Thursday, February 21, 2008

Shelfari Widget

Shelfari is a free website where people can go to rant and rave about books. One can search through its database for the book covers and synopsis of the novel, then make comments or reviews about it. Shelfari is a "Web 2.0" site, in the sense that, its contents are mostly user-generated. It uses a lot of AJAX technology that makes the interface really spiffy and interactive.

I revisited Shelfari today while doing some reading on Google's OpenSocial API. Shelfari is supposed to be one of the sites that already supports OpenSocial. So I created an account for myself at Shelfari and added some James Rollins books I recently read like The Judas Strain and Map of Bones. Then I used Shelfari's widget tools to automate the adding of a mini bookshelf to the right column of this blog. The bookshelf now shows the current book I'm reading. Very amazing what it can do!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Test driving the Nokia 6120 Classic

Cols availed of her Smart Gold Plan 1200's free phone through Smart's loyalty/retention program and got a Nokia 6120 Classic phone. Since my old phone's LCD is already busted, I've been using Cols' old Nokia flip phone for a couple of months. I don't like the flip design that much because its hard to text. The send key is too far because its on the other side of the flip design. So I'm using her new N6120 for now.

The N6120 is actually pretty feature-packed. It beats my much-clunkier N6680 in several departments:
  1. The N6120's camera is 2.0 megapixel vs. the N6680's 1.3 megapixel. I have been complaining a lot about the N6680's photo quality in my blog. Will have to give the N6120 some tests.
  2. The N6120 has support for HSDPA (or "3.5G"). While its quite rare that you get HSDPA when using data, on the occasions that I did get 3.5G, the download speed was really fast.
  3. The screen of the N6120 is a bit narrower compared to the N6680. However, the 16M color palette is way much sharper than the N6680.
  4. Nokia finally outfitted the N6120 with a more "standard" USB data cable! Its the same kind of USB cable that I use for my Canon digital cameras and Palm Tungsten.
  5. The N6120 supports Microsoft's Windows Media Audio (WMA) format over-and-above the standard AAC, eAAC and MP3 formats. Furthermore, it can act as a Windows Media client and can synch seamlessly with the Windows Media Player to transfer songs and covert art. I haven't tried yet whether it can synch DRM-protected WMA files like those we sell through Fliptunes.
I would strongly recommend this phone for people wanting to try 3G. There are only two shortcomings that kinda dampens my enthusiasm:
  1. The keypad is quite hard. You have to exert a bit more force than usual just to type on the keypad.
  2. It uses yet another type of power adapter. I hate it that Nokia has so many types of adapters for different phones. Why can't they just standardize on the same ones?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Makati Protest Rally vs. NBN-ZTE Deal

A protest rally was held by the United Opposition at the corner of Ayala Avenue and Paseo de Roxas this afternoon in support of National Broadband Network (NBN)-ZTE scam whistleblower, Jun Lozada. The streets were closed in that area of Makati and a stage was put up where demonstrators aired their sentiments against the corrupt Arroyo administration. The "Sobra Na, Tama Na" and "Moderate Your Greet" slogans were used to refer to the government. UP students and professors, along with militant groups, joined the opposition headed by Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay, and until recently, former House Speaker Jose de Venecia were the major figures at the rally.

I dropped by the rally with my Canon EOS400D to take some shots. Also, I supported the protest because I really dislike ex-Commissioner Benjamin Abalos, who I really believe is part of the major corruption that went on with this deal (over-and-above the big Mega-Pacific deal before regarding those automated ballot counting machines that also blew up in their faces during his term as COMELEC chairman). There were several photographers there also -- some professional from news agencies, but a lot look like photography hobbyists also like myself.

There have been recent news about the ubiquitous surveillance cameras being installed by the government to spy on movements of the opposition. They placed one in front of La Salle Greenhills where Jun Lozada is staying. There were 3 such cameras at the rally. Big Sister (or rather, "short" sister) is watching in Malacanang. The PNP gave some really lame excuse about how these cameras are being installed all over metropolis to view traffic conditions. I wonder how they propagate the signals since coaxial cables cannot carry signals that far. They must be tapping some repeaters somewhere. Could the cable tv companies be in cahoots with the government's surveillance activities?

Where there's smoke, there's fire. At least, that seems to be the battlecry of several entrepreneurs. There were many street vendors selling everything from dirty ice cream, to peanuts, barbecues, cigarettes, you name it. Some setup stalls right on the street to sell. I noticed most of the "higher-class" food establishments (eg. Jollibee, Yellow Cab Pizza) there did not really seem to have customers despite the huge crowd.

To see all my other photos of the rally, check out my Google Photos album.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Weekend at The Boutique Bed and Breakfast @ Tagaytay, Philippines

The Boutique at TagaytayAfter weeks of preparation and keeping Cols in suspense, we drove out to Tagaytay this Sunday afternoon and left the kids with the maids at home (some responsible parents we are! har har). I booked us at The Boutique Bed & Breakfast along Aguinaldo Highway, the main thoroughfare in Tagaytay that runs across all the major attractions. It was a short 1-hour drive since there was no traffic. Once you reach the main rotonda in Tagaytay, you just proceed about a kilometer further towards the direction of Josephine. You will see Days Inn to your left after a few meters. Then a few more meters after that would be The Boutique. Actually, if you're driving too fast, you might miss it altogether as its quite small.

Map to The Boutique

Signage of The Boutique and Hawaiian Barbecue Restaurant along Aguinaldo HighwayAccording to their official website, the Boutique opened just October 2007. It was originally intended to be just a branch for the Hawaiian Barbecue Restaurant by its owner Happy Ongpauco (Heart Evangelista's sister), who also owns several other concept restaurants like World Topps and Bento Box, I believe. But she fell in love with the place and ended up inviting her friend Allana Montelibano to make it into a place for a romantic weekend getaway.

Its hard to explain the design of the place other than to say its a fusion. The external facade facing the highway looks very Asian modern with rectangular angles painted in white. The steps leading up to its doors are lined with pots containing herbs like rosemary, peppermint, lemon grass, and others. Upon entering the door, the design of the lobby looks more classical European. There's an old-fashioned chandelier hanging on the low ceiling, and a couple of odd-looking rectangular box sofas.

For those of you who have stayed in bed and breakfast (B&B) places in North America or Europe, let me forewarn you that The Boutique is very unlike those types of B&B. It is really a small, well..., boutique hotel. In US or Europe, when they say B&B, they are referring to houses (usually inhabited by old couples) where 1 or 2 rooms are rented out to travellers. And they really serve breakfast in the house's kitchen.

Lobby of The BoutiqueIn one end of the small lobby is the reception counter. It was a very small counter. I felt the 2 to 3 people inside could hardly move without bumping into each other. After confirming my reservation, the lady led us to a room behind the counter (you can actually see what's inside the room through the glass behind the counter) to pick up our toiletries. The Boutique has its own line of toiletries (shampoos, conditioners, body lotions) under their Pamper Me line. We went with the lavander flavor as the others were not really much to our liking. For the room scent, we went with the one that the lady recommended (she said its Kris Aquino's favorite).

I Love Room of The BoutiqueWe were booked at the I Love room (the other rooms are I Escape, I Surrender, I Dream, I Desire, I Dare, and I Lust). Visit this page for their official price list. The most expensive room, I Lust, gives you a view of Taal Volcano from the large picturesque window beside your bathtub. Our room was just at the ground floor. In fact, its just a hidden/recessed door away from the main lobby! Immediately next to the lobby is the Hawaiian Barbecue Restaurant.

Flat TV at every rooms of The BoutiqueAs advertised (or rather publicized, since The Boutique is thriving more on word-of-mouth rather than traditional advertisig), the room came with modern amenities like a Samsung LCD TV, a NextBase DVD player (well, that's an el cheapo brand), speakers with subwoofer, and free wifi. I was looking for the iPod dock as frequently mentioned by other bloggers who have stayed there, but found none. Not that I have an iPod, but I was just curious if it was true. What they have is a mini amplifier/receiver that you can connect an iPod to (if you have the necessary RCA cables), but it is certainly not a docking station.

Welcome Drinks from The BoutiqueAfter being led to our room, we were offered welcome drinks. There was a personalized letter on the desk greeting "Mr. & Mrs. Robertson Chiang" from the owners. If they actually signed it, I would have been really impressed. But no, it was just an unsigned letter. Nonetheless, it gave a personalized touch. I just have to wonder why they assumed its "Mr. & Mrs.". In a place like this, I would imagine there would be a lot of unmarried couple having a tryst. I sure don't remember mentioning that I'll be here with my wife. Anyway, we then availed of the complimentary 10-minute cold stone facial massage. Its basically stones dipped in ice water and rubbed all over your face. It wasn't really fantastic. I would not pay for it if it wasn't free. :)

You can also borrow any DVD movie from their library. This one really puzzled me though. All their DVD's, as far as I can tell, are **pirated copies**! Some of the titles are way too new (eg. Will Smith's I Am Legend) to be available on original DVD format already. We borrowed Evan Almighty. The copy they gave us was also pirated. For an establishment which relies on word-of-mouth marketing, the last thing they want is bad publicity (like a joint raid by the Optical Media Board and the NBI). I hope the management address this one in the future.

Hawaiian Barbecue Restaurant at The Boutique TagaytayDinner was quite heavy at the Hawaiian Barbecue Restaurant. The mushroom soup with macadamia nuts was served in a big bowl which Cols and I shared. We also had their barbecue chicken in mango puree sauce. The servings were quite big. There were also several other patrons who just come in for the restaurant, and not stay for the night.

At 9pm, The Boutique serves free hot cholocate with churros delivered to the room. Since Cols and I were still quite full with the dinner, we had it delayed by about half an hour. I don't know if they have to prepare it ahead of time (since the bar has to close). But by the time it was delivered to our room, the churros felt a little cold and hard already.

Breakfast in Bed at The BoutiqueAfter a long night sleep, we were greeted next day (Feb 11) with a heavy breakfast-in-bed. I chose the Hawaiian breakfast which comprised of a big omelette and two burger patties. Cols had the Filipino breakfast with Pampanga longanisa. The big bed tray is hidden under the bed for each room. So the waiter just pulled it out and set it up on the bed. Both breakfast sets came with a hot chocolate or coffee starter; juices; and a fresh fruit platter dessert. Very heavy meal indeed that both Cols and I skipped lunch without feeling hungry!

To view all my photos of The Boutique, check out my Google Photos album. On a final note, the official website of The Boutique is done almost entirely in Flash. While it looks good on screen, it is terrible for search engines. In fact, doing a query on "The Boutique" at Google will yield mostly blog sites. I could not find any reference to the official site even after going through 5 pages of query results already. Pretty sad. They should consider re-doing their website to make it more accessible to searchers by following some basic SEO tips.

The Boutique Bed & Breakfast
45 Aguinaldo Hi-way
Silang Crossing East
Tagaytay City
Tel: (63+46) 413-1885, (63+927) 363-2660 , (63+46) 413-1798 & (63+46) 860-2716

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Of the 3 Magi and Mithra

Since its Ash Wednesday today, I thought I'd blog on something related to the topic of Christianity. Early this year, I bought a book called Map of Bones by (my new favorite author) James Rollins. The book is about the adventures of Sigma Force, a group of scientists/spy working under DARPA (the same government entity that practically "invented" the Internet as we know it today).

As I mentioned in my earlier blog, the book revolves around the bones of the 3 Magi, who supposedly visited Jesus as a child. The word "magi" came from some ancient (Greek?) word that is closer to what we know today as "magician". But we're not talking here of David Copperfield or Penn & Teller. "Magician", in those days, referred more to men of wisdom (hence, the "wise men"). It is generally believed, even by Biblical scholars, that these magi were of Persian origin. Anyway, going back to the story, these bones were of interest to some clandestine and ancient order called the Dragon Court (I'm not sure if this order is of pure fiction or whether it actually has historical basis), who went to great lengths to steal them.

One of the interesting but little known facts I learned from the novel is that every Roman Catholic altar must contain some blessed item in it -- whether it be a toe-nail of some saint; or a piece of the Holy Cross where Jesus was crucified; or a lock of hair from some ancient pope. And all of these religious relics are cataloged at the Vatican and dispatched around the world to new churches needing them via FedEx. In the case of the Magi bones, it seems that there are several Catholic churches with pieces of their bones, although the most prominent one is at Cologne Cathedral in Germany. The history of how the bones ended up in the golden sarcophagus at Cologne is explained there.

But wait -- if there were only 3 magi, how come there are several churches claiming they have the magi bones? Well, it seems that there was never really a concensus as to how many magi there were. We have always assumed they were 3 for the simple reason that the Bible mentioned the magi brought with them 3 gifts -- gold, frankinsence and myrrh; ergo, one for each magi. But the Bible never actually mentioned how many of them there were! So who's Gaspar, Melchor and Balthazar? Well, one thing for sure, those names never came from the Bible either. These traditional names were taken from some text in the 6th century already from some writings. So there could have been 2 magi, 8 magi, or even more. Nobody really knows!

One other information that I learned from the book which I thought was very interesting (and got me to do a little bit of research via Google) is the myth of the Iranian god, Mithra, not to be confused with the giant, Pacific Island-based insect Mothra, who also happens to be the mortal enemy of Godzilla. Iran used to be Persia. The Magi were Persians. I wonder if there is a connection somewhere. Anyway, according to Rollins, this ancient god had the following characteristics among others:
  1. He was born on Dec 25 from a virgin
  2. He was considered a teacher and had twelve disciples
  3. He died and resurrected after 3 days (his resurrection is celebrated every year)
  4. He was the god of light
  5. catacombs in Rome were found to have images of Mithra sitting on the lap of his virgin mother with the Persian magi offering gifts
You can read more on these similarities from sites like What makes the comparison interesting is that the Mithra myth actually pre-dates Christiany by hundreds of years. So the reasoning goes that it must have been Christianity that borrowed from the Mithraic legend and not the other way around. Some website counter that even though Mithra workship pre-dates Christianity, Christianity itself is based on Old Testament prophecies which pre-dates even Mithra! And therefore, the Mithra worship must have been the one who borrowed from old Jewish concepts. So there -- its a pissing contest as to who was around longer!

Personally, I don't find the above explanation intellectually satisfying. I have always believed that one of the reasons why Christianity has lasted much longer than the other ancient religions is that it has adapted. Instead of fighting other religions head-on, it has chosen to assimilate them. This is not to say that there is no truth to Christianity. But setting aside those subjective issues, I do believe that a lot of rituals observed by Christians today do not really have any Biblical basis, and most likely, came from other pagan religions that were assimilated through time.

Take for example Jesus' birthday. Even Biblical scholars would agree that the tradition of celebrating Dec 25 as Jesus' birthday has no Biblical basis. I've read some scientific articles which tried to pinpoint a time around 0 B.C. when there might have been a very bright star at night (the Star of Bethlehem); and I seem to recall that it said it must have been around March. And it seems that Dec 25 is a very common birthday of a lot of gods (including Mithra) because it usually coincides with the winter solstice.

Worshiping on a Sunday is believe to have originated from Egyptian worships of their Sun god. I don't know where the Catholics got their tradition of making the sign of the cross before and after praying. I certainly don't recall any Bible passage talking about that. While Christianity has (or is supposed to have) a spiritual/metaphysical foundation, we cannot deny the fact that its mortals/humans that practice it. Hence, it really cannot be avoided that there will be human influences over time that may deviate from the original practice or teaching.

But anyway, for those of you really interested in hearing more about this Mithra vs. Jesus controversy, I think this article from Tekton offers a more compelling argument (in favor of Christianity). The argument is more logical and its debunks some assumptions about Mithra that most people (including James Rollins, I suppose) take for granted and makes appear as fact.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Open House at AdMU

I was invited by Ateneo's Department of Information Systems and Computer Science (DISCS) to join their open house for the high school students who made it to the Director's List. Students who earn this distinction are those who fall under the top 2% out of the total who took the college entrace exam. As an alumnus and former faculty, I was tasked to entertain questions from the parents and prospective students about the Computer Science program, and I guess, about Ateneo as a whole based on my own experience.

Its been quite some time since I last stepped on the Loyola campus. A lot of things have definitely changed since I graduated way back in 1991 (egad! Its been that long). I don't recognize anymore half of the buildings on campus. Some have been knocked down (eg. Colayco Hall) and rebuilt, while others have had significant facelifts. Our old home, Faura Hall, is still there. Back then, it was one of the newest building. Today, it looks very old compared to the newer structures -- some sporting avant-gardish looks.

The new science complex is a sight to behold. It has a feel of a California campus (sans the weather). I was able to take some shots. But my Nokia 6680 does not do it any justice especially since I took the photos when it was getting dark already. The event started at the PLDT-CTC building. Dr. Rodrigo of DISCS gave the presentation to the prospect students and teachers.

I was pleasantly surprised to see my cousin Nadia and her parents (my Tito Bert and Tita Lucy) at the event. Nadia, being an anime fanatic, wants a career in computer animation, I suppose. After the presentation, we were led to another building for dinner. I was assigned a table with three sets of parents/student, along with a fellow faculty, who turned out to be my student back 15 years ago!

I could not help but marvel how times have changed. Before, the top schools had students begging to enter it. Now, the schools are going out of their way to court students to enroll. Schools have to practice marketing now just like any private enterprise in order to acquire "customers".

Lunch at Choi Garden

We had a sort-of advance Chinese New Year lunch with the folks at a new restaurant along Annapolis, Greenhills called Choi Garden. The restaurant sits on the lot formerly occupied by Bert Nievera's (as in, Martin Nievera's dad) Country Waffles which closed down several years ago. I think they did not really tear down the physical building structure of the old Country Waffles but just renovated it. And they sure must have spent quite a bit on the renovation -- especially the interior.

I did not bring a camera, but another blogger posted some nice pics when they went there. That blogger was apparently not too happy with the service she got based from her review. So I came with very little expectation on the service. That way, I will not get disappointed. As noted by that other blogger, the restaurant posts a sign outside that says they are on "Dry Run". I guess its a nice way of saying "please ignore our crappy service as we are still learning the ropes".

The dishes listed on their menu look different from your typical Chinese restaurants. Sure, there are the usual sweet-and-sour pork, but the rest look unique. I mean, there's Shask's Fin Suop, Beet with Garlis, Pat-Fried Oyster, etc. (I swear -- those are the actual spellings!). For someone to spend so much on their interior design, surely they could have used or hired a spellchecker. The manager admitted that there's a lot of typo on their menu. When I asked about the Mantis with Yogurt and exactly how its cooked in yogurt, he just said that's a typo error and that should really be Mantis in Egg-white. "Beef" being misspelled as "beet", or "soup" as "suop", I can understand. But "eggwhite" misspelled as "yoghurt"?! That's world's apart.

We initially ordered some appetizers. When the waiter delivered the fried wontons, he spilled some of the sauce on Cols' foot. He did not offer any apology and just went on to do his work like nothing happened. I called the senior waiter/manager's attention to it so that they can correct their waiter's attitude in the future.

All in all, I would say the food was good and would agree with this other blogger who also gave a good review on the food's taste. The fried pigeons are definitely a must-try.

Incidentally, before we left, the lady manager gave us her calling card. It says on the card that they have a website! The URL is www.choigarden. No, I did not make a typo. That's all it says. No tld (.com, .net, etc.) or cctld (.ph,, etc.). I tried typing different permutations on my browser when I got home and none seem to resolve correctly. Maybe their webmaster is the same guy who made the menu. *snicker* *snicker*

The email address printed on the calling card is equally suspect. It says Really now. What's the likelihood of them getting a 4-character Yahoo username like that in 2008? With the millions of Choi's out there in Korea alone, surely that name must have been taken back in the early to mid 90's. Good luck to whoever owns that email address. He'll probably wonder why people will email him about roast pigeons!