Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sony Portable DVD Player

We bought a new portable DVD player with LCD at Western Appliance -- the Sony DVP-FX720. Cols has been talking about getting a portable player for some time because it seems to be the only way to keep Ethan behaved when we're out in parties or when he's on vacation. Playing Barney or Dora on the portable DVD player can keep him entertained for hours.

The DVP-FX720 cost about P11k. We took the additional P1k+ Malayan Insurance offer for an extra 2-year coverage on parts and labor over-and-above the standard 1-year insurance. They allow payment with 12-month installment using a credit card so we went for that.

Cols was originally looking for a NextBase. But it did not support DivX. Philips sells a portable DVD player with LCD at around P7k, but no DivX also. The DivX models sells at P9k+. Our Philips CD/Radio player has been problematic so we decided to try another brand -- Sony this time. And with the DVP-FX720 supporting DivX and USB playback of mp3/jpg, it seemed to be the best choice.

I noted in an earlier blog entry that my Philips DVDR plays certain AVI files, aside from DivX. My friend Orly clarified that AVI and DivX are just "container" file formats. The actual data stored inside can use different codecs. So not all AVI's (or DivX files, for that matter) are playable by DivX players. Only those that contain data that were encoded in DivX codec can be played back correctly.

However, I would like to point out something I've noticed -- even though my Philips DVDR plays AVI files which contains DivX-encoded data, they don't seem to have the "proper" aspect ratio as my TV. I notice that there's often black letterboxes on the left and right side, and there is the annoying keystone-ish effect on the left and right edge of the screen. But none of my DivX-encoded file has this. I suspect that the DivX Encoder correctly applies the proper screen profile which fixes this problem. So there really does still seem to be a point in doing the extra step of converting AVI's to DivX even if the AVI already contains a DivX-encoded data.

Interestingly, the DVP-FX720 manual clarified that it also does not play DivX files more than 2GB or were encoded originally from a 720 HD source. That explains why I could not play the BBC Planet Earth series even on my Philips DVDR -- it has the same limitations as this Sony player. I still plan to buy a Philips DVD/DivX Ultra player with 1080p and HDMI support. I wonder if that one will play these HD files.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Disabling Windows Autoplay for Removable Drives and Media

I have long been annoyed with Windows opening the dialog box whenever I plug in a USB Flash Drive or a CD/DVD on the CD/DVD Drive. I would much prefer going to the drive myself from Windows Explorer. I've always been concerned also if the Autoplay might auto-run some malware or trojan on an infected flash drive.

I came across a tip from PC World magazine on how to turn it off in Windows XP. You have to disable it from the Group Policy (although I'm sure you can manually tweak it from the Registry if you know the exact key to look for).

The steps are:
  1. Click the Windows "Start" and choose "Run"
  2. Type gpedit.msc to start the Group Policy editor
  3. Select Local Computer Policy\Computer Configuration\Administrative Templates\System
  4. On the right pane, double click on Turn off Autoplay Properties
  5. In the dialog box, click the Enabled button and choose All Drives from the dropdown list.
  6. Click OK.

That's it! Next time you plug in a flash drive, no more annoying autoplay.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

PayEasy Now Accepting China, Thailand and Taiwan Online Payments

I've activated the PayEasy/Ecapay integration code last week on our production system, and no hitches so far. With this new code, PayEasy Direct merchants can already start accepting online payments from buyers in China, Taiwan and Thailand. China online debit bank payments are being processed directly by Ecapay through their direct partnerships with mainland Chinese banks. So this is our second gateway already to China, with the first one going through our partnership iPay88 / China Unionpay.

Practically all the major Chinese banks are supported: ICBC, China Construction Bank, Agricultural Bank of China, Bank of China, China Minsheng Bank, Guangdong Development Bank, Industrial Bank Co. Ltd., China MerchantBank, Shenzhen Development Bank, China Citic Bank, Huaxia Bank,Everbright Bank of China, Shanghai Pudong Development Bank, ChinaPost, Bank of Communications, Bank of Beijing, Shenzhen Rural Commercial Bank, Nanhai Rural Credit Cooperatives, Guangzhou RuralCredit Cooperatives, Shunde Rural Credit Cooperatives, Shanghai Rural Commercial Bank, Guangzhou Commercial Bank, UDPay, Shenzhen CommercialBank. PayEasy's USD payments are automatically converted to Chinese Yuan (CNY/RMB).

For Thailand payments, Ecapay is switching it to their Thai partner, PaySbuy. PaySBuy operates as an e-Wallet similar to PayEasy. It supports direct debit funding from the ff. banks: Direct Thailand Bank Debit online payments with: KasikornBank, The Siam Commercial Bank, Krung Thai Bank, Bank of Ayudhya, TMB Bank, Bangkok Bank and UOB Bank Thailand. USD payments are automatically converted toThai Baht (THB).

Taiwan payments are coursed through Ecapay's partner there, EZrun. I'm not familiar with the exact banks that they support. But Ecapay said they cover the main Taiwan banks. I think they also support some mobile payment capability in Taiwan (but I'm not really sure).

These new payment options have already been incorporated to our simplified PayEasy Cart and Mail models as well.

Highlighting GridView Rows using C# .NET with Javascript

I've been wondering for some time how to do that neat trick of changing the color of a data grid row when the mouse hovers over it. I'm sure its just a Javascript routine, but how do I integrate it with my C# .NET code and not really have to now Javascript (yes, I don't know how to write Javascript).

I did the usual Google search and found several answers. I tried them but could not seem to get it to work. Some of the explanations talk about trapping the ItemDataCreated event, but Visual Studio 2005 does not seem to have that event for the GridView object.

After a while, I realized that my search phrase in Google is wrong. I've been looking for ways to change the highlighting of a DataGrid row, when instead, I should have been looking for ways to change the highlight of a GridView row. The GridView is a newer construct introduced in VS2005 and is supposed to be more flexible than the older DataGrid model. So I reconstructed my query and found the answer I was looking for:
protected void TxnGrid_RowCreated(object sender, GridViewRowEventArgs e)
if (e.Row.RowType == DataControlRowType.DataRow)

Some programmers suggest using the styles and doing something like:

e.Row.Attributes.Add("onMouseOver", "this.className='highlightrow'");
e.Row.Attributes.Add("onMouseOut", "this.className='normalrow'");

I can't seem to get it to work, however. The previous one worked better for me. Its not as elegant as the second one, admittedly. It would require changing the code just to change the background color, whereas the latter implementation only need a change in the stylesheet.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Checking Out Pico de Loro at Hamilo Coast in Batangas

Dad invited us to join him to Nasugbu, Batangas to check out a real estate development by SM which he is planning to invest on. They picked us up at about 8:45am and we headed to the SM Mall of Asia complex where we were supposed to take the coaster. But as it turned out, they just put us on a Mitsubishi L300 van since the coaster was "full" with other would-be investors.

Our van driver took the Coastal Road for Batangas. It was a bit traffic along the Imus area. But once we got past that, it was straight driving. Ethan was very well-behaved at the back row with Caitlin.

We stopped over for lunch at Dalampasigan in Batangas. The place looked like the hall of an old house. They served Filipino food, of course. Our guide treated us for bulalo, crispy pata, kare-kare and an inihaw platter. The other dining patrons were also heading for Hamilo Coast and were likewise being treated by their respective guides.

From the restaurant, we resumed our drive. It was another 15 to 20 mins of winding road. The van had a hard time climbing up the mountain road. We had to drive pass Punta Fuego to get to Pico de Loro. The two are practically just neighbors.

Pico de Loro is still in the early stages of development. A couple of buildings are about half-finished structurally. The man-made lagoon that will be in the middle of the building complex is already visible. The beach club is also partially constructed already. Aside from that, everything else is just mountains.

Our van dropped us off at Pico Point, which is their made showroom and where they currently entertain guests. The guide (Bo Rivera) showed us the different financial packages and layout, while Cols and the kids went down to check out the beach front.

We left Hamilo Coast at 3pm stopping by the Tagaytay wet market to buy some fruits. Mom took a long time buying fruits so we were there for at least 30 mins. We got back to Mall of Asia by 6pm. The actual road trip would have been 2.5 hrs were it not for the market detour. (It would be interesting in the future once they get the ferry between Mall of Asia and Hamilo Coast operational.) We just caught a quick dinner at Legend restaurant before we called it a day.

To see more of my photos of Hamilo Coast, visit this link.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Caitlin Second Tooth Falls Off

Caitlin's lower right milk tooth has been moving for a while. The lower left side milk tooth has actually fallen off already about a month ago. But it was quickly filled because the replacement permanent tooth was already growing behind it. With the lower right milk tooth, the replacement is also in place already, but it was shaking yet as hard as the left one before.

While playing with Ethan on our bed, Ethan accidentally hit Caitlin in the jaw and knocked off her tooth! Well, at least we don't have to worry about it anymore.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Spending the Day with Caitlin

Cols and Ethan are in Gen San this whole week because of her grandma's birthday. So I've been playing single dad for Caitlin. I promised to bring her to the Mars exhibition at Mall of Asia since she seem to have a deep interest on planets. Since Caitlin slept at Valle last night (Friday), I attended to my Marikina errands first in the morning then had lunch at Valle.

We left Valle after lunch and passed by Rockwell quickly to bring an extra shirt. We rushed to Mall of Asia to catch the screening of the planets at the SM Science Discovery Center (aka. Planetarium) at 2:40pm. Our car arrived there in the nick of time, but to our disappointment, the Planetarium changed their screening schedule and only showed The Enchanted Reef the whole day. Stranger still, the lady was totally unaware of any exhibition about Mars. I could have sworn I saw in the newspapers that there was a Mars exhibition.

Well, Caitlin couldn't decided whether she wanted to watch The Enchanted Reef or to just come back again next time when the planets movie would be showing. But in the last minute, we decided to go in anyway. Even though it was still early, the lady said the next showing we can watch is at 4pm. So we had to kill time by going around the Science Discovery Center.

The Discovery Center is highly over-rated, in my opinion. There's hardly anything in there. They have a replica of first Philippine solar car. There's a flight simulator game. Smart has some games there housed in their kiosks. There were model images of robots in movies. Lego has its small room there showcasing their product. There's an earthquake simulation room. Overall, very lame as compared to other science museums I've seen abroad. There were a couple of scientist mascots walking around much to Caitlin's fear who suffers from a severe case of mascot-o-phobia (the irrational fear of mascots).

While waiting for the Planetarium to let us in, someone called me. I couldn't recognize his face at first. Had to spend 2 to 3 seconds before I recognized him -- Robenson Cheng, an old classmate from Grace! He's married now also with 2 kids and he was there with his family. His wife works for IBM and there was an IBM excursion where family member of their employees joined.

Caitlin and I watched The Enchanted Reef, an animated movie that is really about the effect of the moon on the tides. The clarity of the projection is not that clear, but it did make good use of the dome screen through interesting angles or points-of-view.

After the show, I took Caitlin to the ice skating rink. Along the way, she had to endure through yet another mascot sighting (this time of a chef mascot walking around the mall). We got 2 free skating tickets actually as part of the Discovery Center entrance. But I still had to rent her gear, hire an instructor for her, and pay for myself to accompany her inside. Total damage still amounted to more than P300 (no wonder SM is very generous is giving away free skating tickets, since you still had to pay for a lot of other things).

Caitlin had a great time skating. At first, I was afraid that she would give up since she was having trouble keeping her balance. But she was very attentive to her teacher and, pretty soon, was slowing moving around on her own. In fact, even after her 30 mins training was up, I though she would call it a day already. But no, she was willing to skate on her without anyone with her!

The ice skating rink of Mall of Asia is supposed to be "olympic-sized". It even had fake snow falling every hour or so. Click on the image below to see more photos of our day together.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Cols and Ethan went to Gen San this past Tues (Aug 12), so I'm left babysitting Caitlin. I had to take a leave today to take care of bringing her to school; then meeting with our interior decorator at Greenhills after lunch; then back again to ICA to pickup Caitlin.

After school, we decided to catch the 4:10pm screening of Disney/Pixar's latest offering -- Wall-E. As can be expected from Pixar, the graphics and story-telling was top-notch. This is a much lower-budget movie than Cars or Monsters though. The actors providing the voice-overs are not known. But then again, there's very few dialogs as the robots (Wall-E and Eve) do not really talk much.

I would say the movie is "ok", but I don't think it will be a big commercial success unlike Cars. Sure, there's the usual merchandise tie-ups with the fast food chains and lots of toys bearing the character images, but I think the topic of Earth getting destroyed and made unliveable with this floating ship programmed to return when one of its droid have found signs of life, is a bit too complicated for kids to absorb. I had to keep explaining to Caitlin what's happening.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Amazon Online Payment

Amazon opened its online payment system to other would-be online merchants and competitors with little funfare. The service comes in two flavors: Checkout by Amazon and Amazon Simple Pay.

Checkout by Amazon gives merchants the same powerful checkout feature that one experiences when buying items from Amazon. It supports real-time shipping and tax computations; cross-promotions; orders management tasks and shipping tracking. You get full programmatic access similar to PayPal's API.

Amazon Simple Pay provides a simpler model that only requires cutting-and-pasting HTML code. This is useful for integrating the payment with an existing checkout process.

Both payment options let you leverage on the existing customer database. In fact, the buyer has to have an account in order to use the system. The upside is they do not have to re-enter their billing information since its already available. Of course, it leads one to ask -- would you trust Amazon payments if you offer products that compete with Amazon? And given that Amazon seem to sells everything including the kitchen sink, would you really want to give Amazon information on what your customers purchased from you?

Friday, August 8, 2008

Yet Another PictureBook Customer Sighting

I was just commenting last week on what's the likelihood of bumping into someone in a public gathering whom I would recognize because of our picture book service. I thought that it was extremely remote given that we don't really have a lot of clients and that our products are shipped all over the Philippines. Add to that the probability that even if you meet the person by chance, you will actually recognize the face just based on recall. Well, not only did I meet such a person last week, but even more amazingly -- I met another one today!

We had our residential condominium association annual meeting today at Luna Gardens. There were the usual rants from the usual disgruntled residents. The meeting ended earlier than usual (before 6pm). As is customary, there's finger foods served afterwards.

When the meeting was adjourned, everybody stood up and headed to the food area. There was this guy sitting in front who was, of course, walking towards the back exit. I looked at him and thought that he looked familiar somehow. Since everyone at the meeting had ID lace/tags, my eyes gravitated towards his.

The name sounded a bit familiar although I couldn't place where I saw it before. Then after about 3 seconds of pause, once again, it just clicked in my head -- I did the layout for this guy's picturebook! He was not our direct client. The one who contracted for the order was his staff who gave him the picturebook as a retirement memorabilia.

I was contemplating approaching him, but he looked a bit too serious. And he was talking to a couple of other admin staff so I didn't want to intrude.

Building My Home Theater Part 3: JBL SCS260.5 Speaker System

Last month, I wrote about the Harman-Kardon audio-video receiver (AVR) that I bought for my future home theater. I picked Package Two which came with the JBL SCS260.5 Speaker System. Although it cost a little bit more than the Package One because of these speaker set, I figure I might as well spend that extra PHP10,000 since I've spent a fortune (or will be spending a fortune) on the rest of the home theather anyway.

Its a typical 5 set speaker + subwoofer setup -- 2 x front L-R, 2 x rear L-R, and one center front speaker. The sales people at SM Applicance Center have been helpful in explaining what makes these speaker set different from the more common consumer brands like Sony, Pioneer or Yamaha (or maybe I've just be sales-talked and I'm now trying to post-justify my actions). But to their credit, JBL speakers are very popular for audiophiles as compared to the likes of Sony. Most movie theaters (even the SM Imax theater), use JBL speakers. JBL belong to the Harman group of company, which also owns the Harman-Kardon AVR's.

My whole shopping experience had a bit of a kink though. The Package Two had an SRP of around PHP49k. But since I was willing to pay cash, I haggled for a discount with the JBL/SM Appliance Center people. After some deliberation, they offered me an extra 7% discount. I came back a couple of days later and left a check. Then after it cleared, I had the unit picked up.

When I opened the box at home, I noticed that the "freebie" iPod Bridge to the AVR was missing. I thought it was an honest mistake and went to SM Appliance Center to ask for it. Then the salesman gave me this stupid look and asked if nobody told me that the reason why I got the discount was because they took out the freebie! Hello?!?!! He was the only JBL salesman I was talking to there, so who else could have possibly told me. And ALL appliance stores routinely give cash discounts with no bearing whatsoever to withholding any freebies.

What a rip-off from those dishonest people! If only there were other JBL outlets, I would willingly return this unit for a full refund. But only a few SM Appliance Centers seem to carry JBL. None of the other appliance chain stores (Western, Anson, etc.) carry JBL.

So I guess I have to live with the discounted unit minus The Bridge. For now, its no big deal since I don't even own an iPod. But I just felt cheated from the deal. So to anyone out there reading this blog -- be very careful when dealing with SM Appliance Center (or JBL sales people for that matter). I would still strongly recommend Western Appliance stores.

Some Very Interesting Statistical Trivia

I received a mailer from the International Herald Tribune soliciting for subscription to their newspaper. The mailer was different from the usual annoying junk mail. It contained several interesting stats (from 1% to 99%). Below are some of the ones I found more interesting:
  • 1% of the world's vehicles are in India
  • 4% of the world's population does not live in its country of birth
  • 7% of the world's male population is affected by red-green colorblindness
  • 9% of the world's population is left handed
  • 10% of the world has shopped online
  • 11% of the world's music is downloaded
  • 16% of the world's energy is produced by nuclear power plants
  • 17% of the world's population is illiterate
  • 21% of the world's atmosphere is oxygen (78% is nitrogen)
  • 22% of the world's population is Chinese
  • 24% of the world's undiscovered oil and gas lies in the Arctic
  • 26% of the world's construction cranes are in Dubai
  • 27% of the world's land surface is high mountain
  • 30% of the world's vehicles are owned by Americans
  • 34% of the world's cigarettes are smoked in China
  • 40% of the world's concrete is used in China
  • 42% of the world's spam email comes from the US
  • 50% of the world's languages have been lost in the last six years
  • 53% of the world's laptops are made in Taiwan
  • 54% of the world's popcorn is grown in Honduras
  • 56% of the world's suicides occur in China
  • 61% of the world's birth take place in Asia
  • 67% of the world's manual work is done by women
  • 69% of the world's Internet searches are done using Google
  • 70% of the world's population has never heard a dial tone
  • 72% of the world's fresh water is frozen in Antarctica
  • 73% of the world's population lives in cities
  • 74% of the world's convicted serial killers live in the US
  • 88% of the world's 12 year olds are familiar with Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator
  • 89% of the world's computers run on Microsoft Windows
  • 94% of the world's population recognizes the Coca-Cola trademark
  • 96% of the world's languages are spoken by only 4% of the world's population
  • 98% of the world's motherboards are produced by Taiwanese companies

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Globe 3G Pricing

I reported a couple of months ago that I was happy to find out that Globe finally offered time-based 3G Internet surfing on the phone. There have been recent postings in the ph-cyberview yahoogroups about exactly how Globe does their charging and how it differs from Smart.

To recap, Smart offers 30 minute surfing for PHP10. The time starts ticking when you first go online, and you can disconnect/reconnect as many as you want within that 30 minute time frame. That entire 30-min duration is considered as a single session, and thus, you will be charged PHP10.

Globe offers their Internet surfing at a smaller denomination of PHP5 for 15 minutes, but here's the caveat apparently that they never mentioned in any of their ads -- they measure your 15 mins from the time you connect until the time you disconnect (whether intentionally or due to loss of signal). So if within a 15 min timespan, you got disconnected twice and you reconnected, you are billed 3 x PHP5 instead of a single PHP5 because it will be treated as 3 very short sessions!

This explains why my last saw Globe bill had multiple billings for the same day. I must have gotten disconnected/reconnected and was billed for multiple sessions. That sucks!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Dinner with Old College Friends

A former Ateneo college classmate, Malou Espino-Leonardo, is in town (from the US). Michelle Dy gathered a few of us for dinner at Terry Selection in Podium. It was a long day for me as I have been conducting training on our new hires both in Manila and from the branches. Then from the training, I had a board meeting that went up to around 7pm. So I had to rush through EDSA traffic to get to Podium. Its been a while since I had to wade through EDSA traffic on a weekday. :P

I got to Podium slightly past 7:30pm. Had to look for Terry Selection first since I've never been to the basement area of Podium. I didn't know there were shops there already (I think they partially converted the basement 1 parking into a shopping area). Terry is a Spanish deli that caters more to the higher end crowd (as compared to the likes of Casa Armas, I guess). Mitch said its more authentic. Well, I'm not a big fan of Spanish food so I can't really tell the difference.

When I got there, Malou, Mitch, Rene Lacson and Red Atendido were already there (I was the last to arrive). Shortly after some exchange of basic pleasantries, we went for the appetizer, and the main meal. Malou's now working at Costco in Washington; Mitch is still with Intranetsys; Rene's now with ABS-CBN Interactive; and Red is in the customs brokerage business. It was fun reminiscing through old times over dinner.

The basement area closed a bit early so we had to move up to the main lobby area for desserts. We stopped by Cheesecake, Etc. to unwind. I had to leave close to around 11pm. And I guess the rest of the guys left shortly after that. Mitch volunteered to start off a mailing list for our Ateneo BS Computer Science batch 1991. So for those interested in joining, just send a blank email to