Monday, June 30, 2008

Playing AVI on the Philips DVDR Player

In my last blog entry, I was talking about how it seems that most video downloadable via BitTorrent seems to be in AVI format. I've download some videos recently, notably, WWE's 2008 documentary on The Rock, and the much acclaimed BBC documentary series entitled Planet Earth in AVI format. But strangely, the AVI files encounter errors somewhere halfway when I run them through my DivX Converter. So I figure I'm stuck with watching the AVI's on my PC's Windows Media Player.

Just out of curiousity, I burned The Rock AVI's onto CD tonight and played them on my Philips DVDR Player. I was wondering if it can actually handle it. The other night, I tried playing the AVI's on my mom's fake China DVD Player. Although it can play the audio part, nothing appears on video. But to my pleasant surprise, the Philips player actually played the AVI on TV (audio and video)!

Even though the AVI's look very sharp on the PC, I get the feeling that the Philips DVDR player can play DivX clearer than the AVI version. The TV screen looked also a bit warped on the left and right edge whereas they look more normal when I play DivX files. I should try this tomorrow with the Planet Earth AVI's. The ripper claims that those AVI's were ripped from 720p HD DVD format and they looked fantastic on the PC. Its not exactly 1080p, but then again, I'm just using a conventional TV and not HD. I have to see what the quality will look like.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Buying More Rollins Books

The Power Plant's been having a 3-day sale. So I took the opportunity to go to Fully Booked and buy the James Rollins' books that I've been waiting to go on sale. They're actually old books -- way before the Sigma Force series started with Map of Bones. I bought Amazonia, and the last copies of Subterranean, Excavation and Sandstorm at the bookstore. The four paperback books, after deducting the 20% discount came out to less than PHP1,000. Pretty good deal, I think. I did not get Deep Fathom because the cover had a bit of crease.

The recent fourth installment of Indiana Jones -- the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is available on book, and it is written by James Rollins. I'm not sure if Rollins wrote the book from which the movie was adapted, or whether he just wrote the book based on the movie's screenplay.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Downloading Movies

I've been doing a bit of downloading lately with BitTorrent. Although I've heard about it before (who hasn't), I've never really understood where does one get the p2p data to download since there is really no "centralized" server to query. Well, it seems that finding torrent is a lot more simpler than I thought!

While there are sites that host or index torrent files (eg. mininova, torrentz), nothing is simpler than just using Google! From the search bar, just enter the song/movie/document that you want with the keyword "torrent", and it will give you all the links you need. I can understand why the Hollywood types would be very concerned about BitTorrent. Almost any recent Hollywood movie that you are interested can be found (and downloaded) in any of the torrent index sites.

Almost all the video files are available in Audio-Video Interleave (AVI) format for some strange reason. Since I bought a licensed version of DivX Converter, I still have to do an extra step to convert AVI to DivX before I can play it in my home Philips DVDR Player. Caitlin has been enjoying the SpongeBob series on the player care of BitTorrent. :)

Downloaded AVI files are usually in the 700MB to 1GB range. Converting them to DivX results to about the same size. The quality is pretty good -- as good as DVD on a regular TV. I only notice some pixelation on dark scenes. But on bright daylight scenes, I can't distinguish it from an original DVD output. Its sure a lot clearer than the pirated DVD's that I've bought in the past. None of the typical skippings or bad disc sectors found with those pirated discs.

Sometimes, you can even find entire ISO images of the DVD. I found a 4GB Spiderman 3 ISO image file. So if you burn it onto DVD-R, its as good as the original DVD without any compression. For those with high-end players, I've also seen ISO images of Spiderman in Blu-Ray format (10GB+) or Transformers in the defunct HD-DVD format.

I've been using Imation and HP DVD-R discs. They sell at PC Express for PHP13.00. Out of the 10 Imation discs I've bought and used, 2 had errors during writing/recording. That's about the same failure rate I've experienced with Philips DVD-R discs from CD-R King. But so far, the HP DVD-R's are doing well, although I've only used about 5 pcs.

If C/S keeps replaying Terminator: The Sarah Connors Chronicles, maybe I'll just wait for the series to be available in DVD and download via BitTorrent. :)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Full-Spread Photo Books

Orders for full-spread photo books from our online picturebooks store,, have been picking up as of late. In fact it has been out-selling our traditional double wire-bound picturebooks. The most popular configuration so far seems to be the 8"x8" and the 8"(H)x10"(W) format with pages or more. The 6"x6" is a good start for those who just want to try it out. But eventually, they get to like the products and "upgrade" to the larger formats.

Our Picture Books are also available through Picatoo, Mozcom's online photo store in partnership with Fuji YKL Color Lab. In recent months, Picatoo has partnered with Cebu Pacific Air to offer a customized version of Picatoo called Fun Prints. Cebu Pacific passengers get free 20 x 4R prints when they submit a photo of a boarding pass. Through this facility, some frequent travellers have also discovered already that printing photos on picture books are a lot more fun.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Terminator 4

C/S channel (aka RPN 9) is back to its old tricks. Its been alternating new episodes and replays of Terminator: Sarah Connors Chronicles for the past month. It did the same thing before with Heroes 2 when it was running out of new episodes to show. I can't understand why don't they just show all new episodes. Then when the season ends, they either replay the entire season or start with a different series.

The story line of Sarah Connors Chronicles have been developing well. The addition of Brian Austin Green as Derek Reese, the brother of John Reese (who was sent back in time by John Connors and paradoxically, fathered him), to the cast is nice. It took me some time to recognize him as the dorky sidekick in the old Beverly Hills 90210 tv series. He now looks all buff and grungy as the soldier sent back through time. But I suppose he will get killed off before the season ends.

Another good news to Terminator fans like myself. There is already a 4th Terminator movie in the making entitled Terminator Salvation: The Future Begins. The movie is expected to be released in 2009. Unlike the previous Terminators which were based on present time, this one is based on the future with John Connors (played by Batman's Christian Bale) fights Skynet. Its still a question mark whether Arnold Schwarzenegger will be part of the cast.

The only thing that kind of dampened my enthusiasm for Terminator 4 is the announcement that the director will be McG. I'm not a big fan of his work, although granted that the only one I've seen is Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle. Its too MTV-ish and senseless with ridiculous/impossible stunts.

Monday, June 16, 2008

China UnionPay ATM Cards Now Accepted by Philippine Merchants with PayEasy Online Payment System

Philippine Internet merchants can now accept online payments from 1.3 billion Chinese who have China UnionPay (CUP) ATM cards! CUP is the one-and-only official inter-bank ATM network of China with all their major banks being part of that network. That's a super Bancnet + Megalink + ExpressNet ATM network multipled several-folds! An estimated 95% of all Chinese who have a bank account would have a CUP ATM card.

Granted that there are not a lot of online merchants who are targetting the Chinese market, we cannot ignore the fact that China is one of the world's fastest-growing economy. Their middle-class is increasingly spending more and travelling more. So local companies who are in the hospitality (hotels, resorts, spas) and medical tourism industry should seriously look into this market. And with PayEasy, they now have that option. Best of all, unlike credit cards, China UnionPay is an ATM/debit card. So merchants do not have to worry about those nasty chargebacks!

Credit cards still remain the most common mode of payment for online commerce. But with an estimated paltry 4% of the Philippine population having credit cards, it is important for merchants to consider other online modes of payment.

Banco de Oro Internet Banking Security

I logged on to BDO's Internet Banking facility tonight to do my banking. It told me that my password has already expired and it prompted me for a new one. Ok, that's pretty standard. After entering the new passwords and clicked the next button, it further asked me for a secret question and answer in case I want to retrieve or change the password. No big deal. Still pretty standard way of doing things.

Once logged in under the new password, I tried going to the change password utility to change it back to my old one (so that I don't forget). With Metrobank's Internet banking facility, it will not let you re-use an old password. But before with BDO, you can actually change back the new password to the old one and it will not complain. So I tried doing that trick again. But this time, something new happened...

It asked me to enter my secret question and answer. Yes, you read that right -- it ask me what is my secret question AND the answer to that question. This is really weird! Normally, the system should present you with the secret question you registered and you just give back the answer. This is the first time I've ever encountered a system that actually prompted you for your secret question! And I don't remember the exact phrasing! I just know the question is about where I was born. But it looks like the words have to be exact. So now, I can't change my own password because I forgot the exact wording of the question. Arrgghh!

Online Photo Editors

Adobe recently announced a free online, web-based version of their flagship, Photoshop. Of course, it will not have all the features of the standalone products but it does provide an interesting alternative for people who need to edit a photo on-the-fly, or out in the field and there is no photo editing software installed on the machine (eg. in a cafe).

While I haven't tried the Photoshop online version, I came across another one called Phixr. You can use it without registering an account first (although your temporary guest session will be limited to about 2 hrs, I think). You can easily upload a photo from your PC or ask it to retrieve an image from the web via HTTP. The photo loads on the working canvas and you can do basic edited such as cropping, converting to sepia tone, adding voice bubbles, red eye reduction, noise reduction, blurring, adding border frames, etc. It also comes with some advanced photo effects such as posterize, dot art and many others.

The resulting edited image can be re-downloaded as jpg, or converted to other formats such as png, pdf or tiff. It also has the option to send it as email. And most importantly for people maintaining web albums, it can send it directly to your album of choice. It supports several including the popular ones like Flickr, Picasa, Photobucket, Webshots and SmugMug.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Gas Saving Tips

With gas prices rising every week, everyone is looking at ways to save gas. As of this writing, we're now at P54/liter for Shell E-10 (ethanol blend of regular gas). Prices have risen by about P15/liter already since start of the year, I think. Industry experts are saying that it might go as high as P80/liter if wholesale crude from the Middle East hits $200/barrel. Bummer.

The Department of Energy recently announced some gas saving tips that I found interesting:
  1. Don't drive -- ok... that's kinda obvious. I guess I have to consider walking to and from work more.
  2. Fill-up your gas in the morning when the temperature is still cooler. You can fill up the tank by 3% to 6% more than if you were to fill-up during high noon. Interesting.
  3. Don't leave the car running idle. Leaving a car running with aircon for an hour can consume as much as 2 liters of gas!
  4. Avoid parking your car out in the sun. The heat of the noonday sun can evaporate gas faster.
  5. Keep car running between the sweet spot of 70 to 90 kmph. Good luck trying that in EDSA!
  6. Don't carry useless things in your trunk as it adds to the weight and increases gas consumption. So we finally dispatched the heavy playpen that we've been lugging around in our trunk since we never got around to donating it. So the driver brought it to the White Cross orphanage today and left it there.
  7. Turning on airconditioning while driving eats up an additional of around 10% gas. Since I drive home early evening from office, I can live without airconditioning.

If all else fail, try out these crazy gas saving stunts from Kip Kay. Take the risk of putting acetone in your gas tank!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Second Try at Reyes Barbecue

I had lunch again at RCBC Plaza today. Even though my previous dining experience at Reyes Barbecue in RCBC was quite negative, I gave them the benefit of the doubt and tried it again. This time, I ordered their Chicken Barbecue Meal (at P69) with the optional iced-tea add-on (at P15). Total should be P84, but I was surprised that the cashier asked me for P94. Redoing the math in my head, I told her that it should be P84. Turned out that she charged me the iced-tea at the regular price of P25 instead of the add-on price of P15. Ok, so that's a minor boo-boo. No big deal.

Went to my table and waited for my order to arrive. It was quite a long wait. One would think that in a fast-food setup, with a fairly small number of items in the menu, that they would already have pre-cooked barbecues that they can quickly serve. I must have waited for like 10 mins before my food arrived. And when it did arrive, it came with an iced tea on a tall glass. I think they made a mistake and gave me the P25 iced tea drink. The guy across my table had a smaller iced tea on a plastic cup. I think that's the P15 add-on. Oh well, I'm not complaining on my iced tea.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Caitlin Gets Her Nosed Cauterized

Caitlin has been nose-bleeding again every day for the past 3 days. She's had this problem since she was a baby. But with school starting next week at ICA, it would be very difficult for her if she continues to nose-bleed while in school. So Cols decided to have her nose cauterized this afternoon. She called me up to accompany them to the doctor since they don't think they can control her if she freaks out.

Ilene called the clinic first to set an appointment. The clinic is in Quezon Ave. So by the time we got there, it was about 3pm. Caitlin did not seem nervous, although she kept asking if the nurse was already calling for her turn. When it was her turn finally, we walked into the clinic. I sat on the doctor's chair (kinda like a dental chair) and Caitlin sat on my lap.

When the doctor started poking on her nose, Caitlin started panicking and crying. I had to hold her real tight and wrapped my legs around hers just to keep her from moving. The doctor inserted his camera inside and showed us the thin lining of her nose and the visible blood vessels. Then he put some topical anesthesia on cotton and inserted in Caitlin's nose to numb it.

After a couple of minutes (which felt like an eternity for Caitlin), he pulled out the cotton and signalled us that he will proceed with the cauterization. Of course, he kept assuring Caitlin that he's just taking a photo of her nose. Deep-down, Caitlin is smart enough to know that he's really planning to cauterize her, I think.

The procedure looked very painful. Ilene stepped in to the clinic for a while but had to step out since she could not bear seeing Caitlin suffer. Her cries could be heard all the way outside. Even with holding her tight, she still managed to move her head a bit which caused the doctor to miss the exact target and accidentally brushed her cleft with the cauterization tool. So Caitlin ended up with a burned cleft. :(

View the ordeal by click here for my very first Google Video upload (this video was just taken by a Nokia phone so I had o convert the small 3gp video into avi for upload. The quality leaves a lot to be desired.)

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Hospital and Party

Dad postponed his Europe trip because Grandpa was admitted to the hospital this morning. Grandma said he's been coughing hard and she was nervous that he might have pneumonia so they rushed him to Cardinal Santos hospital.

After work, I passed by for Cols and Caitlin so we could visit Grandpa at the hospital. We stayed there until about 8:30pm then we headed to Auntie Rosie's place at Talayan Village. They have a small party to welcome the arrival of Uncle Steve and his son, Matthew, from the States. They're coming home to attend Steve's mother's big birthday bash in Cebu.

Caitlin was happy running around the house "exploring". She was hyper the whole evening. She also enjoyed playing with her Aunt Samantha (who's only 6 months older than her).

The Northwest flight was terribly delayed due to engine trouble. So we stayed until almost midnight before they arrived. Caitlin was getting grumpy and sleepy already by that time. By time we got home, cleaned up and went to bed, it was past 1am already.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Caitlin's Birthday

Caitlin's been excited the whole week for her birthday and it has finally arrived. She's now 5 years old. Oh how time flies. And she'll be going to ICA already by next week! For breakfast, Cols made her "traditional" birthday noodles and eggs. The folks came a bit late so I did not catch up with them anymore as I already left for office by the time they arrived.

The rest of the day was uneventful. Cols took Caitlin around with her to do her errands. They bought a Red Ribbon cake for dinner. Then we just all just met for dinner at Rockwell with the folks. Dad was running late because he had to finish a lot of paperwork at CBN for his trip to Europe tomorrow.

Click the cake photo below to see the web album.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The World's Cheapest Tripod (or rather, monopod)

While reading PC World recently, I came across the Google Alerts service. Its a very neat service. Google searches the Internet for news and blog entries containing keywords that you want to track (eg. your company's products, your competitor's services) and it emails you the report on a scheduled basis. In my case for example, I track keywords like "picatoo", "digital music" and "online payments", to keep me abreast with what's happening out there.

This morning, Google Alerts sent me a summary of articles related to my "online photos" keyword. Its about stabilizing a camera using only a string as a tripod (or more accurately, as a monopod. The basic idea is to tie one end of the string to your camera and step on the other end on the floor. Pull it until the string is taut. Then your camera will be "steady".

The full article can be found here:,145582-c,digitalcameras/article.html

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Not Having Much Luck @ Tagaytay Highlands

We woke up a bit early because Ethan was making noises outside. He was calling for "Diego" (the cousin of "Dora" of Nickolodeon). I heard Cols wake up to check on Ethan, but I was still too drowsy so I stayed in bed. Since there was no TV in the living room, I heard Cols come back in to transfer the TV stand (with the TV on top of it) outside. After a few seconds, there was a loud thud. I assumed the worst, but since I did not hear any screaming, I figured maybe it was something else. After a few minutes, Cols came back to the bedroom and confirmed my worst fear -- they dropped the TV set!

The swivel where the TV set sits on top of is very slippery. A slight nudge of the TV can knock it off its perch. And it seemed that while they were setting up the TV at the living room, Ethan was being his usual busy-body. In the ensuing confusion, the TV fell down and cracked its side. Luckily, the glass screen itself was undamaged. But when we tried to turn on the set, only a bright vertical light appears in the middle with some audio. Looks like the video got busted. Hopefully its not the picture tube since that is like the cost of the entire TV.

I reported the incident to the building admin in the basement. They immediately contacted the clubhouse who, in turn, contacted the unit owner. After several follow-ups, I decided to go to the Spa & Lodge, where the main clubhouse management is located. Caitlin came with me since she was getting bored.

At the Spa & Lodge, Caitlin was not looking properly while walking and tripped on the sidewalk. She scraped her left knee but tried putting a brave face so that I won't get mad at her. But I noticed she was in pain so when I pulled up her shorts, I saw blood trickling in her wound. I let her rest a bit at the chair while I talk to the club manager regarding the TV. She said the owner wants to charge us P15k to replace the TV, which was supposedly just bought this past Feb! This vacation is turning out to be more expensive than we originally planned. After some haggling, the owner agreed to P12k. Still a bummer.

From the Spa & Lodge, I brought Caitlin to the sports center to be treated because that's the only place here with a clinic. The nurse (or was she a doctor) cleaned the wound and put gauze on top of it to prevent it from getting infected. Caitlin had to limp a bit in the meantime.

When we got back to our unit, we packed up our things and got ready to check out. For the checkout, we had to go back to The Spa & Lodge to settle our account (including paying for the darn TV). The checkout process was a bit slow. They had to call the building where we stayed so that housekeeping can check everything (if we stole anything, I guess). After a long wait, housekeeping told them that there were a couple of face towels missing. We checked with the maids, and turned out that Yaya Rose took home one as a souvenir. Grrr... We drove back to our place to return the towel, and pickup ours that was left behind.

Once we finally got out of Tagaytay Highlands, we drove off to Jollibee for a quick lunch. It rained a bit which dampened Caitlin's spirit since she was all set to go to Tagaytay Zoo. But after lunch, we drove towards the zoo. And by the time we got there, the rain has already stopped. It was hot again from there. We stayed at the zoo for about an hour, I think. Caitlin got to ride again on the miniature horse whom she also took a picture with when she was 2 years old.

From the zoo, it was time to go home. We arrived back in Manila around 4pm.