Saturday, March 29, 2008

Earth Hour

The Rockwell condominiums joined the global Earth Hour campaign to raise awareness about the threat of global warming. The Power Plant Mall turned off its outside lights. The street lights along the Makati streets like J.P. Rizal, and some within the Rockwell compound also went off for an hour from 8pm to 9pm, joining the rest of the world.

Our family contributed also to the effort in our own little way. I setup my Canon EOS400D at the terrace to take some shots of the vicinity before and during the lights-out time. Below are before and during shots:

Power Plant Mall before the lights went off Power Plant Mall during the lights off

To see my other photos of Earth Hour from our balcony, visit my web album.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles @ C/S

The second season of Heroes 2 has already finished. It felt like a much shorter season as compared to Season 1. Maybe that's why C/S channel would repeat the same episode for 2 consecutive weeks -- just to fill in the time. In any case, the new tv series that took over its time slot is Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. I've always been a big fan of the Terminator series. The original Terminator back in 1994 and the T2 sequel are one of my all-time favorite movies. I have to admit though that Terminator 3 was not that great for me, although the plot twist at the end was pretty good. So I was kinda looking forward to this spin-off tv series. And since it was on the same time slot, I just had to rename the title of the pre-set timer event in my Philips DVD Recorder.

The Sarah Connor Chronicles stars Lena Headey in the title role popularized by Linda Hamilton. Lena is a 34-year old British actress whose only other appearance that I've watched is as Queen Gorgo in the movie 300. The movie pretty much picks off where T2 ended, but before T3 began. So Sarah appears here with her 15 year old John Connor, who will be the future resistance leader, and therefore, has been sentenced to termination by the machines of the future. Sarah and John would go from town-to-town to avoid being detected. And in the last town they ended up, John was befriended in school by the character played by Summer Glau, who turned out to be a terminator sent back to protect John.

Summer's terminator is the first one in the series, so far, which has the physical features of a teenager. I suppose since she is John's classmate, she is supposed to be around 15 years old also. But in real-life, Summer is about 23 years old according to some websites. She pulls off looking like a teenager though, so I guess its ok.

Unlike the movie series, the main human characters in the tv series traveled through time (to escape a terminator). I don't want to even begin thinking all the possible time paradoxes that can result because of that. But I guess the whole point of enjoying the terminator series is NOT to think about the time paradox. Overall, the series is pretty exciting so far.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Egg Hunting @ Rockwell

Caitlin and the Easter Bunny Caitlin had her first Easter Egg Hunt today at the event organized by the Rockwell Club. We proceeded to the Palm Grove at around 10am to secure our seats. There were egg painting contests, balloon animals, and games.

The actual egg hunt was done at the function rooms. There were 3 rooms assigned for this purpose and kids of different age range were assigned a room (otherwise, it wouldn't be fair to put a 10 year old kid with 4 year olds). And to prevent crowding, the organizers only allowed 5 kids at a time in the room to look for eggs within 5 mins. Eggs that were found were converted to candies.

Simple lunch of spaghetti and pizza were served. Ethan only came down to watch but did not participate as the minimum age for the hunt is 3 years old.

See all my other pics of the Egg Hunt here.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Second Day at Subic

I didn't have a good night sleep and woke up around 7am. Everyone was awake already and having breakfast. After breakfast, I accompanied Caitlin to the pool area. Ilene, Dad, his driver Jobert, and the maids also went swimming. The pool is small but everyone seem to have enjoyed swimming. Ilene was showing off her newly-acquired swimming skills. I think Caitlin can swim better than her. hehe

We checked out of our unit by noon. Did some more last minute shopping at Royal Subic, then had lunch at Aristocrat. The place was also full, so service was quite slow. From there, mom wanted to see the wild monkeys along the road. So we took the same road towards Jungle Joe's again until we found some monkeys by the roadside.

On the way back, there was a section of the road where there were lot (and I mean, really lots) of bats flying. Several cars also stopped to take photos and videos of the flying rodents. I think something must have disturbed them. After a while, they went back to their roost and hanged upside down from the trees.

We left Subic around 4pm, I think. I decided to take the new road -- the Sub-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx). Actually, the 50-km highway is still on a dry run and so its still "free". One can get to Clark from Subic on this highway in 30 mins or less. I have to say that this is the most beautiful road and expressway I've seen in the Philippines. It almost made me forget that I'm driving in the Philippines. It was like driving in the US highway system -- reminiscent of our road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles last year. Sections of the road clearly show that mountains were split in the middle to make way for the road. Some sections are bridges over very deep ravines. Very amazing piece of civil engineering.

Unfortunately, since I was the driver, I could not take photos of the road trip. I was driving at around 140kmph on the smoothly paved highway and was hardly feeling it. But here's a site showing some photos taken by other people of SCTex. It doesn't do much justice though as compared to actually driving through the highway with the verdant green fields on both sides.

As advertised, we got to Clark/Dau exit in less than 30 mins. Then it was a fast drive back to Manila. We travelled from Dau to Speaker Perez in about 1 hr.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Jungle Joe's World @ Subic Bay

Caitlin woke us up around 6:30am because she was already excited to go to Subic. The whole family, including mom and dad, and Cols' sister Ilene is spending Holy Thursday at Forest Hills in Subic. We left Rockwell around 8:30am and dropped off Caitlin and a couple of our maids at Valle to ride with Dad's Previa, while we went ahead to Speaker Perez to pick up Ilene. Tita Angie and Tita Rose were too tired so they decided not to go with us. The two cars then just met at the Petron station in NLEX where we started our convoy to Subic.

The traffic was horrendous starting from EDSA near Monumento, where you turn right to go to NLEX. It was like everyone in Manila had the same idea -- to get out of the city on this morning. It was heavy traffic all the way to San Fernando, Pampanga exit. We stopped for lunch at a Chow King in San Fernando. The restaurant was also jam-packed from travellers stopping for some food. From there, it was another 1 hr and a half or so to get to Subic. But traffic was better already.

We arrived at Forest Hills in El Kabayo Road around 2:30pm. We were booked at unit 437A. Caitlin, Ilene and I decided to waste no time and go ahead to the new theme park that I've read about -- Jungle Joe's World. Jungle Joe is situated between Zoobic Safari and Ocean Adventure. Its about a 15 to 20 min. drive from our place through the forest and occasionally seeing wild monkeys along the road. The numerous signs leading to Jungle Joe's World heightened the excitement. But boy! Were we in for a major disappointment!

The tickets to Jungle Joe's World is P350 per person (no distinction between adult and child). But they have this Coke promo wherein if each person buys 3 x Coke products worth P35 each (for a total of P105), you get a 50% off from the entrance. So P350 x 50% + P105 = P285. Therefore, it comes out cheaper to go for the promo even if you don't need to drink that much. So Ilene, Caitlin and I had to buy a total of 9 Nestea just to avail of the lower ticket price. Since we obviously could not carry the 9 bottles around, we left it at the counter and just came back for it later.

Upon entering the gates, a guide accompanied us with a giant picnic umbrella. Our first stop was the Indy 500 cart area. Images at the website gives you an impression that its a big obstacle course for go-carts. But it turned out to be a tiny track where kids just maneuver using manually-powered twist cars. Caitlin didn't want to have anything to do with it. So we got out of there quickly.

Next stop was a theater showing Disney movies. As to why anybody would pay P350 to enter Jungle Joe's World to watch a Disney movie is beyond me. The moment we got into the entrace door, we immediately headed for the exit and onto the next attraction.

Next was Winter Wonderland. This one is pretty odd also. What is Santa's north pole doing here at a jungle-themed park?! Its totally senseless. Inside the Wonderland were fake reindeers, staff dressed as elves, and a thin guy dressed as Santa. The guide told us this was really meant to be a souvenir store. Duh?! We got out of there in a minute.

Then it was on to Jurassic Trail. Its a forest trail with several statues of dinosaurs and crocodiles. It was also a short trail because the guide said its not yet complete. The entire developed area of Jungle Joe is actually only a small portion of the total size of the park. This is supposed to be just Phase 1. I really doubt if this place will expand to Phase 2 and so on with the bad word-of-mouth that I'm sure all visitors will tell others.

The Jurassic Trail is pretty much the end of the main street already. You can rent All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) there for about P300 per 30 mins. Total rip-off. They should give away that for free since nothing else is worth the entrance ticket. None of the rides are working. The guide said its because there's no electricity yet. Arrgggh! Even some of the animal statues are already broken.

The only thing that Caitlin liked was the jungle gym where she got to climb through the ropes and slides. Ilene did not fare as well as her footing slipped through the ropes and scraped her shin. I can imagine lots of kids would probably encounter similar accidents. But luckily, Caitlin seem to handle it quick well and remained unscathed.

At 5pm, it was time for the main show. If you are expecting a Disneyland-like parade on main street, you'd be in for yet another major disappointment. The grand finale was basically just the park staff doing some calisthenics-like dance number. Then the Jungle Joe mascot came out (much to Caitlin's fear -- she's deathly afraid of mascots for some reason) and danced with the staff to the tune of Papaya. How cheezy can you get?!

Since Caitlin kept crying already, we hightailed it out of the park. Of course, we picked up our bags of Nestea's first. We then went to Royal Subic Duty Free store to pickup Cols and back home to prepare for dinner. Overall, I give my two thumbs down for Jungle Joe's World. It has got to be the worst theme park I've ever been into.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Watching the Pacquiao-Marquez Fight in 40 mins

Today's the big boxing bout between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez. Knowing how the commercials last longer than the actual rounds, I decided to just record the entire fight on my Philips DVD Recorder/Player. That way, I could just skip through all the commercials. Since the match went the full 12 rounds, and each round takes 3 mins., I watched the entire fight for 36 mins. vs. about 3 hrs, I think on free TV.

I noted in a previous blog entry about some odd behavior of my DVDR. I made a couple more observations over the weekend as I try some combinations that I haven't previously attempted. For example, it seems that the DVDR can actually record a TV program, while at the same time, playback a recorded episode from the same hard drive simultaneously! In operating system parlance, the firmware seems to be multi-threaded (or at the very least, can perform asynchronous callbacks). I was expecting it to complain when I tried watching a recorded episode while it was recording, but surprisingly, it did not. I noticed some slight skipping in 1 scene during the playback, but that's about it. It was fairly smooth considering it was recording at the same time.

But the strange thing was -- when I tried playing a DVD while it was recording a TV program on the hard disk, it prevented me from doing so. An icon appeared apparently telling me that DVD playback is not allowed during hard disk recording. Now that was strange. The DVD playback was happening on a different media source: the DVD disc drive, as opposed to, the built-in hard drive. If it can handle playback on the same hard drive where it was recording, why would it not handle a playback from a different drive? Wouldn't that actually be simpler since the playback and the recording would not be contending on the same device? Its one of those eccentricities just like not being able to play DivX files from the USB, I guess.

Anyway, I'm beginning to appreciate the DivX format as played on my Philip DVDR. Quality is as good as regular DVD (assuming, of course, that the original source that was encoded into DivX was of good quality). I'm sure that in the very near future, somebody would figure out how to put an ethernet network interface into these personal video recorders and make them IP-accessible. Then you can store all your DivX movies in a central home server with a large drive where the player can just stream it.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Absolutely Non-sensical Marimar Grand Finale Fight Scene

Just to make things perfectly clear -- I don't watch cheezy Tagalog telenovelas. I couldn't care less about ABS-CBN vs. GMA fighting over the ratings of prime-time soaps. And I certainly don't care about the grand finale / big wedding scene of Sergio (Dingdong Dantes) to Marimar (Marian Rivera) in GMA7's top-rating soap Marimar (or is it supposed to be "MariMar"?). But since my 4-year old daughter, Caitlin, had to go to sleep already and she did not want to miss the big wedding scene, I had to record the episode for her using my trusty Philips DVDR.

What was recorded on my DVDR had to be one of the stupidest fight scene I have ever seen -- EVER! Its so dumb that I can't imagine how this tv series has managed to be the top-rating show for the past 8 months or so (well, for the guys, I can sort of understand because Marian Rivera is pretty hot). But seriously, if that fight scene was representative of the quality of the story for the entire season, then I have to say its really lame!

I started recording at around the scene where Marimar was fighting the evil character played by Katrina Halili. Sorry, but I have no idea what is the name of Katrina's character, so for the purpose of this blog entry, I will refer to her as "The Evil Lady". Anyway, their fight began at a place which kind of resembled a junk yard. It was a night scene. And Sergio were fighting the guys -- I think he was there to rescue Marimar. It was good kick-ass action with Marimar slamming The Evil Lady's head onto the car window a couple of times, and causing her face to bleed everywhere. The Evil Lady runs away and Marimar runs after her. Take note that this was a night scene.

Then in the next scene, it was already mid-day / broad daylight -- and Marimar was still running after The Evil Lady! So let me get this straight -- they were like chasing each other for at least the past 8 hours?! They were no longer in the junk yard but were in some open field /hill (well, surely after running for at least 8 hrs they must have left the junk yard already) and there was a white helicopter waiting with its blades whirling already.

Hmm... was that Marimar's chopper or was it the getaway vehicle for Evil Lady? Well, Evil Lady went straight to the helicopter and boarded it with Marimar hot on her heels and also boarded it before it had the chance to lift off. Aha! So it must be the getaway vehicle for Evil Lady! I mean, otherwise, it would not make any sense to run and board your enemy's (Marimar's) chopper, right? I think.

Then Marimar and Evil Lady duked it out at the back seat of the chopper while the pilot lifts-off and mysteriously hovers about 10 ft. off the ground for a really long time -- or at least really long enough for Sergio to come from nowhere. Presumably he has been running the past 8 hrs also looking for Marimar. Strangely, in the previous scene when he was talking to Richard Gomez's character at the same junk yard, he did not even have any idea that Marimar was in the same place. So how the heck did he figure out where to chase them?! But anyway, since the pilot conveniently hovered his chopper a few feet off the ground for what seemed like an eternity, Sergio makes it and jumps to catch the landing gear of the chopper. He then hangs on there uselessly while the ladies continue to kick each other at the back seat.

Now as to why the chopper pilot lifted off with the ladies fighting at the back totally did not make sense to me either. If assuming that the white chopper is really the getaway vehicle, then that makes the pilot the Evil Henchman. What self-respecting Evil Henchman would fly the chopper instead of just keep it grounded and helping your Evil Mistress against her lone opponent?! Surely the two of you can beat the crap out of Marimar; dump her out of the chopper; then fly away to safety! But NO! The Evil Hencman/Pilot decides to lift-off with his mistress in apparent danger.

Anyway, going back to the fight, Marimar manages to kick Evil Lady out of the chopper. She miraculously manages to catch the landing gear of the chopper also to stop her fall. (Evil Pilot should have landed back his chopper so that Evil Lady will not fall.) Since Sergio was on the other landing gear, Sergio gives her a kick in the gut causing her to lose her hold on the landing gear and falling to her death. I guess the chopper must have flown farther up than the initial 10 ft where it was hovering from earlier (although I never noticed it).

Evil Lady falls to her death. Then the camera pans to show some crocodiles. Then next scene shows Evil Lady's dead body being dragged off the camera (presumably by the crocs). Ok, where the heck did the crocs come from?! Marimar and Evil Lady were running in some open field /hill. It wasn't in some marshland. Crocs just don't hang around regular open fields where choppers can land.

Then next scene shows Marimar and Sergio cuddling inside the chopper. I guess Sergio must have eventually figured out how to climb the chopper from the landing gear. And to add insult to injury, Evil Henchman/Pilot flies them away into safety (and to their impending wedding)! Huh?! If you were the Evil Pilot, why the heck would you do that? Its not like Sergio had a gun pointed to his head telling him to drive. He was doing it voluntarily!

Could it be then that the white chopper was really Marimar's or Sergio's all along, and not Evil Lady's? But if so, why didn't the pilot just keep the chopper grounded and help Marimar beat the crap out of Evil Lady? Why lift off and put their lives in danger? And why did Evil Lady run into the chopper with Marimar hot on her heels if it was Marimar's chopper all along? Who would run head-on to her enemy's getaway vehicle?!

And to think that all these senseless action scenes happened in a span of like 10 mins (minus the long dragging commercials in-between, of course). Arrgghh!! Who knows that other illogical plot actually transpired in the past 8 months?!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Still Testing DivX

I've been doing some more tests on DivX since my blog last week vis-a-vis my Philips DVDR3455H Personal Video Recorder. I mentioned last time that the DivX Encoder can merge multiple DivX files onto a single large DivX file with menus. That one apparently works with the PC-based DivX Player. But when I burnt the resulting merged file onto a DVD-R and played it on my Philips player, it would only play the first section (that corresponds to the first DivX file) and does not even display the menu. It then stops when it reaches the section when it is supposed to skip to the next chapter. :(

However, if I just burn the multiple DivX files onto a DVD-R disc and plop it into the Philips player, then choose the first DivX file, the player would play it to the end then automatically move to the next DivX file. There is a noticeable pause of about 2 seconds as it switches to the next DivX file. But at least, it does not hang unlike with the merged file.

I also noticed that for some strange reason, my Philips DVDR Recorder/Player will not play DivX files when it is stored on a flash drive (the Philips Player has a USB port). I say its strange because the player can handle JPG files whethers its from a DVD/CD disc or from a USB flash drive. Same with MP3 files (yes, its also an MP3 player!). The player does not distinguish the media source as long as it recognizes the file format. And that makes a lot of sense. Which makes me wonder why it does not treat DivX files in the same way. It displays DivX files in its menu list when you put it in as a DVD, but not when its on the flash drive.

The DivX Encoder does not gracefully handle encoding of damaged files. I have a pirated DVD disc of Sunshine which seem to have some bad sectors. My regular Pioneer DVD Player skips and freezes when it reaches that part of the movie. When I dragged-and-dropped the VOB file to the DivX Encoder, it chugs along fine at first, then hangs at around 14% encoding. Even more strangely, the same DVD disc seem to play ok with the Philips Recorder/Player! It also plays ok on my PC's DVD Drive and using the PC-based DVD player software that came with the drive.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Converting My Blog Entry To A Picture Book

From The Boutique ...

I got back my sample 6" x 6" full-spread picturebook today. I converted my previous photos and blog entry regarding our stay at The Boutique Bed & Breakfast in Tagaytay into a photo book format. I copied-and-pasted the text from my blog entry and gave it a scrapbook-like look-and-feel. I think the output came out pretty well, if I do say so myself. I also made a new flash page at our online photo book printing service,, showing the content of the album. Check it out!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

CSA Family Fun Day

Its a Saturday morning but we had to get up early to go to Colegio de San Agustin (CSA). Its Family Fun Day today and the parents get to join the kids in a sportsfest. We got to school around 8:00am and were assembled at the covered basketball courts. Today is the Fun Day for the different Nursery sections -- all five of them. Caitlin's section (Compassion) is the green team. So Cols and I had to wear green shirts also.

The day started with a prayer, an oath for sportsmanship and some warm-ups. The more active parents joined the torch-lighting ceremony amidst a background music from Chariots of Fire. The contestants were divided into two groups. The first one comprises of sections A to C (including Compassion). The second was for sections D and E, which had a much larger student population as compared to the total of A to C (not sure why).

The first contest was a simple race relay with two contestants running holding a baton together. There were a total of about 12 pairs. Student pairs and parent pairs alternated. Cols and I did not join this race. Caitlin was partnered with Francine, who was much smaller than her, so Caitlin was kind of dragging her along. The Compassion team handily won this contest.

I joined the second contest which was kinda similar in concept. It was also a relay race with the kids running to a table at the end of the relay and stacking up some blocks. Then the parent would run to the same place and un-stack the blocks. The cycle repeats until all parents and students finish. Our Compassion team won first place again on this one.

I got to experiment a bit with taking "action" or motion shots on my Canon EOS 400D. I just used the kit lens at aperture priority setting. Then I focused on the moving subject while panning the camera along and pressing the shutter button. The result is still a bit blurry but gives the desired effect I want.

To see the other shots of the CSA Fun Day, visit my web album by clicking the image below.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Testing DivX

Ok, so I'm a bit of a latecomer when it comes to DivX. I've never really had any need to use it before. But recently, I was trying to make a copy of a DVD from my hard disk (he he he) and when I was using Nero to burn it as DVD Video, the resulting disk image gets bloated. The original five (5) .VOB files which used to fit in a single DVD Video could no longer fit into a single DVD. I can only manage to put in one .VOB file with Nero. So I decided to do some research on DivX and see if it can solve my problem of cramming the original DVD VOB files onto a single disc.

In layman's terms, DivX is to video what MP3 was to audio. Its a video encoding format that is supposed to give incredible compression with very good quality video and audio. One can download a DivX Player and a 15-day trial copy of the DivX Encoder from the DivX site. If you don't want to watch movies on your PC with the DivX Player, there are several DivX standalone players that you can connect directly to your TV set. Incidentally, my oft-mentioned Philips DVDR3455H Recorder is one such standalone player which supports DivX.

My experiments with DivX so far has mixed results. When I encoded some Quicktime .MOV files, it complained that there are "invalid video streams" and refused to encode it. There were some .MOV files that it encoded without any hitch. But I noticed the file sizes are practically the same. So I guess .MOV files are pretty optimized already and there is not much that DivX can do further. The .MOV files which takes up only about a quarter of my 19" widescreen AOC LCD monitor (at 1440 x 900 resolution), when converted to .divx and played on my Philips Player at home, comes out unbelievably clear on the TV. It looks almost as clear as watching a DVD video.

I also tried dragging-and-dropping the .VOB files mentioned above onto the DivX Encoder, and got really strange results. Although the conversion went through, the file actually became three times (3x) larger! Doing the same for the Windows Audio-Visual Interleave (AVI) format yields a slightly better result. It reduced the original AVI file by about 15 to 20 percent only. Its still far from fantastic. But now, at least I can view the videos on the TV instead of on the PC.

The DivX Player has an interface similar to Windows Media Player wherein you can drag-and-drop the movies you like to burn onto its "burn list". Then just click the "burn" button to initiate transfer. However, I noticed that it seems to only support CD burning and not DVD. Maybe I'm better off using Nero to burn onto Data CD or Data DVD format.

The DivX Encoder will let you combine several input files and merge them into a single DivX file complete with menu. But if you want the merged output file to be in some other format like MPG or VOB, you have to use a 3rd party software. The Allok Video Joiner shareware tool allows you to merge multiple DivX files into a single large file with the format of your choice. The unregistered/free trial copy only converts half of each file though. :P I was able to merge 7 x DivX files into a single DVD .VOB file.

Personally, I'm not yet that sold to DivX. I guess I will still have to do some more experimentation.

Monday, March 3, 2008

CSA Pintig

Today is the first day of Caitlin's school's 3-day long program and celebration called Pintig. The school prepared a Disney-inspired major production number. Caitlin's class was assigned the Lilo & Stitch Hawaiian hula number. We all went to watch including Mom and Dad, and their guests Tita Angie and Tita Rose. The school sold the tickets at P150/each. I don't really understand the rationale for the tickets other than to perhaps control the number of people who will come to watch. The costumes for all the production numbers where charged to the parents anyway.