit card. All your searches and clicks on the internet. The profile from the thermostat in your house. Your cyber footprint if you will.”
“And alter is like alter ego, but alter Tron?” Pauses. “So you make alter egos in cyber space?”
“Like I said, I create alter Trons in iotic space. I focus only on the footprint you leave on IOT devices.”
“I have to ask the obvious question: Why?”
“Did you ever see a movie where three different convoys of cars all drive off in different directions? Only one has the gold or the president or whatever in it? Same idea. Just in cyber space.”
“Yeah. You catch on quick.”
“Isn’t a fake id illegal?”
“It’s a grey area. You know the NSA captures every byte of data in the public domain and quite a few in the private domain. All unconstitutional. Stored somewhere in Utah. Think about it. Your phone tracks you where you go. Your TV knows what you watch. Your refrigerator knows what your eat. How do you know the NSA isn’t monitoring that smart thermostat to know when you’re home or storing all those security clips of your front yard you think only you can see? On demand decryption of all your AES256 data is just around the corner with quantum computing. When the NSA cracks that, if they haven’t already, what little privacy you have left is gone.”
“And you sell these alter Trons? Who would buy such a thing?”
“A lot of people. And the more the merrier. If you can’t leave no trail, the next best thing is to leave so many trails that no one can pick yours out. The bigger the network gets, the more effective it gets. One tweeter is useless, two is better, a million is an economy onto itself. Every person’s alter Trons can interact with other people’s alter Trons creating more and more false trails. I can invent all sorts of plausible fictions. I can have your phone visit someone else’s house so it looks like you were there. I can generate fake heating data to make it look like you were home. Half your alter Trons can be at home, the other half out on the town visiting their alter Tron friends.”
“But you can only have so many alter Trons, right? A couple of alter egos isn’t going to stop the NSA.”
“Here is the genius of it. It’s a scaleless network.”
“Shoot. I should of quit while I was ahead. What the F is a scaleless network, if you can tell me in less than a minute?”
“Nodes on the network do not just join randomly. They tend to center around hubs. The bigger the network gets, the more resilient it gets. In a random network, attacks on random nodes can break the network. In a scaleless network, you need a directed attack to knock out a couple of key hubs. Easier to defend.”
“Seems completely whack to me. It’s like… it’s like, your building the opposite of the matrix. An inverted matrix. Everyone’s dying to get in because its fake, not to hide from the machines but to hide with them and from each other.”
“I suppose that’s one way of thinking about it. The agents certainly hate it, the ones in the real world. I certainly don’t want the NSA breathing down my back. I think the corporations hate it too. It skews their algorithms. So, if you call their algorithms the machines, I suppose you could say the machines hate, the ones in the real world, hate it too.” Reflects for a moment. Nod his head. “Yes! I like it! Good analogy. An inside out matrix.
“I think just the natural evolution of things. You steal people’s privacy and attention and intimacy and they will fight back!”
“Hardly seems natural. What’s the name of the company?”
“Negative space dot com.”
Types it into his phone. “Hey, that URL takes me to some photography site.”
“Don’t spell out space, just put in a space with the space bar.” (negative .com)
“I get it. Cool. Using negative space in the name sort of. Hey, it still doesn’t take me to your company. It takes me to a search result with a list of a whole bunch of Negative something or another companies.”
Smiles. “That’s who I work for. Alter coms in iotic space. And you’ll never know which one.”
My choices of motorbike underwhelm. I like the idea of the semi-automatic but it fails the test drive, the shifting down requires a heel movement that I’m not accustomed to and the brakes feel loose. Kimdy, my insider shopping guide, just shakes her head disapprovingly at the thought of this sad bike. So I must choose between one of three fossil bikes: a Hondadon, a Yamadactyl, or a Mitsubishisaurus. The Mitsubishisaurus has the most comfortable looking seat and the least amount of fossilization. It passes the test drive: it has good brakes and decent acceleration. As a bonus, the fuel tank is a quarter full. I make my choice.
I figure I might as well fill up the tank since there is a gas station on the corner. I head into the Cebu City traffic, an insanity all of its own. I quickly realize (relative to the totality of the trip because I should have known better before I drove away from the shop) that the gas gauge, speedometer, odometer, and turn signal don’t work. But why would I need those luxuries? Who needs a gas gauge on a two hundred kilometer drive or a speedometer reading around mountain curves or a turn signal to turn when traffic flanks me within inches on all sides? The failed odometer indicates that the bike died at 31,000 kilometers. I drive the fossilized remains. The bike makes some weird clicking noise every time I hit the rear brake and sometimes when I just slow down. It backfires more than a cabbage-stuffed colon.
When I finally return the bike, the under carriage has separated from the frame and the right foot well has developed a rather large crack in the black plastic. The Filipino boy manning the counter at the bike shop threatens me with my deposit and passport. I plead my case that I did NO damage to that bike. I didn’t. I am only guilty of foolishly taking an already dead bike on a half-island tour of Cebu. When he finally releases my deposit and passport, I beat a hasty retreat out of the store and disappear around a corner as fast as I can. I’m sure the Mitsubishisaurus is ready to crumble into the sands of time at any moment.
But back to the trip. The helmet on my head won’t save me when I venture into oncoming traffic and a lane-filling twelve foot high green bus closes while I try to gun my way around an eighteen wheel black smoke belching truck with ten feet of overhanging rebar hanging out the end of the trailer ready to gouge out the eyes of the unwary. My Kevlar motorcycle pants probably won’t save me either when a dog, or a kid in his school uniform, or a motorbike taxi, or a rooster, or a pedestrian or an oncoming scooter venture into my path. Fishmonger Mike, the appellation referring to his fish-packing business that earned him his millions, ended up in a day long coma and a multi-month recovery when a dog veered into the path of his bike. He doesn’t remember it; the account he tells is second hand.
And that is the problem. Damn the rules and the regulations of the road if it impedes one’s progress. Yet, it all seems to work until it doesn’t. If you are hit, if you are down, who comes to your rescue? Some half-starved hound looking for scraps? One taxi driver asks me “What do we do, just kill them all and start over. Just leave two.” Adam and Eve jump start Cebu for driver safety. I offer something less apocalyptic, like segregating the traffic: vendors, dogs, bicycles, pedestrians, scooters, motorcycles, cars, massive buses, and twenty-two wheel truck trailers shouldn’t try to occupy the same space. In Cebu City, at least, they enforce the helmet law.
Cameron, the flamboyant English dive shop manager and part owner of the Cebu Dive Shop, advises me to watch out for three things: dogs, dickheads, and drunks. He calls me daredevil Mike. I like Cameron, when I first checked in to his Cebu Dive Shop, he spots me a beer. I probably had that look: my hair gets all windblown helmet-shaped crazy, I’m coughing up a lung from all the roadside burning and overall shit air quality, and have a weird red and black glow from sun, heat, and the black soot of vehicle exhaust. Several times I see a truck or a bus crank into gear with a plume of black exhaust scattering roadside pedestrians who quickly avert their heads and cover their noses with the inside of their elbows.
I wonder if by dickheads, Cameron means turning a corner and seeing a completely tanned, full grown naked man without the slightest pretense of modesty walking towards oncoming traffic. Once is an anomaly. Two times is weird. Three times signals the beginning of a coming apocalypse. The crazed naked men coming down from the hills and out of the jungle dining on motorists and uniformed school children with backpacks and street dogs. Maybe they have come for the women? I think their approach is too aggressive to take on women given their naked vulnerability. I see a B movie in there somewhere. KimmyDy, my travel analyst, later suggests that they are touched. Maybe Bellevue isn’t such a bad idea after all. I quickly slip by the naked men, each time wondering if I really just saw that.
The next man standing in front of me is a PNP officer at a check point, the guys that stand on the side of the road with rifles rather than enforcing traffic laws. “License and registration please.” “This is a rental, I don’t have a registration.” “You have to have a registration. Where is your registration?” “I don’t have a registration, this is a rental.” “Did you steal this bike?” “No, it’s a rental.” Like Abbott and Costello. Mark, son of my neighbor, later suggests that the registration was probably under the seat. OK. I guess that might have been useful information at the time, but on the other hand, given the state of the Mitsubishisaurus, it probably was a stolen bike after all. “Where is your Filipino driver’s license?” “I have an American license.” “You need a Filipino driver’s license.” “My American license is good to drive here.” “You need a Filipino driver’s license” “I have an American driver’s license. It should be good.” “You need a Filipino driver’s license.” I don’t. I know I don’t. The internet is never wrong. I wonder if I am getting a shake down. Do I have to pull out a few pesos? Shit. What’s this gonna cost. He relents, stands aside, and waves me through. I waste no time taking off and don’t look back.
I should have done a better job of getting directions to the dive shop. It’s not right in Moalboal. I see a sign pointing to beach resorts in 5 kilometers and figure that is where I would put a dive shop. I turn and pull into a gas station to confirm. The two kid attendants have no idea what I’m asking for. Another man just points down the road in the direction I am heading. I drive down a couple of kilometers stopping at a fork in the road. Remember, I have no odometer. I stop and ask a gruff Filipino man on a motorbike. He grunts authoritatively and points his hand stiffly towards the ground waggling his wrist indicating I should continue to the left. A couple of kilometers later, I run out of road. Five dirt roads each lead to private beach resorts, none of which are named Cebu dive shop. I double back past the fork and pull into a resort. This time, a young Filippino man sitting on his bike in the driveway with his daughter playing on the gas tank gives fairly explicit instructions. I backtrack a kilometer, find a turnoff with the resort sign as predicted by the man, take the road past the resort to Panagsama Beach, also accurately predicted by the kind man. Arrival! I find the Cebu Dive shop.
I have similar problems returning to Cebu City. On the downside, I am completely lost. On the upside, I see at least three of the land marks a web site had suggested to see while touring Cebu City including: a market, the Capitol building, and the oldest church in Cebu. I’ve learned from earlier trips not to rely on map apps as they have a tendency to disappear at inconvenient times, so I now take a screen shot of the maps when I do my research. The problem with my approach is twofold: I didn’t capture enough detail and none of the streets have signs on them anyway. Clearly, people in Cebu City navigate by word of mouth. I pulled into another gas station and again, the teen attendants don’t have a clue. But a very kind gentlemen in a green and black motorcycle jacket overhears my request, and tells me to follow him on his bike. I finally recognize a landmark and find the bike store for return. Thank you kind sir! Two for the kindness of strangers.
Which brings me back to Cameron and the free beer. The dive shop is also an outdoor bar. After straightening out my crazed hair, cleaning up a bit, and retrieving my beer, I meet Vanessa and Francesco, my Spanish dive masters for the next day’s dive and have a good time chatting with other divers at the bar learning about the dives, their trips, and general background. After a night in my air conditioned one-room hut, Vanessa and Francesco lead me and another dive couple over the rocky shore for our walk-in dive to see the sardine shoals. The sardines number in the millions. Although the visibility is poor due to the churn of wind and wave, it presents no problems. I rise up in the middle of the bait ball, the sardines parting way in a toroid about me. I see a few barracuda’s hanging just outside the skin of the bait ball, but nothing is dive bombing the bait ball like I’ve seen in nature videos. Something spooks the sardines producing a brief current of equispaced darting sardines that perfectly maintain the boundaries of the toroid. After things calm down and I’m under the bait ball again instead of inside it, I join a sardine side current, trailing a foot behind a strand of sardines that keep an exact distance from me.
Since this is an out and back dive, I signal the half way point on the my air. Vanessa gives me the OK but we don’t head back. At about 70 psi, I start wondering if I have enough air. I signal to Francesco. The OK sign comes back. At about 50 psi, the you better end the dive mark, Francesco offers me his spare yellow regulator. I swim back with him to the entry point on his regulator on his air. I go back to my own regulator for the three minute safety decompression before heading the thirty feet to shore. The other two divers come back with Vanessa about ten minutes later. Apparently, I am a heavy breather. Pervert! But that is another story.
I dive Pescador Island in the afternoon with a group of more experienced divers and a different dive master. Cameron appoints Vanessa to watch over me personally because I am heavy breather. If necessary, she can guide me back to the boat without forcing the other divers to prematurely terminate their dive. The island is basically a cylinder that extends down some 40 or 50 meters. We dive 25 meters give or take, my deepest dive ever; hey, I’m a hobby diver not a serious one. The beautiful dive features a terrific assortment of corals and reef fish. The oddest fish is a chalky white bass sized fish that sits on a chalky coral matching it in color and texture. (A subsequent search reveals that it is the very interesting, color-changing, frogfish http://aquamarinediscovery.blogspot.com/2009/04/frogfish.html). Again, as my air runs low, I end the dive but at least two other divers have to come up at the same time, including Sarah, an absolutely stunning Swiss woman with perfect breasts in a blue knit bikini top. Like I said, I’m a heavy breather. Pervert! I try desperately not to obviously stare even behind my dark sun glasses but I think a woman always knows.
As the boat bounces in the increasing swells and thoughtfully sprays Sarah with more water droplets on her soft skin, I tell her about my plan for diving with whale sharks at Oslob. She informs me that she is against Oslob for environmental reasons. The sharks stay because the fishermen feed them, disrupting their natural migration and potentially shortening their lives. I told her I wasn’t savvy on the controversy until now. Somewhere in there, she drops the H word. A woman always knows! It didn’t change my breathing patterns any though.
So, it turns out later, that Sarah’s description is fairly accurate. In the scheme of things, Filipino making an industry out of two whale sharks pales in comparison to the decimation of fish species on the planet by commercial fishing operations. Despite Sarah’s concerns, I am going to dive with the sharks. I’m glad I booked my tour in
Oslob at the Casa Bonita II, a local hotel despite having to get up at 5:30 am in the morning. Our hotel group, three Canadians, a Brazillion youth circumnavigating the planet in forty days, a French couple and myself, snorkel in the first group of canoes out, beating the crowds and pandemonium to follow. The oversee-ers of this operation orchestrate the viewing sessions and times to process thousands of people a day. I did not touch the whale shark as instructed wanting to avoid the six month prison sentence and fines but the whale shark touched me, literally. I’m not pressing charges though. The whale shark is doing its prison time in its own way, the whole operation an outdoor third-world version of Sea World. I’m sure, in thousands of people, as Sarah suggests, some bozos try to ride the whale shark tail amidst the chaos of kicking fins and ocean currents.
I enjoy the experience though I don’t find swimming with large fish life-altering. I think crashing on a steep rain-soaked cement grade, spending time in Filipino prison, begging for money because of a lost or stolen wallet, spending days at the embassy trying to replace a passport, or an attach of sun-drenched naked men, might qualify as life altering (if not life ending) events. Isn’t that the vulnerability of traveling alone in a third world country with no support system? I have to remember the good too: scootering through mountains and along ocean-lined roads by mangroves, having a good experience in the dive shop trading dive stories, diving the sardines and the island, snorkeling with whales, hiking to a beautiful waterfall, and getting help from people when I needed it.
Mark says, “It was pretty gutsy.” Kimdy says, “I’m glad you made it back alive.” I for one couldn’t agree with her more.
P.S. Images of Cebu City, PNP Officers, Baitball, and Frogfish were borrowedfrom Google.