Monday, December 31, 2007

Last Day of 2007

I had a very lazy day today since Caitlin slept over at the folks' house. And since Cols was busy preparing for New Year's Eve, I had the TV and the Philips DVD Recorder all to myself! I was finally able to catch up on the recorded episodes of Heroes Season 2 on Crime/Suspense (C/S) channel. And thanks to the Philips DVD Recorder, skipping through the commercials was a breeze. But even though there were about 8 recorded episodes, turns out that C/S has replays of the same episodes every other week or so. So there were really just about 6 unique episodes -- and I missed the first one. So I guess I have to download it somehow from NBC (they seem to be denying Philippine Internet users access to the full episodes).

Today also marks the last day of C/S in SkyCable's cable channel. But luckily, Solar (the company broadcasting C/S, Jack TV, etc.) will be moving C/S to the slot of RPN 9 on free tv. So I will still get to watch the rest of the episodes. I just don't know where I can still watch WWE Raw with Jack TV gone from Sky's lineup.

We had our New Year's Eve dinner at Legend Seafood near World Trade Center. Auntie Betty (Nikki's mother-in-law) joined us, along with the rest of the family -- Grandpa, Grandma, Tito Ben, Tita Car, Tito Bert & family. From there, we passed by Shella's place at North Greenhills to settle a debt before the turn of the year. Then it was time to go back to Valle for the annual Chiang "tradition" of blowing fireworks (with mom doing her usual antics) and the media noche. The kids stayed at Valle while only Cols and I went back to Rockwell with a maid at around 2am.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Cleaning up Windows XP Hot Fixes Entries

If your Windows XP is configured to automatically download updates or patches from Microsoft, your Control Panel >> Add/Remove Programs listing would probably have lots of entries for "Hotfixes". And if you look at your c:\windows folder, you will probably see lots of "Uninstall" folders (one for each hotfix in case you want to revert to the version prior to the hotfix install -- as to why you would want to do that is beyond me). While reading PC World Philippines, I came across an article referring to a site where you can download a program to clean up these "uninstall" entries (since your PC is presumably working fine with the hotfixes and there is no conceivable reason why you would still want to uninstall them in the future). Download the XP_Remove_Hotfix_Backup.exe from Doug Knox. It cleaned up my XP in a jiffy!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas at Gen San

We took the 12:30pm Cebu Pacific flight to Gen San today to spend Christmas Day here. Slowly into the flight, Ethan was getting restless. So Cols took him from his Yaya to make him sleep. Just a few minutes later, he threw up! I was able to catch some of it with the air sickness bag. Cols mostly caught it with her clothes with some going to the airplane seats. Good luck to the next passengers!

I didn't bring a digital camera for this trip. So I just took some shots of the Christmas Party at Tandem building rooftop with my Nokia 6680 and its built-in LED flash. The image quality really sucks.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Where is God?

Since its Dec 24, Malacanang called off work today (there's just too much holidays in the Philippines much to the dismay of foreign investors). Caitlin and I took our time waking up and getting to the breakfast table. While eating my apple pie, and Caitlin eating her usual porridge, Caitlin asked a deep question out-of-the-blue -- where is God? You know, like where does He live? How come I can't seem him? Metaphysical stuffs that I don't even know where to begin answering. She continued -- is he up there? So I just said yes, way up beyond the clouds so she can't see him. Good thing she didn't ask further if she can see if him she takes a rocketship. I sort of defrayed the question by telling her to ask her Sunday school teacher the same question next time.

It would probably be a lot of fun to discuss these things with her when she grows up way, way much older. Maybe we can discuss how heaven is not really "up there" and hell is not really "down there". Maybe there are parallel universes and she can read about the other scientific theories from the likes of Stephen Hawking. Or we can discuss it more philosophically and logically from the works of known atheist Richard Dawkins. Dawkins' recent work (and bestseller) The God Delusion will shake the faith of most people with its cold and brilliant logic. It attempts to answer very common questions about the existence (or, rather, non-existence) of a supreme being and Creator-of-all-things, and how Darwin's evolution by natural selection may be the best sounding theory of how everything began. The book is available at myBookstore for those interested.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Programming with the Canon IXUS and EOS Digital Camera

I recently came across a business model which I thought was very interesting. Its essentially a mobile photo studio (or a photo booth) that can be setup easily in events or venues such as birthday parties, event launchings, weddings and many more. They basically charge a fixed fee (anywhere from P10k to P20k) for a finite number of hours (2 to 5 hrs). During that period, the event/party guests can ham it up in front of the camera and they get free souvenir prints.

In the event that I first saw this setup, I took a peek inside the contraption and saw a Canon EOS 20D. Aha! There must be a way to programmatically control a camera from a PC; retrieve the still images that it captures; lay it out in a memory bitmap; then dump it out to a photo printer. Sounds like an interesting project!

So I Googled around to know what tools are out there. First, I found an open-source project in Sourceforge under the GNU General Public License (GPL):

It seems to be a bunch of command-line utilities which can control a Canon digital camera. However, in order to use it, one has to have the Canon RC SDK. Hmm.... what could that be? Doing more Google searches, I found out that Canon offers the SDK to allow application developers to talk to their camera. Best of all, its for free! One just has to go through the application process:

So I diligently filled up the forms. I figure I would need the standard Canon Digital Camera Software Development Kit (CD-SDK 7.3.0) to support the older Powershot and IXUS lines, and the newer Canon EOS Digital Software Development Kit (ED-SDK 2.1) for the digital SLR lines. My old IXUS 400 (aka Powershot SD400) is supported by the older CD-SDK, while my EOS 400D (aka Digital Rebel XTi) would be supported by the newer ED-SDK.

Based on the website, the libraries are written in Windows C. But some guys seem to have made a C# wrapper around it.

  1. Elias Torres made a C# wrapper around the CD-SDK. But it seems very dated. And for sure, it does not support the newer ED-SDK.
  2. Christian Graus and Benjamin Liedblad came out with a unified version for the CDSDK and PRSDK (a newer version of the CDSDK), but also no mention of the ED-SDK.

Well, my CD from Canon Singapore arrived the other day (after about a 3-week wait). I tried plugging in my old IXUS 400 to my PC. Couldn't seem to get the CD-SDK sample programs to detect it. I wonder if its because I did not really install the entire drivers CD of the IXUS 400. My PC only has the drivers/programs installed from my EOS 400D camera. This will take some more tests.

On the bright side, I found out that the EDSDK came shipped with a C# class file! There's no documentation whatsoever, but it doesn't seem too difficult to figure out since its basically just a class that defines entry points to the EDSDK.DLL. I think I'll focus my development on the EDSDK and forget about the older CDSDK. Of course, this means that whatever application I develop will have to use an EOS Digital Camera and not a lower-end IXUS. Will update this blog more as I find out more also about the EDSDK.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Experimenting with Feed Syndication

I've been doing some research lately on search engine optimization (SEO). One of the components necessary to increase one's ranking (at least, as far as, Google's algorithm is concerned) is having lots of relevant inbound links. So the question is -- how do you get other sites to link to you? Google PageRank experts seem to agree that link exchanges do not really work well anymore.

One of the SEO "tips" sites I came across talked about syndicating your articles or news to third party services like FeedBurner. These services take care of passing your feeds further to other sites who also use feeds published there. Very popular sites that publishes feed by other people is Technorati. So by publishing your feed to FeedBurner, you can indirectly get articles or mentions in high profile websites like Technorati. Marshall Kirkpatrick gives some general idea as to why you would want to use FeedBurner.

Syndication is mostly done through one of two formats: RSS and ATOM. Both are based on the XML specification, with ATOM being the newer standard and seems to be the more preferred one as of late. RSS is simpler so I decided to take a stab on it. Since I regularly maintain a news page for our online photo printing service, Picatoo, I decided to automatedly make an RSS feed out of it. The resulting feed can be found here. The Feed.aspx code basically reads the HTML output of News.aspx; extracts the relevant line items; and reformats them to RSS/XML. Then I created a FeedBurner account and linked the feed to it. So hopefully soon, our Picatoo news details will be syndicated by other sites like Technorati!

Incidentally, Google's Blogger (which is what I'm using) has excellent integraton with FeedBurner. This comes perhaps as to no surprise as Google recently bought FeedBurner for a rumored amount of US$100M. So if you want to subscribe to my blog's feeds via email, just fill-up the form on the right-hand side of this blog with your email address, or click on this link.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

My Philips DVDR3455H HDD/DVD Player/Recorder

My dad "required" me and Cols to attend the wedding reception of a family friend of theirs last night. This caused me to miss an episode of WWE Raw. It has been some time since I missed an episode ever since I bought a Philips HDD/DVD Recorder several months back. But my dad went out of town during the week, and he just could not miss a single episode of his Chinese tv series. So I had to bring my recorder to the folks' place to record the series for him since it only shows in Global Destiny and not Skycable (which is what we have at our place). By Jan 1,2008, Skycable will totally SUCK after they let go of the Solar channels (Jack TV, ETC, C/S, etc.). But that's another story, and I won't digress on that yet...

The DVDR3455H is a personal video recorder (PVR) just like the TiVo (which I think pretty much created and defined the category). While it can do things like pause live tv; or even rewind or forward it; I personally use it mainly as a glorified Video Cassette Recorder (VCR) -- minus the cassette, of course. It stores the video it records onto its internal hard disk. We had a 160Gb HDD installed in ours. Depending on the recording mode, it can store hundreds of hours of video. The recorder allows you to specify the level of resolution/quality you want. Of course, the lower the quality, the more video you can store. Its similar in concept to JPEG compression -- the more lossy the compression, the smaller the image. I use the "standard" mode, which is good for recording 30+ movies from HBO, I think.

So anyway, I would just program the recorder to record all the shows I normally watch. You can tell it to record once or weekly at a specified time. Watching recorded shows is also great -- you can skip all the commercials! For example, the regular 2-hr WWE Raw episode I get to watch in less than an hour after skipping commercials and fast-forwarding through matches that I don't find interesting. Saves me a lot of time and I don't have to contend with Cols' Pinoy Big Brother.

I have been recording the episodes of Heroes 2 from Crime/Suspense (C/S) since it started. I still haven't watched a single episode. Its just accumulating in the hard drive. I will do a Heroes 2 marathon one of these days to catch up quickly on what's happening. The only problem, of course, is -- C/S will also be gone come Jan 1, 2008 thanks to the hare-brained people at Skycable!!!

You can transfer the shows you record on the HDD onto DVD (hence the "DVDR" in its name). The reverse is not true though -- you cannot "rip" a DVD onto HDD. I guess they didn't allow that on purpose to protect themselves against anti-piracy advocates. The device also comes with a USB port which you can plug a flash drive to in order to do a photo slide show (assuming your flash drive contains JPG images). It also has support for standard RCA inputs jacks -- great for migrating all VHS/beta/camcorder tapes from its original player and burn onto a DVD. Heck, there are businesses offering such service for like PHP400 per tape-to-DVD transfer.

Incidentally, I recently saw an ad for a Samsung(?) tv which has PVR functionality built-in. Kinda interesting. I wonder if it will fly or whether people would still rather have this function in a separate box.

Strangely though, Philips seem to have stopped selling the device here in the Philippines shortly after we purchased it. That would be a shame since I think its really a good consumer electronic equipment. Would be nice to sell at our online Mozcom Store.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Ordering PictureBooks or Photo Books in the Philippines

We completed a "rush" Picture Book project for Johnson & Johnson Medical Philippines. J&J was looking for a unique and personalized gift for their 10 retirees, and when they came across, they knew they found their perfect gift.

Picture Books (or Photo Books) present a new way of looking at your photos. Instead of having one pose per print, Picture Books can collage or layout multiple photos onto a single print. The prints are then compiled and bound into a book format. Captions can also be added to the photos, and backgrounds can be embellished. In the case of J&J, they wanted a scrapbook-like feel. So we used textured background templates to give them a scrapbook look-and-feel.

Our PictureBook business has been featured in Philippine Daily Inquirer before. We are also a partner of Picatoo, a joint project between Mozcom and Fuji YKL Color Lab. Picatoo provides everything from standard prints, to poster-sized prints and specialized items like mugs, buttons, mousepads, tumblers, pillowcases and more. Of course, they also offer picturebooks care of

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Online Donation for UNICEF Philippines

After like a year in discussion (and changes in personnel from both UNICEF Philippines and Mozcom's side), the UNICEF online donation site via PayEasy is finally up! This is the first web application that I've written that uses PayEasy's new recurring payments module. I used a little bit of AJAX code to come up with some nifty effects on the site to allow changing from one-time donations to monthly pledges without causing a full page refresh. There's also the watermarked textbox that I've recently added to our online photo printing site Picatoo also.

So for those of you with a soft spot in your hearts for kids-related causes, I hope you drop by the donation site and make a small contribution!

Donate Now To UNICEF

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Programming with Facebook

I'm not really into the whole social networking scene. I never bothered (and I refuse) to use Friendster. I'm not into MySpace nor Multiply. However, the techie industry has been all abuzz about Facebook. As some magazine (forgot if it was Newsweek) put it -- MySpace is for the Hollywood types while Facebook is for the geeks and nerds. Well, with an introduction like that, I just had to try Facebook to see what it is at the very least.

The registration was simple and straightforward. What I found really interesting is the method by which it tries to establish your initial social community. It asks you to enter a POP3 account. I assume it goes through your email headers and try to see if the persons you email with have Facebook accounts. If they do, the system sends them a notice informthem them that you just joined, I suppose. I say "I suppose" because when I gave it my GMail POP3 credentials, it seemed to time out. Maybe I have too many mail in my GMail account for it to process.

Facebook allows you to create applications using their API. This was my main interest in signing up really. I wanted to find a way to integrate Facebook albums to Mozcom's online photo printing service called Picatoo. Their API documentation is ok. Getting an API license key is also very simple and straightforward. No need to send X.25 certificates to the administrator unlike Picasa. In a few hours, I was able to get my Facebook album to appear in Picatoo, and transfer photos for printing.

There is just one thing about the Facebook photo album system that I can't figure out. They don't seem to have a way to let the account owner upload photos at full, or original, size and resolution. The upload process seems to automatically perform re-sizing of the jpg image for the web. While the effect on screen is fine because of the screen's lower resolution (72 dpi), it does not look well when the photos are transferred to a service like Picatoo for photo printing which uses a higher resolution (250 dpi or better). They are only ok if the photos are to be arranged in a collage. But a single photo to be printed on 4R will be too grainy. Anyone out there have any idea on how to upload photos at their original size?

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Global Fun Carnival

Upon Caitlin's constant nagging, the entire family (including dad and mom) went to the Global Fun Carnival at the SM Mall of Asia complex at around 6pm. I was feeling adventurous so I tried one of the more "adult" ride -- it was like a faster version of the traditional Octopus ride. I don't know if I'm just getting old (as dad kept saying) or the spinning was really fast and furious. In any case, I got really dizzy after the ride, forcing me to call it a night. Anyway, it was past dinner time. So we left the compound and had dinner at Hong Kong Chef near the carnival upon my suggestion. Not a very good choice of food. But with my dizziness, I don't think it would have mattered because I did not have a good appetite anymore.

That wasn't the end of the evening, of course. Dad dropped us back off at the Carnival parking lot where Cols and I picked up our CRV. Since I was still dizzy, Cols had to do the driving. On the way out, she took a turn on the unpaved open parking area and got our wheels stuck in mud. It took several minutes of pushing and gas to get us unstuck.

I guess the evening could have been worse just like for these poor guys at Enchanted Kingdom.

The Shroud of Turin Philippine Exhibition

I took Cols and Caitlin to see the Shroud of Turin exhibit at Mall of Asia today -- Well, its not the REAL Shroud, but the official replica, or the "touring shroud". The real Shroud will next be opened for public viewing in Turin, Italy on 2025. And since I have no plans of making a pilgrimage there, I guess this is the next best thing.

The exhibit is not necessarily for the religious. They do give the scientific explanations to both sides. Personally, I am leaning more towards the skeptic end. The strongest argument in favor of the skeptics is the radio carbon dating tests that have been done on the shroud samples to determine its age. Using standard Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) methods, several labs conducted the test on different samples and arrived to the same conclusion -- that the shroud only came about roughly during AD 1260 - 1390, so it couldn't have possibly been the burial cloth of Christ.

Several more counter-explanations were made after this landmark conclusion. The main argument of the "faithful" is that the radiocarbon sample that was used to date the Shroud has a very different composition and structure than the rest of the cloth and was not valid for dating the Shroud. In other words, the wrong sample was taken from the Shroud. The Shroud, having endured centuries of handling and transport (including a fire in one of the churches that housed it), has been patched several times by different people. And the "faithfuls" believe that the sample taken for carbon dating was one of the patches that was sewn later on. Couple with this the effect of bacterial decay, and that would set off the carbon dating readings by several hundreds of years. Read this for further details.

I think the solution to solve this impasse once and for all is to just do another radio carbon dating based on the parts that these "experts" believe should be the original. Wouldn't that make things a lot simpler? Unless the church is hiding something. Hmm... sounds like the premise for a future Dan Brown novel. Or maybe not. I read the 1st book of the Christ Clone Trilogy by James BeauSeigneur about 2 to 3 years ago. You can also order it from The basic plot of the story is that these scientists who are studying the Shroud took blood samples from the cloth and cloned a human out of it. The man was aptly named "Christopher". Was he going to be messiah or the anti-Christ. The book was not that captivating, or at least, it did not really compel me to buy and read books 2 and 3. So I really don't know how it ended. If there is anyone out there who is willing to give me a 1 paragraph summary of how it ended, you are welcome to post here. :)

Anyway, the Shroud exhibit will be going around the Philippines up to 2008. So drop by to see it and decide for yourself. You can also purchase the tickets ahead of time and online using PayEasy.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Testing Google Photos

I uploaded some pics from our California vacation last May 2007 to Picasa (Google Photos). Its a very interesting service. I tried Flickr for a while, but I find Picasa more convenient because I'm using GMail instead of Yahoo Mail. Picasa allows you to easily embed your photos into slideshows like the one below. Copying-and-pasting it was quite trivial.

Programming for Google's Data API is also quite fun. The developer support is excellent. I was able to easily integrate the Picasa/Google Photos API to Picatoo (, Mozcom's online photo printing service. This allows Picasa users to easily retrieve their photos for printing via Picatoo. Of course, we also support Flickr since its the most popular one around.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Judas Strain

I recently read a novel entitled The Judas Strain by James Rollins ( It was my first time to read a book by this author and was pleasantly surprised by his writing style, which is like a cross between Dan Brown (of Da Vinci Code fame) and Michael Crichton (of Jurassic Park fame). He mixes historical facts with a fictional story line to come up with very interesting what-if's.

The Judas Strain is premised based on the historical travels of Marco Polo. When he left Kublai Khan's China to go back to Europe along with Khan's daughter to be married off somewhere, he was originally given a fleet of 14 ships. But strangely, only 2 were documented to have made it to Europe. What fate befell the other ships? This mystery was intricately linked to the modern day where there is a conspiracy by some global evil organization called "The Guild" to release a very infectious disease that will wipe out humanity (unless they pay The Guild some really large money to be immunized). Sounds like Dan Brown's "Illuminati" in Angels & Demons.
There's a lot of medical science involved in the story line. James Rollins, a veterinarian in profession, does quite well in this department. Just like Michael Crichton, another doctor/author, he gives a good layman explanation of some bet-you-didn't-know-that medical facts.
Overall, I think The Judas Strain is a good book, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading Brown or Crichton types of novels. In fact, I just bought his other book The Black Order ( Rollins' books are available at

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

My First Entry

It has been some time since I last blogged. I wanted to keep a web diary for my daughter, Caitlin Daphne, but lost interest after a while. :( The blog is still posted out there ( Caitlin has already grown up and might be able to blog on her own already someday. So this time, I will be blogging for myself and talking about the things that I'm doing or that I find interesting.