Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Papal Prophecies and Judgement Day

Just when you thought Dan Brown has milked the Catholic Church of all its controversial conspiracy theories, here's another one that I've never heard of before until now. James Rollins' The Doomsday Key prominently features St. Malachy in its storyline.

St. Malachy is a 12th century Irish priest who became an archbishop. It is said that on a visit to the Vatican, he had a vision which allowed him to see the last 112 popes up to the end of the world. The list he came up with is supposed to be very accurate with the most disturbing part being, the current Pope (Benedict XVI), is supposed to be the 111th already. So if his prophecies are accurate, the next pope (Petrus Romanus) will be the last already and its end of the world!

Of course, there are several interpretations to his visions. One of them was that he did not clearly say Petrus Romanus will come immediately after Benedict. The loophole is that there could be several more popes between then.

In any case, there are several skeptics who debunk his vision as something that was fabricated to favor certain priests at that time, to be elected as Pope (hence making it a self-fulfilling prophecy). Here's a good site to visit to learn more about the skeptical views of St. Malachy's prophecies.

Admittedly, the way he describes the Popes in his vision is through their birthplaces or papal seals. He does not really give their specific names. So some people say that with enough imagination, you can force anybody to fit his predictions. Well, you be the judge after you check out the hyperlinked references in this blog entry.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Doomsday Seed Vault

Cols and I are off to Gensan today to spend Christmas there. The kids went ahead last weekend so its just the two of us to the airport. I brought along the latest book by James Rollins, The Doomsday Key. I've been hooked to Rollins' stuff ever since Judas Strain. His stories are very fast-paced and have enough elements of science and conspiracy theories to go head-to-head with popcorn novelist, Dan Brown.

The Doomsday Key is no exception. It mixes Celtic rituals and Christian history with modern-day physics and biological warfare. This is part of the Sigma Force series, which is a fictional commando group working under DARPA.

A major part of the storyline involves a real place in northern Norway called Svalbard. Its a very remote location which is largely inhabited by polar bears and a small population mainly catering to research and tourism. Svalbard is home to something called the Global Seed Vault. Its lock a global safety deposit box for seeds coming from all corners of the world. The theory is -- should something go horribly wrong in the future and wipe out our plant system, we should be able to re-grow (or bio-engineer) the plant from the seed stored here. Hence, it is also sometimes called the Doomsday Vault.

This sounds like science fiction but its quite real. The Global Seed Vault "trust fund" is funded by several private companies including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It is also subsidized and protected by Norway.

The vault is up in the mountains and way above sea level. So in case there is a major rise in sea level due to global warming, it will not easily get flooded. The major tunnels are buried inside a mountain, and with the geographical location very close to the North Pole, it is guaranteed of a freezer-like temperature to keep the seeds in a frozen state even if electricity conks out for weeks.

Still think its doesn't exist? Here are real video clips of the inauguration of the vault.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Checks to become extinct in UK by 2018

Here's an interesting piece of news I found -- the UK Payments Council has set a date of Oct 31, 2018 to phase out checks! The Council apparently will be shutting down the inter-bank check clearing house by that date. This is the strongest move I've heard of to push for online payments.

The author brings up an interesting point of what happens to the older generation who just don't want to go online? For e-commerce players, this is good news as this will open up more interest especially with direct bank debit payment options as it doesn't have the disadvantages of credit cards, and yet, have all the advantages of being able to do realtime payments.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

YCMK Christmas Party 2009

For our store's Christmas Party this year, we decided to hold it at our residence. As usual, we got Verleo to do our catering. The venue was our upper garden at the back, while the tables were set on the driveway area.

From YCMK Christmas Party 2009

The party started a bit late -- around 9pm. We had to close the store earlier than usual to give the staff enough time to clean-up and drive over to our place. Dinner was immediately started upon their arrival. Winston invited his barkada over to add to the merriment.

From YCMK Christmas Party 2009

During dinner, carolers arrived and rendered several Christmas songs to entertain the crowd. The kids and the guest (mom, grandma, Tito Bert and Tita Lucy) enjoyed the singing and playing of live instruments.

From YCMK Christmas Party 2009

The evening's program started with some ice-breaker games. The highlight, however, was the presentation of the three groups -- tele-cashier/managers, kitchen crew and the riders. While the hilarious antics of the riders brought the house down, the overall execution and costume of the kitchen crew (aka. Jabamonkeys) won them the nod of the judges.

From YCMK Christmas Party 2009

Friday, December 11, 2009

Cousin Sharon's Wedding

I took a leave from work today (Friday) as its Cols' cousin Sharon's wedding. The church ceremony was at 1:30pm. Ethan was the coin bearer. It was Ethan's first time to take part in a wedding entourage so we were a bit apprehensive if he will behave properly. Will he walk down the aisle? Will he cry? Will he get irritated by his suit and tie? Oh, the numerous possible things that could go wrong!
We arrived at the church just in the nick of time. The traffic along Katipunan and Boni Serrano were heavier than expected so Cols was panicking (as usual) that we won't make it. We arrived with still about 10 mins to spare. Caitlin did not go with us since she had school.
I'm also happy to report that everything went very smoothly. The little guy never complained about his suit. In fact, he seemed to like it. When it was his turn to march down the aisle, he performed his duty. The only scary moment was middle of his march, he turned around and started walking back because he could not find me (I was positioned in the front part of the church as I was the one taking photos of people walking down the aisle). After he re-established his sense of direction, we walked forward again and things went without any more hitches.
As there was a big gap between the end of the ceremony and the reception at EDSA Shangrila, we went back home first to rest. We left house again by around 6:30pm to attend the reception with both kids. Ethan looked very dapper with his suit and Caitlin wore her new gown.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Using RCBC Access One Internet Banking

I got my RCBC ATM card yesterday. It took them almost a couple of weeks to release an ATM card. With other banks like PSBank and Landbank, you get your card at the same time you open the account. I guess RCBC does not invest in the card embossing equipment for each branch and would rather have it centrally done.

The ATM card is needed to enroll to RCBC's internet banking, called Access One. Using the online enrollment facility was quite simple. You fill-up all the details and just click the submit button. It then tells you that they will need 1 day to manually verify the details. I kinda preferred Chinabank and BPI's method of just activating it through an ATM machine instead of going through this manual verification process.

In any case, I received an SMS at 8am on my way to work telling me Internet account is ready. So when I got to the office, I tried the id and password I defined to enter the system. The screen area where my account is supposed to appear was blank. I called up the call center and they told me that sometimes, the notification alert is sent too early -- before the account is really ready. That's weird.

Another little snag I observed is that their system sends out an email notification also telling you that your Access One account is ready. But in my case, I also received notifications meant for other people! The RCBC guys have to do a bit of debugging when it comes to notification.

Monday, December 7, 2009

What Are People Buying Online?

I came across an old (Jan/Feb 2009) issue of Entrepreneur's Masigasig supplement. There was an article there based on a Nielsen study that talked about e-commerce. According to the article, only about 10% of the world population (627 million people) has used the Internet to make a purchase 2 years ago. That number has increased by almost 40% to 875 million people.

What are they buying? Well, if the survey is to be believed (and I do question Nielsen data every now and then also):
  • Books (41%)
  • Clothing/Accessories/Shoes (36%)
  • Videos/DVD/Games (24%)
  • Airline Tickets (24%)
  • Electronic Equipments (23%)

The biggest increase has been on clothes. 2 years ago, only 20% of buyers have bought clothes online. It has almost doubled since. According to the same survey, more than half of Internet users are regular online shoppers (meaning they purchase more than once a month). The article did not specifically mention which markets the study was based on.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Star Trek 2009

Just finished watching Star Trek 2009 (yeah, it appeared in cinemas half a year ago). Although I don't consider myself a Trekkie, I enjoyed this movie. I did not really start watching Star Trek until Jean-Luc Picard's (Patrick Stewart) Star Trek The New Generation (ST:TNG). I did not find the old James Kirk (William Shatner) series that interesting because, well, as an older series, the special effects were pretty lame back then.

Star Trek 2009 is actually a prelude to the original Star Trek series. But since it was done 2009, computer-generated imagery has greatly improved. The story started with the birth of James Tiberius Kirk amidst a battle. It also explained how he got his name -- "James" from his maternal grandfather and "Tiberius" from his paternal grandfather. It also showed the early years of all the other casts of the Enterprise bridge -- notably the young versions of Spock, Scotty, Chekhov, Sulu and Uhura.

Zachary Quinto played a great Spock. He does have some semblance with Leonard Nimoy (the original Spock), who was also in the film as the older/original Spock, now an Ambassador, who got sucked back through time because of a wormhole. Zachary is better known to sci-fi afficionados as Sylar, the baddie at the hit TV Series Heroes. I admit it still takes me some effort to see him as anyone other than playing the bad guy. And at first, his young Spock character was the antagonist of the young Kirk.

Eric Bana as the Romulan bad guy Nero was unrecognizable under the heavy make-up. Zoe Saldana as the young Uhura was pretty hot. The romantic twist between Uhura and Spock felt odd though as there were no hints in the "future" Star Trek of any relationship between them.

The film's action and special effects were pretty good. The plot is a bit far-fetched and I'm not too sold on the idea of the person meeting his own future self (ie. young Spock meeting old Spock at the ending). I guess I've always subscribed to the Back to the Future concept where ones present self cannot meet his future or past self without causing a major rift in the space-time continuum. :) But overall, I give the film a two thumbs up.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Busuanga Day 3

With still a whole morning to kill, we had early breakfast and went hiking up to Eagle's Point. Eagle's Point is the highest point in Club Paradise. The hike itself was rather short (maybe 2 kms at most?). Certain portions were steep, but the walking path is quite simple to follow.
On the way to the top, one would pass by the way to "Hidden Beach". There's also a nipa hut middle of the way for weary travelers who want to catch some breath. At the very top is a concrete structure which allows the hiker to get a 360-degree view of Dimakya Island and its surrounding. It was mid-day and getting hot so Cols wanted to get down as quickly as possible.
The rest of the morning was spent resting lazily. We had pizza for lunch (after a couple of lunches and dinners at the same buffet restaurant, we figured we've had enough and wanted something simpler). We left the resort by 1:30pm along with some other foreign guests. We took the boat ride back to the ferry station; then the dusty jeepney ride to the airpot.

Busuanga airport was jointly built with funding from South Korea. Its very simple and had no aircon or souvenir stores. Our PAL Express flight left promptly at 4:30pm and Caitlin fetched us from NAIA 3 back in Manila.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Day 2 at Club Paradise in Busuanga

After a hearty breakfast, we waited for our 9am island hopping tour. We were supposed to take the resort's regular transport boat, but because it was sent out to pick up supplies, they had to let us use the speedboat instead. Cols was a bit apprehensive about the speedboat. I was also a bit concerned, but not because of safety reasons. Rather, I was concerned that it can get very hot during the morning and the speedboat did not have any roof.
As it turned out, our concerns were largely unfounded. In fact, it may have been a blessing-in-disguise as the speedboat probably traveled twice faster than the regular boat, allowing us to spend less time on the travel and more on swimming. Also, the heat was not as intense as one would expect from, say, Boracay. I'm not sure why considering it was not really that cloudy either.

The first stop of our half-day, 3-hour island hopping package was a privately-owned island. There was a concrete picnic table setup there. The beach itself was not that fantastic, but I guess the guide brought us there more because of the marine life. There was certainly a lot more fishes here as compared to the house reef. The guide brought some bread to draw in the fishes. Unfortunately, I was not fast enough to react and was not able to quickly take photos with my "underwater camera".
Next stop was Rock Island. The aptly named island was, well, "rocky". There was not much beach to speak of. From the shore, its all rocks and corals. But this place, by far, had the best undersea marine life ranging from all sorts of colorful fishes to giant corals and blue starfishes.

On a side note, I finally figured out how to dive with a snorkel in my mouth! Yeah, I know its pretty lame for divers. Although I've used snorkels countless of times, I've always swallowed water when I try submerging. Now I know the technique of how to keep air in the tube without sucking in water!
Our 3rd island stop was Isla Walang Lang-aw (translated "Island Without Trees"). Its a very small island just across Dimakya island. I don't know why they called it island "without trees" considering there were a couple of trees right in the middle of the island.
By this time, Cols and I had a bit too much swimming and snorkeling already. So we just mainly took photos at this island, which is the most picturesque among the 3 we visited this morning. Strange rock protrusions and a small cave provided background for some great photos.

We got back to Club Paradise by noon time. Today was the much-awaited Pacquiao vs. Cotto boxing match. The resort's Jungle Bar had a satellite TV setup which aired the fight live. The dining hall was practically empty as everyone squeezed into the bar to watch the fight. Pacquiao won a record 7th title in 7 weight divisions which brought the house down. Even though most of the guests at the resort were foreigners, they all seem to be rooting for the local hero.

We were too tired from the morning excursion. So we slept the entire afternoon off. The sole of my Reebok rubber sandals also got detached so I had housekeeping put rugby on it to make it usable again since I did not bring any backup footwear.
The evening dinner was held on the beach. It was Filipiniana night with cultural dancing show. I guess this is a "must-have" for all local resorts who cater largely to foreign guests. The usual medley of local folk dances ranging from pandango sa ilaw to tinikling were highlighted. The foreign guests were invited to join the number and many of them gamely joined adding to the fun.

It was a very starry night. Its rare to see so much stars up in the sky living in the city with lots of pollution. I wish I had the necessary photo equipment to capture the sky.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Our Palawan Anniversary Honeymoon

We woke up 6am and had the driver bring us to Valle. Although its a Saturday, Caitlin had make-up class due to the long holidays brought about by Typhoon Ondoy. Dad's driver drove us to the airport so our driver can go back to LGV and bring Caitlin to school. This is my second surprise trip to Cols, and by far, the longest-kept secret. I booked this trip back two months ago and have kept her in suspense. Up to this morning, she doesn't know where exactly we're going!

We got off at NAIA Terminal 3. Senator Kiko Pangilinan (Sharon Cuneta's husband) entered the terminal same time we did. Some of the airport personnel took photos with him. We went straight to the PAL Express counter. There were 2 open counters at that time -- one to Busuanga and the other to Surigao. I was teasing Cols that we're going to Surigao then shifted to the Busuanga lane much to her surprise since she has never heard of the place Busuanga before.

We noticed at the airport terminal that most people headed off to Busuanga are foreigners. As always, foreigners seem to know how to go to exotic places, whereas locals tend to frequent the more popular off-the-mill destinations. Since the PAL Express plane was small, we had to take a transit bus to get to the plane. Inside the bus, I felt that we were the tourist in our own country since almost everyone else was Caucasian.

We took the 8:45am flight and arrived Busuanga 9:50am. The plane was propeller-based and had a seat configuration of two seats on each side of the aisle. Busuanga is not that far from Manila but I guess the propeller-based planes still took an hour because they're slower compared to jet. I mean, jet planes can take you to Visayas in an hour and that's actually farther.

Busuanga is located at the northernmost tip of Palawan, and is not too far from Mindoro already. Its part of a group of islands called the Calamian Group of Islands, which is geologically detached from the rest of the Palawan land mass. Busuanga is the biggest of the islands and is considered the gateway to Coron, the province that is getting popular for tourists looking for something off-the-beaten-track. This area is especially popular to divers as there are several World War II sunken shipwrecks under its waters.

The rugged mountainous terrain of Busuanga is awesome to behold. The airplane landed in an airstrip surrounded by really tall mountains. The airport of Gen San is also nestled between mountains, but not as striking as this one. As soon as the passengers/tourists disembarked from the plane, everyone started taking pictures of the plane, the airport and its surroundings.

The airport is nothing fancy. Very simple; no airconditioning; clean (except for the toilets which elicited some negative remarks from the foreigners). We were giving arrival cards to fill-up -- that's something new for a local airport! I brought my 2 phones, however, I could not get any signal on my Globe Handyphone whereas my Smart picked up a strong 3G signal.

As we got out of the terminal, we were greeted by the hotel staff. Together with 3 other groups, we boarded a jeepney to take us to the boat. The 15-min jeepney ride was a very bumpy and dusty one. The tourists seem to be enjoying their "first jeepney ride". The color of the soil/dust is reddish and not your typical brown dust.
We arrived at a small pier where a white boat was waiting for us. The ship crew served sandwiches and juices to the guests as the boat waded through a very calm river bordered on both sides by mangroves. The scenery was gorgeous and this must be what its like to ride a boat through the Amazon river. I was waiting for a giant anaconda to bring out from one of the mangroves just like in the movies!
The boat ride took about 45 min. We passed by a small fishing village along the way. We had a stopover at El Rio y Mar, a sister resort of Club Paradise to pickup/drop-off some passengers; drove further to open waters, and finally arrived at Club Paradise by around noon just in time for lunch.
Club Paradise is in Dimakya Island, or rather, Club Paradise IS Dimakya Island. The German owners, leased the entire island and built Club Paradise on it. As our boat approached its shores, the dark blue waters turned into a verdant turquoise color. The beach was powdery white and can go head-to-head with the sands of Boracay. The place is a whole lot more peaceful though as it does not have the typical party crowd of Boracay or Puerto Gallera.

The in-house band greeted us with their Club Paradise jingle while the resort staff provided us with cold towels and welcome drinks. We dropped off our things at our beachfront cottage #3 and went for buffet lunch. Club Paradise stay packages all include meals on board. After all, there's really no place else to eat unless you take the boat off the island.
We rested a bit after lunch then went snorkeling at house reef. All snorkeling gears -- masks, fins, life vests, etc. can be borrowed for free. We tested our Dicapac underwater camera casing and got some shots. It was pretty difficult to use but at least we were able to take some underwater shots with our Canon EOS DSLR. The house reef did not have that much marine life though so the shots were not really fantastic.
After snorkeling, we lazily lounged around the swimming pool area. The pool's water was very hot so it wasn't really refreshing. I also realized that I lost our room key. It most likely got washed off at the beach when we went snorkeling. So I had to request for a key to be duplicated and paid the fee. I tried to go online using the Globe Tattoo USB modem but the connection was really spotty. I can only get a GPRS signal, and not 3G. Smart's signal in Busuanga is definitely much better than Globe's.

Dinner was buffet again at the main dining hall. There's not much activities at night on the island. So after dinner we headed back to our cottage. I also don't know why but it wasn't windy at all in our cottage. I suspect the wind must be on the eastern side of the island. We're at the western side facing the sunset. So it was quite hot to stay out on our porch even at night.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Underwater Casing for Canon EOS 400 Digital SLR

I passed by V-Mall after work to buy the underwater DICAPAC (Digital Camera Pack?) casing. Its a generic plastic casing that uses ziploc-style seals combined with velcro to prevent water from seeping in. It can fit pretty much any time of digital SLR camera with regular lenses. I guess those really long-range, fancy zoom lenses would not fit. But since I'm still using the good-ol' kit lens, its not really an issue.



The pack costs PHP3,500 and is sold by Abacus Computer. I saw it a few months ago and have been planning on getting one. Since we're off to Busuanga tomorrow, I decided its finally time to get it. Just think of it as my advance birthday gift to myself.

Everytime we go to the beach, we always think of buying a disposable underwater camera. I figure the one-time cost of this pack should be cheaper than buying disposable cameras in the future. Its certainly cheaper than buying those new underwater point-and-shoot cameras by Canon, Olympus, etc.

Upon getting home, I performed the waterproof test suggested by the store. Put tissue inside and submerge the casing under water. If the tissue shows wetness afterwards, there must be a hole in the casing so return it for warranty. But then, since we're already leaving tomorrow for our trip, I just have to hope that nothing goes wrong with this unit. Will be posting my underwater photos from Busuanga soon!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Subic Day Trip

We were planning to go to Subic today to break-in our (still relatively new) Montero. However, our driver, Ado, pointed out that its too risky since we still do not have a plate. So we decided last minute to just take the old Honda CRV. So there's Driver Ado, me, Cols, the kids, Yaya Rose, and the two maids, Marlyn and Gina -- all squeezed into the CRV.



We left house past 9am because we were waiting for Cols' Punchdrunk Panda laptop sleeve to arrive. Since the courier was running late, we decided to just leave. While along North Ave., Ado decided to try a newly opened highway that is supposed to connect to NLEX. As it turned out, portions of the road is still not completed so we ended up driving through narrow streets along a row of factories until we eventually connected to NLEX. That wasted a bit of time, but we made up for it once we got onto NLEX and then to SCTEX.

We reached Subic around lunch time. So our first task was to look for a restaurant. Not finding any Filipino restaurant, we ended up in some Chinese dimsum place. Not wasting time after a quick lunch, we headed to the Royal Subic Duty Free shopping area. I went to the different Nike outlets but they are all selling broken sizes -- none for my size 8-1/2" foot. Bummer.

While waiting for Cols at Royal Subic, I got a phone call from my brother-in-law Leslie. He just called to let me know that Nikki has been hospitalized due to something in her colon (diverticulitis?). They did not want to call Dad directly as he might panic. So it was passed on to me to tell him the news and try to explain it as clearly as possible. But still, as expected, Dad panicked a bit when I called. Les assured us though that Nikki is fine and that we can call him the next day (their time) to find out more.

After shopping, we drove a bit further towards Ocean Adventure. The kids wanted to see the wild monkeys along the roadside. Sure enough, I spotted a couple along the road. We stopped so that our driver can give some bananas. And the entire monkey clan quickly appeared to share on the bounty.

On the way back, I instructed the driver to detour to Tree Top Adventures. Its one of the newer attractions that I've been thinking of seeing for some time. I think it replaces the Jungle Survival Training (JEST) camp as it incorporates some of its activities. In fact, its situated just right next to it.
Tree Top Adventure attractions include walking between the trees; rappelling down one of the trees; and ziplining between trees. After taking a quick overview of the activities available from one of the guides, I decided to try out the rappelling.



There were three types of rappelling available -- the "standard" (butt first); the "Australian" (face first ala Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible); and the "reverse lizard" (where you go down head first like Spiderman). The "standard" was too plain for me; while the "lizard" was too extreme. So I opted for the "Australian" style.


The hardest part was actually stepping off the ramp. From there, it wasn't really that scary. The guy controlling the rope tried to give me (and the crowd) a scare by giving a short jerk on the rope. From there, I was dropped by about 60 to 70 feet to a few feet before hitting the ground. The fall was not really that fast. I think the rappel rope had a natural effect of slowing down the fall with its resistance.

Below is a video of my fall. Cols took it with the Canon IXUS in portrait mode. So you have to watch it sideways with your head tilted 90-degrees to the left!


From Treetop Adventure, it was back to Manila. We had dinner at Katips in Katipunan first before going home.

Friday, November 6, 2009

How Many Internet and Phone Users In The Philippines

I attended a Frost & Sullivan Telecom conference at the Hotel Intercon. These conferences are normally expensive, but I got a free invitation. I guess the organizers must have met their sponsorship quota already and just wanted to fill up the space. :)

There were several interesting stats revealed during the various presentations. In 2008, the Philippines had 7.4M fixed line users and 68.1M mobile users. Internet penetration has reached 15%, or about 20M users. Of these, the PLDT group accounted for 1.2M -- that's for Broadband DSL + SmartBro. Globe had 379,000.

Even though mobile penetration is high, 3G usage is very low at 4%. Traditional 2.5G accounts for 12%, and good ol' 2G still has the lion share at 84%. Philippines is still predominantly a prepaid country with 97% using this mode of subscription.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Using Parallel Printer with New Motherboards

I recently bought a new PC to replace our old POS. When we were about to connect the Epson TM-U220D POS printer, I realized the new motherboard does not have a parallel port anymore! Since the POS printer uses the old-style Centronics printer interface, it definitely needed a parallel port.

At first, I tried looking for a USB-to-parallel port adapter. Nobody seem to have stock until I found one at Park Square. I experimented with it for a couple of days but I couldn't get my NetProfit POS program to treat it like a real "LPTx" device. I tried sharing it and using net use to map it into "LPT2", to no avail.

Luckily, our Purchasing Department was finally able to find me a vendor at Abacus Computer in V-Mall that carried a PCI Card parallel port. Installed that one on the PC and "LPT1" appeared. Worked like a charm.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Inno3D GeForce 9500 and LG 15-inch Touch Screen LCD

With our POS touch screen damaged and cracked due to the evacuation during the flood, I bought a new PC set + an LG 15-inch touch screen (our previous ADC unit was imported from Taiwan but the manufacturer has gone out of the LCD business already). I also got an entry-level Inno3D GeForce 9500 video card which came with an analog VGA port and a DVI port at the same time. I wanted our POS to support dual LCD's -- the touchscreen one facing the cashier, and a regular one facing the customer showing his orders (basically replacing the display pole).

Since the LG touch screen uses a VGA connector, and the cheapest LCD screen (Hanns-G) I can get at PC Express also uses a VGA connector, I bought a PHP100 VGA-to-DVI adapter. That way, both monitors can be connected to the GeForce at the same time. Installing the Inno3D video drivers produces a small icon on the system tray that allows you to do quite a few things with your monitor -- horizontal span; vertical scan; and even flipping it 90-degrees to the right to make it portrait mode. And since the LG's screen can be pivoted between landscape and portrait mode, the two together allows one to setup a vertical layout desktop layout.

The modes that interested me were the horizontal span and the extended desktop. Under horizontal span, the two monitors are treated as one very wide monitor. So moving the mouse from one screen to the other is just a matter of pushing it over the edge of one monitor into the other. The Windows "Start" button is on the left monitor, while the system tray is on the right monitor. I can open the main order taking program on the left monitor, and the customer digital signage display on the right monitor. The only problem is it confuses the touch screen driver. The driver still thinks its on 1 monitor. So touching the upper right corner of the left monitor causes the mouse to run to the upper right corner of the right monitor. Obviously, this was not acceptable.

With Extended Desktop, the taskbar stays on one monitor while the other one looks like another regular desktop. From Windows' point of view, its really like having 2 x independent video cards connected to 2 x independent LCD monitors. So the touch screen driver works properly on the main monitor only and does not get confused. This is the mode that I want.

The GeForce driver seem to be emulating 2 x video adapters only because in reality, its only one. This makes it very different from notebooks which really seem to have 2 video adapters -- one for its built-in LCD display, and another for its external video out port. Because of the emulated environment, if you use 2 x different LCD resolution (eg. one at 1400x900 and another at 1024x768), it gives unpredictable results.

Modifying the POS to support 2 x monitors seem easy at first. I just followed what I did with my other test program on programming with multiple displays. But up to now, I still can't figure out why the 2nd display (the digital signage) still opens up on the same main screen. Hmm...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Free Globe Tattoo with my HP Mini

The recent HP Mini 110 Netbooks that I bought for the store came with free Globe Tattoo -- that's what Globe calls their wireless 3G/GPRS Internet service. I filled up some application forms; photocopied my ID and receipt; and got my units from the HP Store at Glorietta Digital Exchange.

Installation was pretty simple and trouble-free. You open the packaging; insert the SIM into the USB dongle; plug-in the dongle to the NetBook; and it pretty much installs itself. It seems that the dongle can even accomodate a mini SD card so that it will also act like a USB flash drive. But I wasn't too interested on that so I just installed the basic 3G module.

Unfortunately, ever since the the big typhoon, Globe wired and wireless service in Marikina has just been plain awful. Getting wireless signal is very spotty. Its been several weeks and they still haven't restored our landline service at the store. Using Tattoo at the store was just a major pain. The speed was unbelievably slow. Just clicking on a GMail email times out.

In frustration, I ended up just installing the Nokia PC Suite on the NetBook and plugged my Nokia 6210 Classic to the USB port. My phone uses Smart's 3G service.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Getting a Bite at Bite Club

A couple of months ago, I tried out Wham Burger along Katipunan. Since then, I've been back there one more time. Today, I decided to try out their grilled, gourmet burger competitor just a few buildings away on the same road -- Bite Club. From the outside, Bite Club looks like Brother's Burger (probably because of the logo/color scheme). But once inside, all traces of similarity goes out the door (or window).

The place looks beaten down. The tables and chairs look like they've seen much better days. The place felt like a beer drinking place. I was really surprised by the order counter. There's no POS -- just an ordertaker with a calculator sitting on top of a cash box. After I paid him for my order, I did not even get a receipt (not that I expected one given that he only had a regular calculator!).

Despite all the shortcomings, I have to admit that the burger was fantastic! The size of the burger (in terms of diameter) was huge, and so was the bun. I ordered the caramelized onions topping and it was delicious. I felt that the Wham patties were thicker even though they were smaller in diameter. I will most likely give this place another try.



Tuesday, October 6, 2009

UCPB Online Banking

I opened a basic ATM/Savings account with United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) to try out their online banking facility. The online registration is very simple and user-friendly. You fillup the details online and it gets activated immediately. There is no need to physically go to an ATM to activate your account unlike with BPI and Chinabank. And there is certainly no need to physically print out a form to submit to your branch unlike BDO. There is no fancy SMS-based authentication unlike Standard Chartered.

The most basic ATM account just requires a minimum balance of PHP2,000. You can perform Funds Transfer to non-enrolled third party accounts. As a form of 2-factor authentication, it creates a one-time-use session password everytime you want to perform a funds transfer. This password can either be sent via SMS to your registered mobile number, or to your registered email address.

While the 2-factor authentication does provide an extra level of protection against improper use of the account, I wonder if they will cause as much hassle to legit users as both methods do not really offer any form of guaranteed delivery time. My previous experience with Standard Chartered's SMS-based authentication was not really positive. The delay of receiving the txt message was very significant that my session has already expired by the time it arrived.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

My First Netbook(s)

I bought 2 x HP Mini 110 for P21,950 each today to replace the 2 x old telemarketing PC desktops at the store. I got one unit from PCX Shaw and another at PCX Katipunan because each branch only keeps inventory of one unit.

When first booted up, the HP Mini goes into a sell-install mode of its pre-loaded Windows XP Home Edition. It comes with Microsoft Works (is there anyone who actually use that suite?) with 160GB HDD and 1GB RAM. The speed is actually pretty good. I was expecting a much slower machine with the Intel Atom.

The Mini has 3 x USB ports, 1 x ethernet port, and of course, built-in wifi. There's a VGA output port and, surprisingly, a built-in card reader that can read SD/MMC cards. Unfortunately, it doesn't support CF, which is what I use for my Canon cameras.

What does still take getting used to is the 1024x576 screen resolution. The almost 2:1 aspect ratio looks really strange at first -- wide and short. Opening GMail on screen requires a lot of vertical scrolling. But overall, I'm pretty happy with the battery life. The Atom really does perform much better when it comes to energy consumption.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Gasoline Leak at the Store

Its been a tiring week cleaning up the store after the typhoon. The store looks much better now, although there's still lots of work to be done. I received a phone call from our landlord, Federal Brent after lunch. They've never called our house before so this does not sound good.

According to the building admin, the roving guards detected gasoline leaking from our motorbikes parked inside the store. The smell of gasoline has permeated outside our unit and luckily caught the attention of the guards. We immediately rushed to the store and called Harry to meet us there. We're not sure the gasoline melted through the plastic/PVC bottle that Noe stored them in, or whether there was really a hole or crack on the bottle that caused the leak.

We had to take out the bikes and clean the floor again because it was so slippery. The smell of spoiled food has been replaced by the smell of gasoline!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Second Day of Store Cleaning

Still with no water and electricity at Blue Wave, we began our second day of cleaning up. We had to shuttle back and forth water drums to watch out the mud and reduce the stench inside the store. Engineering people from Yellow Cab head office were sent over to pull out all our kitchen equipmet so that they can be checked and repaired.

From YCMK Cleanup Day 2

It took a van and their truck 2 trips to pull out our ovens, dough roller, mixer, freezers, chillers and make table. A crew of about 10 were sent to help load the equipment onto the trucks. Since the food establishments around the area are still all closed, we brought lunch and drinking water for our cleanup crew.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Cleaning Up The Store After The Typhoon

The roads leading to our store were all impassable yesterday as flood waters have still not subsided. So it was not until today that we were able to brave through the muddy streets of Marcos Highway, to get to Blue Wave at Sumulong. The scene was like something from an end-of-the-world movie where you see cars left on the streets in all sorts of positions with no drivers.

Our store was a mess. Mud was everywhere and the smell was just plain awful. All the kitchen equipment from the mixers, rollers, to the really big ones like the freezers and ovens, were not spared.
The smell of rotten food mixed with mud and used oil that overflowed back from our grease trap. The Coke chiller and even our big freezer at the back were completely toppled. The electronic circuitry inside our very expensive ovens were completely fried.
The crew at the store last Sept 26 were able to bring up to the 2nd floor some of the expensive raw materials like cheese, but they eventually spoiled anyway because there was no electricity. The mall was like a ghost town with all the stores sharing in the same predicament. Our neighbors Starbucks and KFC were just as bad, if not worse.

The mall's water supply was contaminated so they could not provide water to even let us clean up the place. We had no choice but to shuttle back-and-forth between the house and the store to bring in gallons of water to wash out the debris inside the store.

If our store was badly hit, the houses along Tumana were even worse off. Judging from the water stain and the state they were in, water must have reached the second floor of the houses there. It was just mud everywhere and people had nothing to eat.
The first floor of Ethan's school, LINKS, just along the river was also completely submerged. So if you look at the photo below, you can imagine how high the water must have rose.
Even though its hard to think of a reason to be thankful for at this state, one only needs to see how worse off a lot of other people were in order to appreciate what one still has -- our house was relatively unscathed; the store can be rebuilt and is covered by insurance; our cars were not affected while a lot of others were submerged; and we are still alive!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

How The Telcos Fared During the Disaster

Natural (and man-made) disasters show the resiliency of telco networks. During good times, they always brag on how redundant their links are, or how their fiber rings can automatically re-route traffic in cases of major fiber cuts. But come major disasters and you see the true nature of their preparedness. So how did they do during Typhoon Ondoy?

Our BayanDSL conked out by Sept 26 mid-afternoon. This was during the height of Ondoy when the flood water was rising. The Bayan Wireless Landline (BWL) service was pretty stable though. So even though there is a preference for wired connections when it comes to data, wireless is still less prone to downtime. The interconnection with other telcos got pretty bad though. But this was understandable due to the unusually high number of calls people are trying to make to reach their relatives.

For mobile, Globe Handyphone signal was very spotty. Globe landline was totally dead in most (if not all) of Marikina. Smart held up pretty well. Signal was very consistent and I did not experience much problem calling other Smart numbers.

Mozcom's core data network did not encounter outages. But the "last-mile" link to several of our customers were affected mostly due to loss of power in the telco's outside-plant facilities.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Worst Flood in Marikina History

Sept 26 has historically been a bad luck day for me. Its actually my deceased brother's birthday. In the past 10 years, I've had major problems that coincidentally seem to be falling on that day -- from my previous company's altercation with a major telco; to working overnight to get a client's link up; and now this!

It was raining hard the whole night. But since the weather has been like this for weeks, we did not really pay much attention to it. We woke up this Saturday morning and went about doing our usual things. Well, I couldn't go to the gym because the rain was a bit hard, so I did some work at the den. At around 11am, Cols called my attention to the lanai as the water seem to have risen to an alarming level and our fish pond was threatening to overflow.

When I went out, I saw that the entire backyard was already submerged! Since we only moved here to LGV last December, we've never really been through a major typhoon here and were not aware how usual flooding here is. So I called up Tita Lucy and asked her if this is "normal". She said 'no' and that this was the first time in 20+ years that they've been here that water has submerged their garage as well.
The water has risen to cover the first step of our small stairs leading to the backyard. And it just kept going up and up. Our accent mound (see photo above) already looked like an island with the grass surrounding it completely invisible under the dirty flood water.

Our back gate, which normally has a large gap from the bottom frame to the ground that can fit our kids' toy ball, was already touching the water. Below is a photo of a person wading through the water outside showing the water is already knee level along Paraguay Street.
At around this time, I received an SMS message from our Store Manager saying that flood has already reached critical level also along Sumulong Highway and that the water has already entered the store. Sumulong Highway is also not typically a flooded area so I wasn't that concerned. I figure that the water would probably go into the at most up to ankle level. Little did I know that it eventually went on to go as high as 5.5 ft INSIDE the store effectively submerging all our kitchen equipment.

This turned out to be the worst flood in Marikina history as Typhoon Ondoy unleashed the equivalent of one month's worth of rain within a 24-hour period. It left 80% of Metro Manila under water. LGV was flooded heavily for the first time. Several commuters got stranded in front of our house as Soliven III Ave. was flooded about 100 meters further with water reaching up to neck level.

Amazingly, electric power at our house never went out. While brownout was widespread across the Metro as the electric company shut down power to avoid shortage, electricity and water was never interrupted at our house. This was unusual since power always seem to go out at our village whenever there is a big thunderstorm.

By around 5pm, a sizable crowd has already gathered outside our house as all the cars were parked there and could not proceed. By this time, the rain has already stopped but the water has not subsided. Many people just left their car parked on our street and waded through the flood to reach their house on the other end of Soliven III.
Caitlin slept over at Ilene's place last night so she did not witness the happenings here at our village. By around 8:30pm, we decided to fetch her since there's no power over at Speaker Perez and she was complaining that its hot. But alas, we got stuck along Quezon Ave. as Araneta was impassable with flood water also rising from the creek there. So we had to take a U-turn and come back home without her.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Programming with Windows Media Player and C#

I'm working on a prospective project that requires me to play mp3 files on our NetMachine kiosks. Under the old Windows system, one can play WAV files by calling some internal Windows functions. I've never tried playing mp3 or wma media files from an application so I did some research. While there are 3rd party libraries available, the best option seems to be to use the interfaces exposed by Windows Media Player (WMP). Since practically all Windows PC's come equipped with some version of WMP, it is fairly safe to assume that the components can be found in all these PC's.

Adding WMP to a C# application is very simpler. Just add a reference to the file wmp.dll in your Visual Studio project. Then from within your code, just create an instance; point to the source media file; and call play():

WMPLib.WindowsMediaPlayer player = new WMPLib.WindowsMediaPlayer();
player.URL = @"c:\My Music\somesong.wma";
player.controls.play();

You can also track state changes (eg. from playing to stopped) and respond appropriately using the standard event-handling model of .NET.

player.PlayStateChange += new WMPLib._WMPOCXEvents_PlayStateChangeEventHandler(player_PlayStateChange);

You can also access the playlists defined in WMP programmatically, and extract information about the media file (ex. the artist, song title, album title, etc.) through the IWMPMedia interface:

WMPLib.IWMPMedia objMedia = player.currentMedia;
listBox1.Items.Add(String.Format("[{0}] {1} by {2}",
objMedia.getItemInfo("Album"),
objMedia.getItemInfo("Title"),
objMedia.getItemInfo("Artist")));

There is a downloadable Windows Media Player SDK 10 at Microsoft. I'm not sure what more it adds to the components that are already built-in to Windows. I did not bother installing it anymore. I guess its just sample programs.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Programming with Multiple Monitors in Windows using C#

I have a couple of prospect projects that require the application to send 2 different outputs to 2 different monitors. While I have been curious for some time about exactly how do you install more than 1 video card/monitor onto a Windows box and extend your desktop, I've never really been pushed to find out. But because of this prospect, I assigned my tech guys to do some R&D using our notebooks.

It seems that all Notebooks have 2 x video cards built-in -- one going to the LCD display, and the other going to the external VGA port. I have always assumed that it was just 1 video card and that the VGA port is just like an "extension" of the LCD. But as it turned out, Windows treats them as 2 different video cards and you have to option of whether their output to be the same, or you want it to be in "extended desktop mode".

Detecting multiple screens under C# is very trivial. The only thing that makes it a bit tedious to work with is the fact that the Display names are null-terminated (C-style). Since C# does not work natively with null-terminated strings, you have to do a little bit of conversion to C#-style strings. The example below shows how to get device info and open a modeless window which will reside on the extended desktop.

Setting the bounds of the new window to that of the extended desktop and setting the WindowState to Maximized will cause the modeless window will eat up the entire extended desktop. Of course, this simplistic demo assumes there are only at most 2 monitors. In reality, according to other postings, Windows XP and Vista officially can support up to ten (10) video cards/monitors.


allScreens = Screen.AllScreens;
foreach (Screen screen in allScreens)
{
string deviceName;

int length = screen.DeviceName.IndexOf("\0");
if (length == -1)
deviceName = screen.DeviceName;
else
deviceName = screen.DeviceName.Substring(0, length);
}

ExtendedForm extForm = new ExtendedForm();
extForm.Show();



Then at the constructor of the Extended Window Form:


private void ExtendedForm_Load(object sender, EventArgs e)
{
Screen screen;

Screen[] allScreens = Screen.AllScreens;
if (allScreens.Length == 1)
screen = allScreens[0];
else
screen = allScreens[1];

this.Bounds = screen.Bounds;
this.WindowState = FormWindowState.Maximized;
}


Monday, September 21, 2009

Checking Out La Mesa Ecopark

Its yet another long weekend holiday today -- Ramadan. I've lost track of how many holidays the government has called for the year. I decided to bring the family to La Mesa Eco Park. I've been hearing about this dam-turned-into-an-eco-friendly-leisure-destination from the media for sometime so I looked up how to get there. At first, I thought it was somewhere in Montalban, but it turned out to be much closer -- just at Fairview, barely a 15-min drive from our house.
The place was packed today. It was hard finding a place to park. Our first stop was the zip lining attraction. When we were about to enter the area, we heard somebody shouting Caitlin's name. Turns out her ICA Kinder Daisy teacher Racquel was already in line at the zip line waiting for her turn.



Since the queue for the zip line was quite long, I decided to try the wall climbing attraction adjacent to it. Last time I did this was 7 to 8 years ago. It did not take me long to get my rhythm though. I reached the top in a couple of minutes!



Cols went for the zip lining activity. I wasn't too keen on it since I've already done zip lining in Cagayan de Oro before and this one was pretty short. In fact, its just almost one-way -- from the main platform; across the lake; to the other side. Then from the other side, you would do a quick zip that will only take you about the middle of the line. From there, you have to manually pull yourself back to the main platform. I don't know why they didn't just build a higher platform on the other side so that the gravity will take you all the way across instead of stopping midway and forcing you to manually pull yourself. According to Cols, the worst part of the attraction is actually the really smelly helmet and gloves. Apparently, they never wash them!



After zip lining, Ethan was getting restless already so Cols had to take him back to the car. Caitlin still wanted to go boating so I accompanied her. The man-made lake was only 4-ft deep. The attraction is sponsored by Aboitiz. Ironically, an Aboitiz Super Ferry just sank a few weeks ago.



After the boat ride, it started to rain. So Caitlin and I hurried back to the main deck. Cols drove the car over to pick us up and we left the park.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Ethan's Birthday Party at LGV

Ethan has been excited about his birthday party for the past couple of weeks. Although the general theme is supposed to be "Thomas & Friends", it was not really a typical children's party. It was just a small gathering of family friends and their kids. Because the weather has been rainy the whole week, we had the tables placed inside the house and in the covered lanai area.

A friend of mine from high school, Cheryl came with her husband and son. Most of the other guests are Cols' high school friends and their kids.



We started the party early at 6pm. That way, we also finished early since kids can't really stay up late. Our caterer was the usual - Verleo. Food was simple but everyone seem satisfied.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

My Linksys is Back

Sometime ago, I posted my problems trying to restore my old Linksys back to its factory default. It seem that the steps I took to reset it was correct all along. I was just trying to login using the wrong default id and password. The default of the Linksys WAP54G is no username and 'admin' password. The guy at the Microwarehouse support center showed me that he could login to my WAP without any problems.

So I installed the Linksys at our home theater tonight and can now get excellent quality signal from our bedroom (I'm writing this blog entry from our room via Wifi) wheras I still could not get a signal from the small Belkin unit at the den. I think the old-style WAP with dipole antennas still outperform the new ones in the market with small or hidden antennas.

From our ground floor living room, I can get 3 bars from the Linksys upstairs, as compared to, only 1 bar from the Belkin which is just right across the living room.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Rotarian for A Day

I was invited by the Rotary Club of Makati San Antonio to their weekly meeting at Sentro 1771 in The Fort. Their new "Smiling Visionary President" (SVP), Jon Arayata of Bayantel, is introducing the PayEasy online payment system into their website to accept payments for everything from donations to their projects, to payments of their membership dues. The online donation website of this Rotary chapter is http://rcmsanantonio.payeasy.ph.

The group was a rowdy and fun bunch composed mostly of accountants and telecoms/IT executives. They were very accommodating and friendly to newcomers (ie. potential recruits) which included myself. They're a small close-knit group of less than 30 people although probably only half of the total members were present tonight.

At the latter part of the event, I bumped into an old AdMU classmate - Monique Manalo. While I saw her name in the program sheet, I assumed that it must be another person of the same name. But as it turned out, it was a familiar face from 18 years ago! Very hard to believe it has been that long since I graduated from college.

Deceptive Celeteque Ad

Billboards for the new anti-aging moisturizer Celeteque Advanced has been popping up all over Metro Manila. The ad claims that in 6 weeks, you can see a reduction of up to 92% of your wrinkles. Hmmm..., ok. I don't know how the industry actually regulates the age-old adage of "Truth in Advertising", but so far, based on the billboards I've seen, it is so obvious that the image is 'doctored' by Adobe Photoshop.



The ad copy shows a comparison of a woman's photo - one supposedly taken from Week 1, and the other on Week 6. Now, it doesn't really take a genius to figure this out, but it is so blatantly obvious that the "Week 1" photo and the "Week 6" photo are one and the same. The only difference is the Week 6 photo went through some digital image manipulation to remove the wrinkles and whiten her complexion. But everything from the angle of the photo, the lighting effect, the facial expression, etc. point clearly to the fact that its the same photo!



Now, I am not saying that the product does not do what it claims to do. Perhaps it can really perform miracles in 6 weeks. What I just find offensive with the whole campaign is the fact that they obviously used digital image manipulation to fool people. If they were really serious in their claim, why not take a real photo of that woman in Week 1, then again in Week 6 and let the audience decide. Using Photoshop is a cop-out.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Standard Chartered Cash Back Credit Card

With so many credit card options nowadays, I've been trying to find the one offering the best deal. For some time, I've settled with the Citibank Cash Back Visa. The mechanics is very simple. They rebate you 0.5% of all your purchases every month. There are no points to be earned, that requires converting to some gift items. I swear some banks (Metrobank, in particular) are not really earnest in handing out those rewards. Despite my numerous requests to cash out my points into GC's, I still have yet to receive them after several months.

Recently, I got the Shell Visa cash back credit card. It has all the benefits of their old cash back visa plus you get 5% rebate when filling up gas at Shell. The only catch as I found out later is that its not available at all Shell gas stations. I guess some of the franchise stations did not agree to give up their margins.

Standard Chartered recently entered the cash back fray with their Platinum card. I cancelled my regluar Standard Chartered Mastercard in favor of this cash back platinum. While they only rebate back 0.3% of purchases, they give a special 3% for purchases from department stores and restaurants. So I have to pick and choose which card to use where.

The Standard Chartered cash back cards have the following additional drawbacks:
  1. Cash back earned has to be redeemed manually. Their system does not automatically credit it to your payables. You have to call their call center and request for it. Undoubtedly, a lot of people will not bother, thus saving the bank some money.
  2. You must accumulate at least P500 before you can redeem your cash back credit. Very deceptive.
  3. The cash back credits have an expiration! So for those cardholders who do not reach the P500 minimum redeemable credits, they risk foregoing the entire amount! Sneaky!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Panic at PAL

Cols is still in GenSan so I was having a quiet morning eating siopao for breakfast when I got a cellphone call from Cols. She was at the airport already (this was around 9am) and she was in a panic. Apparently, the online ticket from PAL that I bought for her required that she bring along a photocopy of the credit card I used and an ID. She said that the counter was already closing and that I need to fax the data straight to PAL GenSan where they are waiting.

I hurried scanning my credit card and ID (had to leave my siopao behind) and ran to our fax machine. When I was a few feet away from the fax machine, it suddenly dawned on me -- our PLDT number at home has NDD disabled! Yikes! I did not enable it because in the past, we've racked up bills due to the maids calling their friends and relatives on their mobile.

So I had to go next door to my aunt (thank goodness for relatives/neighbors) and borrow her fax machine. Dialed the GenSan number of PAL where it rang... and rang... and rang... without answering! I gave Cols a call again on the mobile telling her I can't get through. And as it turned out, she was able to get her brother to pull some strings at the PAL office (you know how it is in the province where "connections" get you a long way).

I have bought tickets for Cols using my card several times in the past and this is the first time that the airline actually asked her for my card details. Or maybe it was because I mostly buy her Cebu Pacific tickets and CEB is not that strict whereas PAL is stricter. I guess all the credit card fraud is taking its toll in the airline industry. From what CEB told me, they previously required the passenger to show the card upon check-in, but eventually decided to stop doing it because it was too much of a hassle and that there were many legitimate purchases of one party of a ticket for another party (ie. the foreigner boyfriend buying ticket for his Filipina girlfriend -- how stereotypical).

Alternative forms of online payment like direct bank debit is really the better way to go. PayEasy will be supporting that hopefully by 1Q 2010.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Standard Chartered Online Banking Registration

I passed by Standard Chartered Bank in Ortigas last week to know more about their online banking service. While I don't have a bank account with SCB, I do have a credit card with them. And they allow creation of an online account using just your credit card (although, of course, the available features are very limited).

Unlike the other online banking enrollment systems I've encountered, SCB is the only that that relies on SMS as a form of confirmation. During the enrollment, you will be prompted for your mobile phone and it will send some registration code there. Upon receipt of the SMS containing the code, you can proceed with the activation.

Now, I would normally say that's an ingenious way of confirming one's identity. The only problem is the SMS delivery system seem to be very unreliable (or perhaps their SMS gateway is heavily clogged). But from the time I made the request until the time I actually received the SMS, it took more than an hour -- so much so that the time alloted for me to enter the code to continue with my activation has already expired.

I had to manually call their call center for assistance. It was a bit of a pain. And it seems that this mobile confirmation system is also implemented with the regular banking functions like authorizing funds transfer. Again, I laud them for this extra confirmation process, but if its that unreliable, it will just end up being more of a bane than a boon.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Taking the Kids to Manila Ocean Park

With Cols still in GenSan and Caitlin sleeping over at her grandparents' house over the weekend, it was just me and Ethan at home. So I brought him to Sunday School at our Marikina church this morning. Then we had lunch at Valle. After lunch, I brought the kids to Manila Ocean Park.

If one has been to Hong Kong's Ocean Park, this place definitely pales in comparison by a mile. Manila Ocean Park is more of an aquarium. There are no sea animal shows or thrill rides. And perhaps most striking when you get there, is it seems to be more of a strip mall with semblances of "tiangges". The center atrium where everything converges had several people sitting in white plastic monoblock chairs. At first, I thought they were waiting to watch some shows on the makeshift stages. But as it turned out, they were all waiting for their turn to buy tickets!

From Manila Ocean Park

There were only four (4) ticket counters. To give Manila Ocean Park management some credit, at least they don't let people stand on long queues for their turn. Instead, they have a ticketing system similar to some banks where you get a number then wait for your turn. That way, you can spend the time going through the shops (or sitting on the monoblock chairs). When I got our number, there were still more than 100 customers in front of us. So we went around to see the shops. Most are restaurants so there wasn't much to buy. We ended up killing time at Mrs. Fields where I ordered a chocolate shake and the kids ate their snacks.

When our number was finally flashed on the LED screen (this was about 40 mins later from the time I got our queue ticket), I rushed to the counter. The tickets were Php400 for me and yaya, and Php300 each for Ethan and Caitlin. We rushed to the Mermaid show which was scheduled to start at 5pm. Since we were already late, we were seated at the very back. I was expecting some ampitheater, but no -- it was just some dark room with, again, white monoblock chairs.

The mermaid show started about 10 mins after we got it. It was just about 5 women in mermaid costume doing some underwater routine. I was hoping that they would at least do some sort of synchronized swimming routine, but no such luck. It was really basic underwater swimming. Pretty lame. Ethan wasn't too much into it, but Caitlin at least sort of enjoyed the short show (while at the same time kept on commenting why these mermaids have to wear goggles).

When the show was about to end, the PA system announced that people can have their pictures taken with the mermaids behind the aquarium glass. But other than that, there was another mermaid at the back in a make shift photo booth just behind us. Since we were seated right there at the back, I quickly pulled the kids and we were the first in line to take picture with our mermaid. Ethan freaked out when he saw the mermaid so I ended up just taking Caitlin's photo with her.

From Manila Ocean Park

After the mermaid show, we went in to the main aquarium area. It was actually not bad. There was a good collection of fishes. The props also looked pretty good. The main draw of course was the tunnel where you can see the stringrays swim above you.

From Manila Ocean Park


We left Ocean Park close to 6pm already, and passed by for Dad at Dasma. Then we had an unscheduled dinner at Valle since it was getting quite late and I still had to go through some Accounting papers with Dad.

To Enrol or To Enroll -- That is the Question!

I went to buy milk for the kids at Pioneer Center (since we had lunch at my folks' place). On my way out of the exit gate, a tarpaulin announcement caught my attention. It was from a pre-school (I think) inviting parents to bring their kids there. Normally, I would dismiss those kinds of advertisements, but the footer of this one somehow caught my eye. It was a basic call-to-action for parents to "enrol" their kids.

My knee-jerk reaction was -- that's a wrong spelling! It should be enroll. How can a school, no less, make a mistake in its own advertisement? Its just not acceptable for a place where children learn to spell to not know how to spell itself. But was it wrong? Is it really enrol or enroll?

Well, it sort of bothered me quite a bit, so much so that when I got home, I had to check the dictionary. And what do you know -- both enrol and enroll are correct! Turns out that the word can be spelled with either one or two el's. And it follows that enrolment and enrollment are also acceptable.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Wham Burger at Katipunan

Strong rain poured after lunch. It was accompanied by lightning and thunder. As a result, power went down. Sigh... I miss life at Rockwell where there was always a standby generator that kicks in in matter of seconds. Anyway, our contractor was working on our swinging hidden closet door but could not continue their work because they needed electricity to power their drills. So they had to go home without finishing the task. Since the rain has let down already at this stage, I took Ethan with me to swim at Rockwell (Cols is in GenSan and Caitlin went with my folks to Hamilo Coast).

By the time we finished swimming, power has not yet returned. So I brought Ethan to have dinner at Valle. I was planning to join the folks and Caitlin for dinner, but they got stuck in Sta. Rosa due to traffic and did not expect to get back to Manila until maybe 9pm. So we left Valle ahead and I decided to just buy take-out food along the way.

When I was in CDO earlier this month, my friend there, Robin, was telling me that he knew the people behind Wham Burgers. I've seen the outlet along Katipunan for some time but have never really eaten there. Coming from Pasig and going to Katipunan, you will see it on the left side (not too far from the White Plains intersection). Because MMDA blocked all the U-Turn slots along that section of Katipunan, you have to drive all the way to the Katipunan/Aurora Blvd flyover and take the U-Turn slot under. Its a bit of a distance so I'm sure a lot of people would just decide to eat elsewhere. But I was curious enough to give it a try so I took the long U-turn.

The Katipunan store is their first branch. Its quite old and probably could use some renovation. The comic posters are faded already by sunlight. While I was looking at the menu board, I noticed that the cashier lady was busy chatting on the phone. It was obviously a personal call (probably her boyfriend) and she did not seem in a hurry to hang up the phone considering I was already standing in front of the counter. I didn't really mind the delay that much since I needed some time to choose from the menu. But still, it was kind of annoying that she was doing that.

By the time I was ready to order, she came back to her cash register. I asked for a burger and onion rings. She gave me a number and I went to my seat with Ethan and Yaya to wait to be called. In the meantime, she went right back to the phone and, presumably, called the same person again to continue her conversation. After a couple of minutes, a new customer came in and had to wait a bit again for the cashier to finish her call before she attended to him. I think the owners should install a CCTV camera and DVR to monitor their staff.

Going back to my burger -- it was actually pretty good. Much better, in my opinion, than HotShots or Brothers Burger, both also in the flame-grilled/gourmet burger category. I find HotShots' burgers a bit hard. Wham's was juicier and had a decent-sized patty. For the onion rings, however, I have to give the honors to Brothers.

In terms of service, Brothers is also more professional and at par with what you would expect with fastfood chains. Granted that perhaps this cashier is just an exception and that maybe other Wham outlets have good service, maybe I should not be too hasty in my judgment. Overall, I think I would visit it again should I have a craving for burgers. Or perhaps I'll try Bite Club next time.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Ethan's Filipino Program and the Annual General Meeting

Today was the culmination day of Ethan's Filipino week at Links, a pre-school we enrolled him to just outside our Tumana gate. He's been only going there for a couple of weeks and has since been able to adjust to being left alone minus the separation anxiety. It was a short program so I joined and left for the office afterwards.

From Ethan's Program


In the later afternoon, I went to Rockwell to attend our annual condominium association general assembly held at Luna Gardens. It is always "entertaining" to attend these sessions and listen to the gripes of our neighbors which range anywhere from legitimate issues, like security or maintenance, to those really petty ones. And always, there are the same "characters" who provide the entertainment like clockwork.

The meeting ended around 6:30pm and t was raining hard. Cols warned me ahead of traffic as our driver has been stuck on C5 and Katipunan for more than an hour after having dropped off Caitlin at Valle where she's sleeping over. I think it was a compendum of several factors (Friday + payday + rain + people going home to the province for the long weekend with Monday a holiday) that led to the "perfect storm" traffic. I got home past 8pm already.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Mifare Cards Now Supported by NetSecure

Although I've always believed in the philosophy behind Object Oriented Programming (OOP), I have to admit that in most cases, I still program in traditional, structured, procedural style. This even though languages like C# or Java treats everything as classes, even the main program itself.

The most OOP-heavy program I've ever written is our *ahem* best-selling NetSecure biometric time and attendance system. Since NetSecure aims to support as many devices as possible for identification and verification purposes, early on, I designed it to use OOP heavily. All devices I support (fingerprint scanners, RFID readers, magstripe readers, pinpads, etc.) are derived and implemented from two other layers of abstract classes. At the bottom is a generic InputDevice abstract class. Then a generic ProximityReader abstract class is derived from it. Then finally, an RFID-specific implementation like the GigaTMS' GP20/30 RFID reader is implemented.

Recently, a big client requested for support of Philips Mifare cards. I've been twiddling with the ACR120 Mifare reader for some time. I've written small programs to test its capabilities, but have never actually written a full-blown program to make use of it. I was estimating it could take me a couple of weeks to write all the code to integrate it to NetSecure.

When I finally got down to coding and followed my object models, I realized that the ACR120 reader is just like a GPxx RFID reader. So I created an ACR120MifareReader class that is derived from ProximityReader; implemented the abstract interfaces to allow the main program to connect/disconnect to it and retrieve inputs; and voila -- I was done in about an hour! Turns out that very little changes were needed on the main NetSecure code itself as most access to devices go through the class abstraction interfaces.