Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Marco Polo Hotel

I woke up from a good night sleep; had a really hot shower; and tried out the breakfast buffet that came with my room at Cafe Marco. The selection was pretty good. It was no Shangri-La, but it offered a wide range of choices from continental to oriental breakfast. I went for the oriental selection with congee and noodles. Then I even had some California Maki (yes, for breakfast). For PHP3,700/night (based on Mozcom's corporate rate) with free breakfast, I would say its a good deal.

After breakfast, I toured the hotel grounds a bit and snapped some photos with my Nokia 6680. The shots were slightly better than the ones I had last time which were taken at night. But still, a camera phone is really no replacement for a decent digital camera.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

From SDK to STK

I had to wake up very early today to catch my 7am flight to Cebu. I'm scheduled to do a 2-day training for the Cebu tech staff on SQL and C# with the .NET Software Development Kit (SDK). My stomach was not cooperating very well this morning so I had to use the toilet while at the Terminal 2, then once again while onboard the plane. I swear -- that PAL lavatory at the back end of the airline felt like the smallest lavatory I have ever been in. I can't imagine how anyone bigger than me would comfortably fit inside, not even to mention, potential "mile-high clubbers" (if you know what I mean).

Since I did not check-in any baggage, I was able to go out of the Mactan airport immediately. Traffic wasn't so bad today so I got to the office around 10am I think and proceeded to setup for the training. Everything went uneventfully and we finished our first day at around 6pm.

Upon the recommendation of the local staff, I decided to be a bit adventurous and tried out a local STK (aka. sutokil, which is a Bisaya contraction of the words sugba-tola-kilaw). From what I understand, STK is like their local version of a grillery but more focused on seafood (although they insist that its not really the same as a barbecue-han). Since the more popular STK restaurant Neo Neo was a bit out of the way, the local guys suggested I try STK Ta Bay which is only a kilometer or two from the office. I hopped onto a taxi and told the driver where I'm headed. He had to think a few seconds to remember where that place is. So perhaps its not as popular as I thought it was. He brought me to some small street with 2 brightly-lit food joints -- a grillery called Yayoy's, and a small restaurant beside it -- STK Ta Bay.

STK Ta Bay is actually an old house that was converted into a restaurant. The food was ok. I ordered their mixed seafood and grilled pork. The portions were small so it was just right for a single diner. Food was fairly cheap (well, there wasn't much ambiance either). After dinner, I had to walk a couple of blocks to get back to the main street where I could hail a cab to take me to Marco Polo Hotel, where I was booked.

Marco Polo Hotel is the former Cebu Plaza Hotel. It sits on top of a hill and is fairly close to the midtown where most of the activities (malls, offices) are. I've stayed at the old Cebu Plaza for like a week back during my Citibank days. It has been given a significant face-lift with its new incarnation as part of the Marco Polo chain. And that's a good thing since I think it was abandoned for some time after it closed.

I initially asked Cols if she wanted to come to Cebu with me since the room is already paid for anyway (I'll just sneak her in). She wasn't too thrilled when she found out that I was going to be staying in Marco Polo. She has heard my dad's horror stories (as in, ghost stories) of his stay before at the old Cebu Plaza days. Dad said he swears he has heard of poltergeist-ic activities, and at one time, he had to call room service to send someone to stay on guard at his room so he can sleep.

My night's stay at Marco Polo was unevently (thankfully). The rooms were very nice. I stayed at Room 1220. The only thing I found strange with my room was the uneven flooring. For some strange reason, the floor is not even -- it dips by maybe an inch in the middle of the room. I think they may have added some tiles and threw over a carpet on top without leveling the whole floor to save on costs.

While resting my feet, I caught up with last week's episode of Heroes 2, which I recorded and burned onto DVD-RW using my Philips DVD Recorder. Then had a really hot shower and off to sleep...

Friday, January 25, 2008

Department of Tourism Joins YouTube Generation

The Department of Tourism, under Ace Durano, signed up professional Fil-Am video blogger, Christine Gambito, better known as HappySlip to her thousands of fans, to help promote the Philippines through her popular Happy Slip website. This is a very out-of-the-box and novel marketing idea, and its good to know that the Philippine government sees the value and reach that the Internet offers. Kudos to DOT! The last interesting idea that I've heard from DOT was during Richard Gordon's time where he wrapped the UK black cabs with "WOW Philippines" images.

DOT hired(?) HappySlip to go around the Philippines as their "ambassadress" and document her travel through her popular video blog. It would be very interesting to see what she comes up with. I find her brand of Fil-Am humor, with references to Filipino mannerisms and customs, very funny and fresh.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Britney Spears' Unreleased Song

Seems that Britney Spears can't get herself out of the news nowadays. From her drunk driving, to wild partying, to custody battle with K-Fed, the former pop princess is going to self-destruct one of these days. In fact, the only respite we've had from Brit news is the recent death of Heath Ledger. Not that I'm a big Heath fan. He was ok with 10 Things I Hate About You and A Knight's Tale. Other than that, I haven't really watched his other movies -- including the (in)famous Brokeback Mountain where he got Oscar nominations.

Anyway, I saw this YouTube link today from Perez Hilton about a track that Britney recorded, but was apparently never released. From the sound of her voice, it may have been one of her earlier recordings. Its a remake of Ace of Base's popular All That She Wants. Listening to this song brings back memories of grad school at Babson where it was a favorite of my Indian roommate.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Still on using Google Docs for Presentation

I wrote on a recent blog entry about the improvements of Google Docs' support for presentation. While it can display PowerPoint slides well, the creation and composition part still leaves a lot to be desired. Today, I attempted to create my slides for my upcoming training on SQL completely on Google Docs, and I had to give up after the Javascripts made my IE hang a couple of times (on the same slide). Whenever I tried to copy-and-paste some text from a PDF document onto the slide body then hit some key strokes to delete some text I don't need, IE would freeze up.

So I ended up going back to good ol' MS Powerpoint to do the whole presentation then just upload to Google Docs to share it. Below is an embedded version of my slides published in Google Docs.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Programming with the Canon Digital Camera Part 2

I got my Canon EOS Digital Software Development Kit (ED-SDK 2.1) back in December but have not gotten much time to experiment with it. I wrote some quick-and-dirty program today just to test out the different SDK function calls. I opted to test with my Canon EOS 400D instead of the Digital IXUS 400 primarily because the EOS Development Kit (EDK) already came with a C-Sharp wrapper called EDSDK.cs. So I didn't have to download some other 3rd party library wrapper just to integrate with the CD-SDK.

The C Sharp wrapper bundled with the EDK is pretty basic. In fact, I would not really call it a class in the OOP sense. Its more of like a traditional C struct. It enumerates all the different constants and data structures supported by the EDK, which is a big help since I would not want to re-type that. The development library can be either statically linked through the provided EDSDK.lib file, or by dynamic linking by referring to the EDSDK.dll. The C Sharp class file uses the latter method (since I don't think there is any way of linking directly to a .lib file with C#). The EDSDK.cs wrapper file provides the convenient function prototypes already also.

The program flow is very straightforward. You call EdsInitializeSDK() to startup the library and EdsTerminateSDK() to shut it down. Then in-between that's where you do all the neat stuffs -- like query the camera for its properties and settings; modify the settings; take a picture; go through the camera's storage system and retrieve images. The EDK pretty much lets you change all the settings that can be modified -- the ISO speed, AE mode, aperture, shutter speed, JPEG quality/compression level, and so much more. Anything that you can set using the camera's LCD menu, can be programmatically set as well. The EDK provides you with functions to lock the User Interface so that while the application is in control of the camera, it cannot be manually overridden by a human operator.

I think in theory you can connect multiple cameras to a PC via the provided USB cable and control them from a single application (this setup of EOS cameras is pretty amazing). The EDK just mentions some notes about concurrency issues that might cause problems. In any case, I have no plans of attaching more than one camera so that should not be an issue. The SDK does provide you with functions to list the cameras attached, or are available, and lets you select which one you want to work with. Once you've selected your camera, you would open a session with it by calling EdsOpenSession(). Then you would use the EdsSendCommand() mainly to do everything else like doing a remote capture.

I've gotten as far as the following:
  1. Initialize the SDK
  2. Enumerate the cameras attached and select the 1st one (my EOS 400D in this case)
  3. Open a session with the camera
  4. Retrieve its settings and properties
  5. Perform a remote capture (aka. Take a Picture)
  6. Close the camera session
  7. Terminate the SDK

The images taken by step 5 currently remains on the camera. I have to do more experimentation next time on how to do image transfers from the camera to the PC. Of course, the SDK provides all of those functions as well. Its just a matter of figuring out how to use them correctly. I will need to define postback functions for sure. For now, I'm purely doing synchronous programming. However, the programming model that the Canon EDK uses is asynchronous and postback-based.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Walking Home

Our driver was absent for the second day due to fever (or so he claims). Since Ethan's yaya Thelma resigned this weekend, Cols was stuck home babysitting. And since today is our CRV's coding day, we only had one car at home. So I left the car home and took the cab to work this morning. Now, I've been thinking about this for some time -- how far is The Peak really from Rockwell? Is it "walking distance"? I've measured it on the car's odometer and its about 3km from The Peak's parking to Amorsolo West's parking. 3km isn't that far. I'm sure I've walked farther before. I've walked to my meetings at DBP before (right across Pacific Star). I did not feel that was far -- and that's almost close to halfway to Rockwell.

So feeling energetic, I decided to WALK home tonight! Yes, you read that right. I walked home from the office. I left The Peak around 6:25pm. At my regular brisk walking pace, it took me only about 7 mins to reach Pacific Star Building. I wasn't even sweating yet. Piece of cake! From there, I crossed Buendia; then Makati Ave; then trun to P. Burgos street (where all the bars are).

While walking along Burgos St., I saw a taxi drop off a passenger. But I figure -- I must be more than halfway home already. Seems kinda pointless to cop out now and ride a taxi. Besides, the flag down rate of the taxi would be PHP30. Maybe add PHP10 more to reach Rockwell. My cab from Rockwell to The Peak this morning was at PHP60. So at PHP40, that doesn't seem logical given that I'm very near.

So further on I went down Kalayaan, then to Rockwell Drive. I reached home around 6:50pm -- for a total of about 25 mins. Not bad at all! Driving through traffic can take as much time. Besides, I can normally jog for 30 mins on the treadmill. And this was just brisk walking. My only mistake was not being prepared for it as I was wearing leather shoes. So the sole of my feet kinda hurt a bit. But no big deal. I should bring my rubber shoes next time I do this. :)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Tips Slides at Google Docs

Its been a few months since I last used Google Docs. While I'm still mainly an MS Office guy and prefer to create and edit my documents locally on my PC, I cannot deny the advantages of having an office productivity software that is accessible with only a browser. There have been several times when I was at home and I needed to access some files at the office PC, but obviously couldn't since my office PC is normally off outside office hours. But if the documents are stored online, it can be retrieved practically from any Internet-capable PC! I presently use Google Docs mainly as a glorified file cabinet/storage space. I upload a backup copy of my stuffs there although I still mainly do my editing locally.

Anyway, going back to my main point of writing this blog entry, I conducted a training session to our tech staff yesterday on basic Search Engine Optimization (SEO) techniques. As usual, I created my slides using MS Powerpoint. The last time I used Google Docs, it only supported MS Word and Excel. When I tested it again today, I was fairly surprised and impressed at the support it has for Powerpoint documents.

Not only does it allow you to create and modify your Powerpoint slides there, you can practically run the entire presentation slideshow from your browser! And that's not the best part. From what I can tell, it even seems to allow you to invite other people to the presentation so they can view it simultaneously on their browser online. There is even a chat facility on the side for discussing the presentation with remote users, I suppose.

It generated the ff. URL for me to share with people who wants to see my SEO tips slide:

I think if I email the link above to the people whom I want to join the online SEO presentation, they can follow along. I wonder how the browser knows that the speaker has changed slides already. I should test that one of these days. It would be very odd to conduct a presentation without having to talk though. :)

Friday, January 11, 2008

User-generated Video Content

There's probably no one alive who has not heard of YouTube, that giant Internet-based video sharing site which was purchased by Google for a billion dollars or two. Sure it has its share of lawsuits from the movie and tv companies because some users upload copyrighted materials, but there is no denying that it has the largest video collection of almost any topic that you can think of. It recently launched a mobile version of the site for people who wants to view it using their mobile phones. Smart claims their 3G network supports it. But when I tried using my Nokia 6680 on Smart's network, the built-in RealPlayer gave me some error (I forgot what it was).

To reach the largest number of users and to make it easy for people to view its content, YouTube uses the Adobe/Macromedia Flash format. Since Flash is already installed in most modern-day browsers, viewers do not need to download a separate plug-in unlike the other video sharing service. The downside of this approach is the format that YouTube uses is still the old Flash format (Flash 7). Its quality leaves much to be desired. If you compare it with its newer rivals, the poor video quality becomes apparent.

The top 2 video sharing sites that PC World recently reviewed and rated based on quality and performance are and Stage6 (note: YouTube ranked only No. 7 in the list). What these two lack in content, they make up for superb video streaming that will hopefully bring more people in to use their service. Both are free and follow the same YouTube business model of placing ads.

One of the shows that I saw at is the Midwest Teen Sex Show. Its a really funny skit show ran by several teens (although Nikol looks kinda old to me). But it is worthwhile to note the size and resolution of their show versus the ones you would normally see in YouTube.

Stage6 requires you to download the DivX plug-in and install it onto your browser. This is because their video is saved in DivX format. This is not surprising because Stage6 is operated by the same people who developed the DivX codec/format! Downloading and installing the plug-in was quite trivial. What I found really annoying was the plug-in installer also automatically installed along the Yahoo Toolbar onto my browser without asking for my permission. I had to manually uninstall it from my Windows Control Panel. Just for that -- I really wouldn't recommend this site. :P

Metacafe was not included in the PC World roundup. I don't know if it was because its quality was not worthy to be included in the Top 10 list? Personally, I think the quality is comparable to YouTube. One of their top draw is a guy named Kip Kay who comes up with these really amazing do-it-yourself gadgets and tricks like making infrared goggles and increasing your car's mileage by using low-cost, everyday materials.

But for most people, I guess YouTube will still be the main destination. And with Google's resources behind it, they will most likely upgrade their video quality pretty soon. So in the meantime, enjoy one of my favorite YouTube channels -- HotForWords with the linguist/philologist, Marina.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Microsoft Silverlight

I've been reading up a bit over the weekend on one of Microsoft's latest technology called Silverlight. When I first heard of it, I thought it was just Microsoft's response to Macromedia/Adobe's popular Flash technology, which has dominated the market for interactive web experiences. Silverlight claimed better audio and video playback quality (YouTube uses an older Flash version and quality is admittedly very poor). But after reading more about Silverlight, its beginning to sound a whole lot more than Flash.

To start with, Microsoft defines Silverlight as follows:

Microsoft Silverlight is a cross-browser, cross-platform plug-in for delivering the next generation of Microsoft .NET–based media experiences and rich interactive applications for the Web.
From that, it sounds like a description of Flash -- except Flash is already supported in Unix platforms whereas Silverlight will initially be available only in Windows and Mac, with Novell supposedly providing the Linux support in the future. But where the key difference lie seems to be in the programming side (not surprising for Microsoft). Whereas Flash requires you to write your code in its proprietary ActionScript language and embed it as part of the Flash file (the SWF), Silverlight uses a more industry-standard language/model in XAML (Extensible Application Markup Language) and works closely with standard technology like Javascript, AJAX and the like. And since its a Microsoft product, one can write code-behind scripts in Ruby, Perl, and of course, in any .NET language including C# and Visual Basic.

One of the showcase sites is a video of Bill Gates delivering the 2008 Microsoft keynote for the CES. The video is really funny and features a parody of Bill's Last Day of work at Microsoft (since he announced that he will step down already from active day-to-day duties). I never expected Bill Gates to ham it up along with excellent cameo appearances from popular figures like Barrack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, George Clooney, Jon Stewart, U2's Bono and many others.

There is a Silverlight community website that also offers developers advance previews and info about Silverlight.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Google Apps

After keeping this on my to-do list for a couple of months, I finally got around to fiddling with Google Apps to see what its all about. Google Apps supposedly gives you free web hosting using your own domain, and private-labeled GMail, Calendar and Docs to go along with it. My domain has been floating in limbo for some time ever since I retired my very old Linux box hosted at Mozcom data center and just moved to a virtual Linux server.

Upon logging on to the Apps site, I chose the Standard Edition (that's the only "free" option, of course). Then I proceeded to try and figure out how to point my domain to Google. This part really had nothing to do with Google anymore. It had to be done at Network Solutions, which hosts my DNS entries. Making the MX entries point to Google Apps was very trivial. I really just got stumped in creating the CNAME entries for,, etc. NetSol's interface is sooooo un-intuitive. The help page was no help at all! I had to do trial and error for several minutes just to figure out how to create the CNAME alias entries on the "Advanced DNS" management page.

Once I got the DNS entry defined, I proceed to create a web page with Google Apps. There are a few basic templates that one can choose from. They're not going to win you any Webby Awards, but they're ok for basic websites, I guess. I got to play around a bit with some of the Google Gadgets for the first time. But I think I'll tinker with Gadgets in more details some other day. For now, the Virtual Aquarium gadget is my favorite. :)

After the web page, I proceeded to configure mail and created accounts for myself, Cols, and the kids -- all under the hosted domain. With 6GB of storage each (and growing), there should be lots of room for everyone. I also personalized the Start Page for the domain -- Its kind of like the iGoogle equivalent for hosted domains. I don't find it incredibly interesting yet at this point. Will have to spend more time with Gadgets, I guess, before I can appreciate it.

That's it for now. Will have to spice up the hosted some more.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Map of Bones

Its mom's birthday today so we met up at The Podium's Casa Armas for dinner. But before dinner, we got to shop around a bit. There's a National Bookstore Best Sellers store at The Podium which carries more popular and selective titles as compared to their regular branches, which tend to be more of a school-and-office-supplies depot.

I found and bought a copy of James Rollins' Map of Bones in paperback. Fully Booked didn't have a copy last time we checked through our online bookstore. This book came out before The Judas Strain. Its still related to the "Da Vinci Code"-genre where fiction is mixed with Christianity-related themes. In this case, the bones being referred to are the bones of the three Magi (or the "three kings" led by the Star of Bethlehem to Jesus; or wait -- was that supposed to be the Shepherds?) who visited Jesus as a child. Well, according to our church's pastor, Jesus was already a "child" of about 2 years old by the time the magi visited him, and not an infant as he is typically depicted in nativity scenes. His reason for saying this is the original (Greek?) text uses the word for "child" and not "infant". Hmmm... more conspiracy theories from The Vatican?

And while we're on the topic of Christianity, the Philippine Star had a front-page feature article today about the supposed relevance of Aug 8, 2008 (8/8/08). Its supposed to be the 2nd coming of Christ because "888" in Greek corresponds to word "Jesus". Yeah, yeah. And June 6, 2006 (6/6/06) was supposed to be the coming of the Anti-Christ in the person of Russian president Vladimir Putin. And last year's July 7, 2007 (7/7/07) was the year of the Cross supposedly because "777" in Greek corresponds to the word for "Cross". You can read about these predictions at a site called Revelation 13. Personally, any prediction site that greets you with offers of DVD's, jewelries, and many others from Amazon, sounds pretty suspect to me!