Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Day 11: Driving to NYC

We were supposed to leave Niagara Sheraton on the Falls by 10am, but for one reason or another, we left almost 11am. When we crossed the Rainbow Bridge to the US border, we got detained for a couple of hours in immigration along with other nationals. I swear, immigration people are the most unfriendly people there are.

We left the center around 1pm and had lunch at a Denny's nearby. Ethan threw up at the restaurant while Nikki decided to bring Allison to a nearby hospital ER to treat her ear infection that has been bothering her for a few days.

We drove on ahead with dad, Cols and the kids in our Hertz Nissan Altima. I just followed the GPS from Buffalo all the way to NYC passing through the I-90, I-86 route. It was a long boring ride because there was nothing scenic at all. Just miles and miles of freeway.

We had a stopover break at Cortland to buy supplies. We arrived at Embassy Suites NYC 11pm. I tried to return the car to the nearest Hertz drop-off point, but it was already closed. So I had to pay an extra night of parking across the hotel

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Day 10: Niagara Falls

We started the day with brunch at IHOP. Then dad joined us at Niagara Horseshoe Falls visitor center. We went through the "behind the falls" tour. After that, Les went to pickup the car to drive Dad home. Cols, Caitlin, Ethan and I had a long, slow walk back to the hotel.
We watched a 4D Spongebob movie feature and had dinner at Planet Hollywood to cap the day.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Day 9: Niagara Falls

I got a very disturbing txt from Judith about an NBI raid in the middle of the night that bothered me, so I did not get much sleep I called up Elvie long distance to clarify it and put my mind at ease. I got to sleep a couple of hours then woke up around 6am to get ready for our 8:30am flight to Toronto.

The weather this morning is terribly freezing. Les' relatives drove us to the domestic airport. When I stepped out of car to get a pushcart, the wind hitting exposed skin hurt like hell. This is pretty intense compared to New England winter.

When we got to the Air Canada check-in counter, the plane was already boarding. The airline officer assisted us and rushed through security. We were able to cut several lines, but had to go through the security checks that could not be avoided. Since we were a big group, it really took time to inspect each person. So I ran ahead to the terminal gate to stall the door from closing while the rest of the party caught up. Phew! Luckily, the plane waited for us.

I slept through most of the 4 to 5 hour flight. We arrived Toronto around noon. Toronto Pearson Airport is huge. For an airport this large, its odd that push carts are not free, but you have to pay for it. Even good ol' NAIA has stopped this practice already. Its very tourist-unfriendly.

Toronto is not really part of our itinerary. Its just the closest airport to Niagara. From the airport, first stop was to look for a Chinese restaurant (groan). We used the cars' GPS and ended up at China Palace outside the airport. From there, I got to talk to my former neighbor, Alfred, who is now based in Toronto.

Les and I bought some supplies at a nearby Walmart. Then we drove through Toronto to catch a glimpse of CN Tower, then drove onwards to Niagara. We arrived at our hotel, Sheraton by the Falls, very tired and sleepy.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Day 8: Boxing Day

Today is Boxing Day -- that's what North Americans call Dec 26, or the first or second weekday after Christmas Day. Its a day for major sale in all shopping establishments here. I guess its time to mark down those items that were not sold in time for Christmas Day.

Temperature was frigid again today. After lunch at a Chinese restaurant, we drove to Polo Park. We split up to do some shopping. While Cols went with Caitlin to do their girl shopping, I was left with Ethan. We were doing fine sitting at the bench when he suddenly decided he needed to poop. And he needed to do it fast!

I begged him to hold it but he said he couldn't. So we ran off to the far-end of the mall where there was a food court. The restrooms were there. As we ran up the short flight of stairs, I tripped and pulled Ethan with me. But not time to get embarrassed as it would be more embarrassing if Ethan poops in his pants.

The mens room was closed for cleaning. Luckily they had a "family" restroom where several members of the family regardless of gender can go in together at the same time. I took Ethan there to relieve himself. Phew! Disaster averted.

We stayed at the mall until early closing time. Driving home was tough with the windshield's low visibility due to ice. Just relied on the GPS to get us back to the main road to Nikki's house. Bought KFC on the way home for dinner.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Day 7: Christmas Day

Everything's closed today. After a lazy morning opening more gifts, we decided to take the kids tobogganing (is that a correct verb?) in the afternoon. Leslie took us to Kilcona Dog Park, a popular place for this activity during winter. There were a couple of dozen other people with the same idea. The place was just white snow as far as the eyes can see. The weather was freezing but the kids were all bundled up.

Toboggan is pretty much like sledding on a small hill. As always, Ethan was fearless. He sled down the hill without concern for his safety. And as usual, Caitlin is afraid to try it out at first. But once she got the hang of it, she won't stop. The kids sled down and walked up about a dozen times. Les and I also sled with them. It was kinda fun. But having cold snow powder hit you in the face while sledding down was a bit painful.

Cols was too cold so she went back to the car to wait for us. We stayed there for about an hour until the freezing weather was getting to be unbearable. We called it a day at around 6pm and headed home.

From Toboggan

Friday, December 24, 2010

Day 6: Our First Family White Christmas Eve

Christmas party was hosted by the Ko's tonight. Nikki and Les' relatives and friends came over. As is usual in North America, it was a potluck dinner. The Nintendo Wii Just Dance was a hit with the younger crowd.

From Christmas Eve 2010

At the stroke of midnight, it was gift opening time!

From Christmas Eve 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Day 5: Slow Life in Winnipeg

We flew in last night from Winnipeg. Our flight was delayed by a couple of hrs. The plane arrived in Winnipeg almost 1am their time (2-hrs ahead of Vancouver). Nikki picked us up from the airport early morning. Weather here is colder than Whistler at -7C.

The Ko house is about 30 mins from the airport. By the time we settled down, it was about 3am and we all went to sleep.

Woke up near noontime. Just stayed home with Ethan and played with the snow in the front porch while Cols and Caitlin went to watch a play with Nikki and William. We lasted only about 15 mins outside and came back in. Ethan took a nap while I accompanied Leslie to pick up Claire from her day care.

It gets dark here very early in Canada during winter. It felt like nighttime by as early as 4pm. After dinner, went to a 24-hr Wal-Mart. The place was packed with Filipinos -- from customers to store attendant. I've never seen so many Pinoys gathered in one place in North America. You can hear Filipino spoken left and right.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Day 4: Last Day at Vancouver

We took it slowly in the morning and checked out by 11am. We walked a few blocks to look at shops Pacific Center Mall. Nothing much to buy. It started to drizzle so we ran back to the hotel.

We drove off toward Vancouver International Airport by 12:30pm. Had a stopover at Safeway to buy some supplies. Outside Safeway was a Chinese restaurant across the street. Since it was still quite early, we had a quick lunch and left 1:45pm for the airport which was 10 mins away.
I filled-up the rental car with gas at the airport gas station first before returning. Cost only CAD 49. The rental salesman was offering me CAD 100 for them to fill it up when we got the car. Good thing I did not listen to him. Lesson learned -- never listen to the car rental salesman.
We drove in to the Budget garage just in time for our deadline. The guy gave me a receipt showing $830 vs. $700. I clarified it at the Budget counter and turned out they charged extra for going over 2pm by a couple of minutes. The guy waived it since it was noted that we rented it out past 2pm anyway.

At YVR airport, we used the self-service kiosk to check ourselves in. Just scanned our passport on the kiosk to lookup our Westjet reservation in their system. However, we could not print the baggage tags until 3hrs prior to flight so we hanged out at the food court to pass time.
Our 6:45pm flight got delayed to 8pm due to late arrival of the plane. Because of the snow, it was very low visibility in the place where the plane came from. Based on the new schedule, we will be arriving Winnipeg 12:30am given the 2-hr time differential. Thankfully, there's free public wifi to help pass the time.

YVR is also child-friendly. They have kids areas showing cartoons and play areas at the terminal gates. The kids were too sleepy to care though so they took a nap while waiting.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Day 3: Mushing!

Seems that no matter how early we go to sleep, we still seem to always end up rushing in the morning. Today, we had to rush to the Hilton for our 9:30am dog-sled booking. The Adora receptionist who booked our tour said that they will forfeit our slot (and payment) if we're late! We did get there about 10 mins late, but luckily, there were no problems. We took a big van with a newlywed couple to go to the sledding area.

The whole sledding tour is supposed to be 2.5 hrs. But it turned out that almost 40 mins of that is just going back and forth to/from drop-off point. When we got to the sledding area, the guide gave a quick intro on the tradition of sledding and how the sleds today are still pretty much the same in design as they were hundreds of years ago by the Native Americans. They gave us a quick intro to the dogs and off we went.

Cols and Ethan went in one sled, while Caitlin and I in another. The sled is 7-ft long and can accommodate a max of 2 adults and 1 kid. It would have been cheaper actually if its 2 adults and 1 kid because they would charge about half price for the kid. But since we were 4, we had to take 2 sleds @ $145/person. Ouch!

The fresh snow was very thick and powerdery. The kids loved it. There was also a little snowfall while sledding on the way back. But other than that, it was beautiful, bright weather. The trail through the forest was not that long. The dogs would rest every now and then and start running again when you should "mush!". I sat inside the sled at first but it was quite uncomfortable. So on the trip back, I decided to ride beside our dogsledder.

We got back to Adara by noon and drove off. We stopped over a Chinese restaurant with a Filipina manager at the next town. The Chinese food was terrible, but we had no choice since the kids were not into western food.

I was quite sleepy driving back through 99-South. The kids were knocked out at the back seat. We tried to pass the Capillano Suspension Bridge but since the kids were asleep, we did not go down anymore. I peeked from the outside but there was no photo opportunity as it is completely blocked by walls. The entrance was pretty expensive too. Not worth paying just to take photos.

Went back to the car and drove through traffic at Lions Gate Bridge. We arrived back at Sutton around 4pm. The kids rested at the room while I went out to buy truffle puree at Urban Fare. Also bought pizza for dinner (finally!); McDonalds nuggets and rice for the kids.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Day 2: Off to Whistler

First night sleep at North America. Had a bit of a jet lag. Woke up at around 3:30am and could not get back to sleep until 5am. Must be an effect of getting old. I've never had problems sleeping with jet lag before.

We must have been more tired than we thought. Since Cols closed the thick drapes last night, the room remained dark in the morning. So we did not really know that the sun was already up. We broke into a panic when Cols announced that it was already 11am! I had to immediately call the Reception to ask for a late checkout since we could not possibly get ready in such a short time. The Sutton Place people were very nice and gave us a 30 min extension.

The kids ate their take-out rice from last night and instant noodles at the room. I consumed my CAD 20 coupon at the hotel restaurant with a big club sandwich. The serving was pretty big so I could only eat half and took out the other half.

We left Sutton around 1pm and drove off to Whistler. A GPS is not really necessary as going to Whistler is very straightforward. I just looked at the city map to get an idea how to get out of the city. Once out, you just follow the signs through the Sea-to-Sky Highway all the way to Whistler. I drove at regular speed (80 ~ 100 kmph) and got to Whistler Village around 4pm -- just in time for our check-in at Adara Hotel.

The Adara is a small, 3-storey, boutique hotel in Village Green. Whistler Village is pretty small. So everything is just walking distance. We were booked at Room 220. The room came with a microwave oven and free Wifi Internet access. Actually, the Wifi provider is not really the hotel but Wireless in Whistler. So you can take out your laptop and connect to the access point even if you are far away from the hotel. The other SSID I could see was that of Basewireless which supposedly has a 100mbps fiber link to the Internet.

From Whistler

We walked around Whistler Village but it got dark early and activities are closed by this time. Ethan started complaining he was hungry by 5pm, so we had early dinner at the Japanese sushi-to-go take-out counter at the Visitor Center.

Our room aircon was very noisy. Everytime the thermostat kicks in, it hums really loudly. I actually preferred having the window just open but Cols could not sleep with the voice of people outside. At around 1am, everyone woke up and took some time to get back to sleep again.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Day 1: Visiting Vancouver

We left for the airport from Valle around 12:30pm together with the folks but in 2 separate cars. The traffic was light so we got to the airport will lots of time to spare. Went through several security checks. It was pretty cumbersome to put on and off my 16-year old Timberland hiking boots. These pair have seen better days. This is probably the last trip that it will take with my feet. I'm retiring it afterwards.

While waiting for our flight, we spotted Bob Arum (Manny Pacquiao's boxing promoter) and his wife. They are apparently taking the same flight PR 106 that we're taking. The plane flies first to Vancouver and then proceeds to Las Vegas. The flight departure was delayed by about an hour due to late arrival of the aircraft from Honolulu.

The actual flight was about 12-hrs. I sat with mom, while Cols sat with the kids at the first row of the cabin section. Ethan was restless most of the way, while eating airline food was a challenge for Caitlin. In-flight movie was Julia Robert's Eat Pray Love. The projector quality was so poor though that I was better off watching Leonardo DiCaprio's Inception (which I might add -- is very difficult to comprehend in one sitting) on the laptop before getting some shut-eye.

We arrived in Vancouver 12:50pm same day. Caitlin finds the international dateline thing very amusing. We arrived in our destination at an earlier time from when we left Manila. Vancouver Airport (YVR) is very nice and spacious. Makes one realize how pathetic our NAIA airports are (even T3) in comparison.

We split up with folks as they proceeded to the domestic terminal for their transfer to Winnipeg, while we went to the rental car parking. I booked for an standard SUV, but the Budget guy sales-talked me into getting a full-sized Ford SUV. He said that when it snows hard, the highway patrol do not allow 2-wheel drive vehicles to drive up to Whistler. Since that is the highlight of our Vancouver trip, I did not want to gamble. Wrong mistake. That doubled my budget after he added insurance, car seats, etc. to about USD700 for the 3 days. (In hindsight, I should have stuck with the much cheaper standard SUV. There really small cars going up and down the Sea-to-Sky Highway to Whistler!)

I didn't rent a GPS unit anymore and just followed my Yahoo Maps instruction to get us to Sutton Place in Burrard Street right in downtown Vancouver. After settling our stuffs down, we went looking for Walmart to get snow boots for the kids but ended up in the neighboring Superstore instead. Got the snow boots for about USD20. Stopped by a Chinese restaurant on the way home. The kids do not go for western food. Thankfully, there are so many Asians in Vancouver (supposedly a third of the population) that finding Chinese/Cantonese food was not a problem.

We reached back the hotel past 8pm. Everyone was dead tired and went to sleep.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Most Popular Car Colors

I read in a newspaper article today that according to paint manufacturer, DuPont, half of the world's cars are colored silver (26%) or black (24%). While there are slight variations in taste depending on the country, it normally does not deviate significantly from that global trend. Hmm... of our 3 cars, 2 are silver. So I guess our taste in car color is the same as the majority.

Enabling 3D Secure

I finally got around to enabling 3D Secure support on Mozcom PayEasy Online Payment System this afternoon. The "3D" has nothing to do with 3-dimension. Rather, it stands for "Three Domain" authentication. 3D Secure is an XML-over-SSL protocol that essentially allows the card-issuing bank to prompt the cardholder for a password during online payment instead of just relying on the easily-copied/viewable 3-digit CVV.

While there are not that many 3D Secure capable cards in the Philippines yet, that seems to be the global trend. And since our PayEasy merchants deal with customers from around the world, we have no choice but to support it. I heard in Europe, it is already a requirement for online merchants to comply.

Locally, enabling 3D Secure on your credit card can range from really simple to really frustrating. I enabled 3D Secure on my Standard Chartered today also. Its really straightforward. Just go to Standard Chartered Philippines and click on the Worry-Free Online Shopping link. It will just prompt your for basic info about your card (CVV, expiry date), your birthday, then the 3D Secure password you want, and an extra phrase that you want to be displayed in the 3D Secure page so you are sure its your bank's website. Really simple.

Now for the really frustrating -- Metrobank Card. At first glance, enabling 3D Secure on Metrobank credit cards also look trivial. Just go to their site and click the link to Secure Online Shopping (SOS). It will prompt you for your credit card number. When you click next, that's where the complexity begins. It prompts you for the SOS PIN which the bank is supposed to send to you via SMS.

I've already called Metrobank Card (Tel: 8700700) four (4) times for my SOS PIN in the past 2 weeks. Up to this date, I still have not received it. Everytime I call their call center, I would get some lame excuse (ex. system maintenance) and the phone operator would give some equally lame promise that I will receive it within the day. Up to now, nada, nil, zilch. Really poor service. Metrobank Card is a tie-up between Metrobank and ANZ of Australia/New Zealand. So its supposed to be at par with global standards. But my experience so far with them has been nothing but disappointing.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

drop.io Discontinued

Darn! My favorite file-uploading service Drop.io is shutting down its doors. I guess without a really good business model other than subscription-based service, it was bound to happen. Luckily for them, they were bought out at least by Facebook. So hopefully, the founders were able to get some money out of their brainchild.

http://blog.drop.io/2010/10/29/an-important-update-on-the-future-of-drop-io/

Friday, November 26, 2010

Globe SIM and Tattoo

Ok, this is probably pretty lame, but I previously thought Globe's Tattoo mobile broadband required a different SIM from the regular one -- a "broadband data-only SIM", if you will. When we bought our HP Mini 110 after the Typhoon Ondoy last year, it came with a free Globe Tattoo USB dongle and prepaid SIM. But when the free prepaid load ran out, I never bothered to reload it since I usually connect my Nokia phone directly to my notebook via USB cable (ie. tethered mode) and surf via 3G. Granted that it drains the phone battery quickly, but since I rarely surf via 3G, it was cost-effective.

Tonight, I decided to test out a theory that I've long suspected. I pulled out the SIM from my regular Globe Handyphone and plugged it into the USB dongle. Voila! It worked! I can surf and send SMS using the dongle-installed software. So I guess there is no difference after all between a Tattoo broadband SIM and a regular Handyphone SIM. So if I need to do long surfing and don't want to drain my phone battery, I guess I just have to take out the SIM and insert it into the Tattoo dongle.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Who Am I?

I had a meeting at PSBank building this morning. The lobby guard asked me for an ID. I left my new drivers license at my portfolio bag at the office. I realized that my "temporary" wallet (which is a really old wallet of mine) had practically no means of proving my identity. I had no company ID, no government-issued ID or anything that will identity me. If a real important situation arose, I could not really prove who I am since there are no government-sponsored biometrics program that would be able to identify me just through my physical characteristics. Our society is very reliant on old-style ID's (which are actually very easy to fake).

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Farewell Ma'am Beta

I got a call from HR this morning and received the sad news. Our chairperson (and Mozcom majority owner) Beta Gan passed away. Beta has been battling leukemia for over a year. She has put up a strong fight, and I have always admired her courage and strength in facing the disease. Even when she broke the news to me about her illness, her mind seemed very clear on what needs to be done. No panics or hysterics. While Beta did not really come from a technical background, I have always been amazed also at how easily she can grasp technical concepts. I have always relied on her to make the tough decisions especially when it comes to dealing with people, since admittedly, I'm not much of a people-person. She will be missed. Goodbye, BBG!

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Looong Day

I called my banks this morning to cancel my credit cards since I'm now sure my wallet is really gone. As fate would have it, I actually had to call the bank report-a-lost-card for real!

Then I went straight to the LTO Pasig office this morning to apply for a drivers license replacement. Of course, it follows that I had to drive there first without a license, he he. Luckily, no untoward incident happened along the way. A license replacement is much simpler than a renewal. No need to go through the drug tests, eye/vision exam, etc. You just need to file an affidavit, pay the fees; take a photo; and wait.

The wait was particularly long this morning though. I was there by 9am and I did not get my card until a little past noon. There were not that many people so I don't know what is the main cause of the delay.

The traffic coming home at night was horrendous. It rained and because of that, Metro Manila traffic just got unexplicably congested. It took me 3-hours to get from the office back home. In the meantime, Cols called saying her pain from the kidney stones were getting unbearable. I had to call Dr. Meguizo for some pain killers in the meantime and had the driver buy it since I'm stuck in White Plains. By the time I got home, the driver came back with the medicine and the relief was quite immediately.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

I Lost My Wallet!

Cols just had her shockwave treatment for kidney stones yesterday so she is still recovering from the pain. Since she was supposed to be the godmother in the baptism of Sharon's son, Jacob, I had to proxy for her at the church. Then lunch reception was held at the Valle Verde 1 clubhouse. I brought the kids with me to the party.

Later in the evening, Herman treated us for dinner at Lugang Cafe. Its the hot, new restaurant along Connecticut that has a very long queue all the time. Clarice supposedly had to make reservations 2 weeks in advance for us to eat here tonight. Since its very difficult to park along that street at night, I drove on quite a bit further until Ford Greenhills where I parked our Montero.

While walking halfway to the restaurant, I realized that I did not have my wallet in my back pocket. I did not feel like going back to the car to check if I left it there. Or if its not there, it must be at home. Anyway, I took the risk and drove us home afterwards without a license.

When we got home, I started checking around where I could have left my wallet -- from the usual side drawer, to the work area at the den, to the Altis which I drove earlier this morning to church. No luck. My wallet was nowhere to be found. Inside were 2 credit cards, drivers license, company ID, discount cards, and about P2.5k+ in cash. Bummer! This is the first time that I've ever lost a wallet in 40 years of existence!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Life Begins @ 40?

The day I've been dreading the whole year has finally arrived. Its my birthday today! And I guess it had to happen sooner or later -- I turned 40 today. :( Yeah, maybe some people are excited about reaching the milestone, but honestly, I feel kind of depressed about the whole "getting old" thing.

I rushed Cols to the Medical City ER this past Sunday night due to severe pain in the lower back. The ER doctor advised us to see a urologist because they suspect its kidney stones. So we went back to Medical City today to look for one under Medicard. When Cols called Medicard to get the list of accredited urologists in Medical City, surprise surprise, the name that came up was Dr. Donald Meguizo!

Donald's an old batchmate from Grace. I haven't really seen him since graduation and I probably wouldn't really have recognized him anymore if I met him randomly on the street. But it was good to see a familiar face. After exchanging some basic pleasantries, he confirmed the initial diagnosis from ER that Cols has kidney stones. We arranged to have the "shockwave" treatment done this weekend to get it over with.

We had a small dinner celebration tonight at our house. The folks and Cols' siblings came over to add to the merriment. Dad brought a lechon; we ordered some food at Conti's; then Cols did the rest!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Doctor Who Season 5

Just watched my first episode of Dr. Who Season 5 starring Matt Smith. I have to admit I had a lot of preconceived biases going into this season. The last three seasons with David Tennant really redefined The Doctor to the new generation of TV viewers. And for all intents and purposes, David Tennant was THE Doctor. He is a fantastic actor and is a very tough act to follow. But since they "killed" him at the last episode, he regenerated as the 11th doctor with Matt Smith playing the role.

Season 5 Episode 1 gave a good preview of what to expect for the rest of the season. And it does look exciting. Matt seems like a good fit for the role. His British accent is a bit stronger and harder to understand. But I guess that is part of The Doctor's charm.

Amy Pond, The Doctor's new companion played by Scottish actress Karen Gillan, is certainly a refreshing look compared to the previous season's Donna Noble. Some Dr. Who fans think she's the best looking companion so far. I'm not much a fan of redheads, I guess. I still vote for Season 3's Frema Agyeman as the best looking companion to date. :) But that doesn't take anything away from Karen who also dabbled in modeling and minor TV and movie roles.

Here's looking forward to watching the next 12 episodes.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Cols Birthday

Both our PLDT land line and Bayan DSL has been problematic the whole week. The telcos have sent their linemen and we have isolated the problem to be in our house wiring. I called our original electrician to come in today to troubleshoot and replace the wires. It turned out that the wires underneath the garage had lots of torn sections that was causing the problems. After we ran new wires and re-connected them, everything is finally back to normal.

We celebrated Cols' birthday at Gloria Maris Greenhills with the folks, Kenneth, Winston, Ilene & Charlson. After dinner we proceeded to have dessert at nearby Cara Mia.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Halloween 2010

As far as I can recall, we've always celebrated Halloween on the 31st at Valle Verde or LGV. But this year, for some strange reason, LGV decided to hold it on the 30th (Saturday). The kids have been looking forward to this day. Ethan was wearing his Thomas the Tank Engine costume which he "inherited" from his cousin William. Caitlin was dressed as a purple cowgirl. Cols was a witch, and I wore my old pirate costume (hey! I only wore it once before on Ethan's 1st birthday).

From Halloween 2010

Trick-or-treating started at 3:30pm. I drove the kids with their yayas around the village to get candies, while Cols stayed home to give away candies. We got back home around 5pm. Everyone was tired but happy.

How Many Internet Users In The Philippines?

Exactly how many Internet users are there in the Philippines? As of June 2010, the figure is pegged at 29.7 million, or around 30% of the estimated population of 100 million Filipinos as per Nielsen.

Smart claims that 8.3 million of that figure use the Internet through its nationwide wireless broadband and cellular network. Smart Broadband serves 1.3 million through its wireless broadband service (Wimax, fixed wireless, SmartBro), while the 7 million surf the Internet through their Smart mobile phone.

Friday, October 29, 2010

3G Invades Mount Everest

Ever since Mozcom sponsored the First Philippine Mount Everest Expedition (FPMEE), I've developed a personal interest in Mount Everest. Climbers before had to invest on costly satellite phones to know what's going on. But no more -- Nepali mobile network operator Ncell has installed the first 3G base station at the summit!

With the new cell site, one can now do 3G Video calls and mobile Internet from the summit. Somehow, I can't help but feel that it has somehow diminished the mystique of reaching the summit.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

How to Rename Tables in Firebird

I've encountered several instances in the past wherein I needed to rename a table in Firebird/Interbase. Since there seem to be no direct SQL command to do this, I would normally go through the roundabout solution of:
  1. creating a new table with a temporary name;
  2. populating it with data via INSERT from a SELECT of the old table;
  3. dropping the old table;
  4. creating a new table with the desired name;
  5. populating it with the data from the temporary table (step #2 above)
  6. dropping the temporary table
Its a very tedious process. I recently came across a solution that modifies the system tables directly to achieve the same result in 2 commands:

UPDATE RDB$RELATIONS SET RDB$RELATION_NAME='NEWNAME' where
RDB$RELATION_NAME='OLDNAME';

UPDATE RDB$RELATION_FIELDS SET RDB$RELATION_NAME='NEWNAME' where
RDB$RELATION_NAME='OLDNAME' and RDB$SYSTEM_FLAG=0;

That's all there is to it!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Crystal Jade @ V-Mall

We decided to try out the much talked-about new restaurant in Greenhills Shopping Center -- Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao in V-Mall (formerly known as Virra Mall for us who used to frequent the place back in the 80's). I'm not really sure if Crystal Jade is originally from Hong Kong or from Singapore. But in any case, it has a long list of awards and recognition listed on its wall from both Hong Kong and Singapore food authorities. As the name implies, the house specialties are La Mian (hand-pulled noodles) and Xiao Long Bao (those small dimsum meat dumplings).

Judging by the long line queueing outside, either its really that good or everyone is just as curious as us to find out if its worth all the fuss. We got there at around 12 noon (today is Sunday). Our queue number is 21 for the 5-seater table (they maintain different queues for different party size). This was obviously going to be a long wait so I sat at the monoblock chairs they prepared outside while Cols and the kids went shopping around V-Mall first.

After almost exactly one hour, it was finally our turn. Of course, we ordered the house specialties, and also their fried rice, sweet and sour chicken, and beef with mushroom. The verdict -- mmm... ok, the xiao long bao were pretty good. With other regular dimsum place, xiao long bao tastes more like siomai. Here, when you bite into them, the juice just bursts out with flavor. Caitlin also seemed to enjoy her la main noodles. But for the rest (the chicken, beef and yang chao fried rice), I would say they were nothing special.

I think the place is worth trying if you like dimsum. The big question is -- is it worth a one hour wait? Caitlin would probably be just as happy at Luk Yuen when it comes to noodles. :P

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Increasing One's Visibility in Facebook

If traditional websites use search engine optimization (SEO) techniques to increase their visibility to search engines like Google, Facebook users (including businesses who use it as a primary means of attracting a social network following) can also perform some techniques to increase their visibility among their friends.

When one makes a posts on Facebook, not all your "friends" will actually get to see it. If Facebook were to do that, you would drown with too many messages if each of your "friend" were to make even just 1 post a day. Instead, Facebook uses some undisclosed filtering algorithm to determine who gets to see your post. Simply making a lot of posts does not seem to be very effective in increasing one's popularity. Facebook seems to rank your relevancy to your friends based largely on their interaction with your page.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Interview on Mozcom NetSecure RFID @ ANC News Channel

We received an unsolicited invitation via fax from ANC's (ABS-CBN News Channel) segment writers this past Monday if we wanted to be featured in an ANC episode focusing on RFID technology today (Oct 20, 2010). It was too good an opportunity to pass up since ANC has nationwide coverage and it was free advertising for Mozcom. So I agreed to be the representative. They learned about us through the Mozcom Store. I have not really done any search engine optimization (SEO) work on that site, but it seems to be getting good hits on the keywords RFID and Biometrics, for some reason.

I asked our tech guys to prepare a notebook for me with NetSecure configured to work with our GP30 RFID reader. The usual Lenovo that I borrow from them has a problem so they lent me their Compaq notebook. When I tested it, it seems that the startup time is pretty long. So I figured it would be best to boot it up; run NetSecure; then just put it in suspended mode. That way, when I open it at the studio, its ready to go.

Well, when I tested it, I found out that the suspend mode does not work. Normally, if you close the notebook's screen/lid while its running, Windows will just send it to sleep. While it did send the notebook to sleep, I couldn't "wake" it back up. I can see the LED indicators on the notebook on, but the screen is completely black. No button can seem to get it back on. I had to remove the battery just to reset it.

At this point, it looks like I have to boot-up the notebook and run NetSecure prior to my interview segment. Since the show is shot and aired live, there is no room for error or a slow boot-up. The TV viewers simply cannot wait for this notebook to get ready for the demo. So I made sure the Compaq was fully charged before heading to ABS-CBN.

The call time at Studio 6 in ABS-CBN was at 6:40pm. Since I was not too familiar with the area and traffic can be unpredictable, we left the house at 5:30pm. I got to the studio by a little past 6pm. There was plenty of time to kill. There was a small dressing room outside Studio 6 where the guests hang-out and get their make-up done. The make-up artist told me it was still too early to put on my make-up and she asked me to walk around first so I don't get bored. Aside from myself, the other interviewees included a guy from LTO Stradcom, a guy from DENR, and another guy selling alcohol-level breath analyzers.

Off I went walking around the corridors hoping to get a glimpse of some tv/movie personalities. The closest I got was TV newscasters Ginger Conijeros and model/entertainment newscaster Phoemela Barranda (who was seated a mere 2 feet away from me) who got their make-up done at the same dressing room we were in. (The DENR guy was asking me who they were and if they are movie stars. Duuhhh...) Ginger seemed nicer and friendlier between the two. Although neither of them talked to any of us guests (we're not worthy of their star presence), Ginger bid us good luck on our interview on her way out.

At around 6:45pm, things started moving quickly. We got a little make-up and ushered into Studio 6. The room was freezing! The crew said it is really like that because of the studio lights. They need to crank up the airconditioning to compensate for the heat generated by the lights.

The show starts at 7pm. It is anchored by TV newsman Tony Velasquez. The Stradcom guy was up first. His interview is expected to be about 15 mins. So while he was being interviewed, I already booted up the Compaq to make sure its running. I also prepared and powered the GP30 RFID reader and hid it behind the LCD panel in front of the interview area so I can quickly pull it out and connect to the notebook when its my turn.

As fate would have it, when the Stradcom guy was down to his last 3 mins or so, the darn notebook started flashing a low battery warning and told me to plug it to regular power asap! From the time I booted it up to now, I think it has only barely been 30 mins. A regular notebook battery should last at least 2 to 3 hours if the computer is not doing anything intensive. Something was wrong with this unit's battery. If it died, I wouldn't have time to plug it to regular power and wait for it to boot up again for my turn.

When the Stradcom guy's interview was over, the crew told me I have exactly 2 mins to setup. At that time, they ran some video/voice-over on-screen for the televiewers. I quickly plugged the notebook to a power outlet hidden behind the LCD TV; connected the RFID reader; did a quick test. Phew! It worked! What happened next can be watched at the YouTube video below:


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Automobile Accidents in our Neighborhood

There has been a spate of car accidents in our subdivisions this past week. In the early morning of Oct 13, a Subaru Forester and a Honda Civic drove straight to the corner wall of a house just about 1 block away from our house. Reports said the cars were driven by teenagers and that they were apparently having a race (and most likely drunk too).

As you can see from the picture, the crash on the Subaru was quite major. I can't figure out how its wheel got completely detached. I don't know if this car can still be salvaged. Its a brand new unit too from the looks of it. I wonder if insurance companies cover acts of stupidity.


Here's another view of the car. Luckily no resident was hurt. Hope these kids get grounded for life by their parents.



Then today, on my way to church, I saw another car with a major accident. This time, it hit a post. The windshield completely smashed too. This incident was about the same distance from our house as the Oct 13 one, but in the opposite direction. Hmmm...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

BPI Corporate Internet Banking Facility

I opened a corporate account with BPI for use with Dragonpay. BPI's corporate Internet banking access is called BPI Express Link (www.bpiexpresslink.com), as opposed to, their consumer Internet banking service called BPI Express Online (www.bpiexpressonline.com).

To avail of Expresslink, BPI used to require their corporate clients to maintain an average daily balance of P500k. This is really steep considering the other big banks like BDO and Metrobank give it for free with any corporate checking/savings account at minimum balance. But I think BPI has recently softened up a bit and has lowered it to P250k. I was able to get read-only/inquiry access by maintaining a P100k minimum ADB.

BPI Expresslink is one of the barest corporate Internet banking I've ever seen. I can't imagine why anyone would charge P100k for this, much more P500k. Metrobankdirect Corporate Banking is a whole lot more sophisticated and better looking. BDO Corporate Internet Banking is, well, functional. Its not pretty, but it works. :P

BPI Expresslink is very specific to Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE). Since I've been using Google Chrome predominantly for months now, there are some features that do not work well with me:
  1. The top main menu bar is not visible with Chrome. You only see this thin red line. I thought it was just a separator bar. Turns out that its supposed to be the main menu bar when viewed in IE. It holds the "Logout" button. So for the first few days when I was just using Chrome, I thought there was no way to logout the system.
  2. When viewing the account statement, Expresslink dumps some sort of fixed-length text file with beginning and ending tags which you have to figure out how to decrypt. At first, I thought you needed to download some special program just to make heads and tails of what it is supposed to show. As it turns out, if you use IE, it renders properly. I suppose it must be using some IE-specific Javascript or XML transform to render it on-screen.
Expresslink also has the strangest way of displaying the running balance. Whereas the conventional way is to display it like a passbook line entry wherein the latest entry appears at the last and shows the transaction amount and the ending running balance, Expresslink displays your daily transaction in reverse chronological order (from newest to oldest), and recomputes the running balance starting from newest transaction of the day to the oldest. So the ending balance is not with the latest transaction, but with the first. Very illogical.

But because the site is so bare, I have to admit that its quite spiffy. Unlike RCBC AccessOne or Unionbank's Internet banking which is very sluggish, Expresslink responds very quickly with not much bells and whistles.

EastWest Bank's Maintenance Fee

For the past two months, EastWest Bank has been charging me a "maintenance fee" for supposedly falling below their minimum balance for corporate savings which is PHP20,000. The strange thing is -- I never go below their minimum. They cannot give any explanation either other than the sheepish "its system-generated" excuse. The branch manager is not of much help either as he cannot come up with any logical explanation as to why this keeps happening.

They are nice enough to always reverse the charges, but up to how long will this go on? I'm expecting another argument again at the end of this month.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Errand Boys for Hire

Interesting business concept -- http://www.errand-boys.com. I've been seeing their tarpaulin/billboard along C5, just right before you make a turn to Kalayaan. They basically provide people to do anything you want at a rate of P1.00/minute(?).

Their website looks awful though. Considering they seem to have spent quite a bit on PR to get their business featured in several TV shows, they could have at least spent a bit on their website too. :P

Friday, October 8, 2010

First SEAIR Experience

I had my first experience riding a SEAIR flight today. The family took a weekend vacation at Boracay and we took SEAIR straight to Caticlan Airport. We normally go through Kalibo but the extra land trip is just too tiring and a major waste of time. A direct flight to Caticlan sounded more enticing.

We got to the airport before 2pm for our 3pm flight. The flight was delayed by 25 mins due to late arrival of aircraft. Hmm... why is it that when I ride an airline for the first time, its always delayed? We were all a bit anxious as it is Cols' and the kids' first time to ride a small plane. The SEAIR Dornier aircraft had a capacity of about 30 passengers only.



The seat layout is 2 on one side and 1 on the other side, for a total of 3 seats per row with an aisle in-between. Cols and Ethan sat on Row 4, while Caitlin and I were on Row 5. It was very warm inside the plane as they apparently do not turn on the air-conditioner until the engine has revved up and is ready to fly (Cebu Pacific's propeller-based planes are also supposed to be that way). As the plane taxied on the runway, it creaked here and there while Caitlin kept asking where the sound was coming from.

Since it was a small plane, we only had one flight attendant. I have to say, she did a good job multi-tasking because not only did she have to do the airline safety demonstration, she also had to do the commentary on the PA system. Since she did not have a headset, that meant she had to talk on the handset first; put it down; do the demo; pick-up the handset again and explain. I guess a solo dancing flight attendant performance was too much to ask! Har har.

After the quick take-off, we were flying at fairly low altitude -- at least compared to jet-based airlines. This had the added advantage of getting to see the view closer to the ground. For example, we could clearly see Taal Volcano and its crater lake as we passed through Southern Luzon going towards Visayas. As the sun shone through the window, Caitlin noted the absence of windows shades. She's right -- the windows do not have those pull-down shades. Hmmm... the seats (especially the arm rests) could also use a little bit of refurbishing as I'm sure they have seen much better days.

The actual flight from Manila to Caticlan took about 35 to 40 mins. As advertised, it is supposed to be the fastest flight to Caticlan by a commercial airline. Overall, the flight was good. We arrived safely. We even had in-flight snacks (okay, so it was just water and peanuts, but that's a lot better than getting nothing from Cebu Pacific).


Overall, I would recommend SEAIR to other passengers. Visit their Facebook site at http://www.facebook.com/flyseair.

Discovery Shores 2010

This is our second time to stay at Discovery Shores Boracay. As before, the accommodation and facilities are superb. The staff is very well trained and courteous. It never ceases to amaze me how to seem to know all the guests by name and face considering they don't seem to ask.

The food wasn't that great. We had Chicken Alfredo for dinner at the Indigo bar/restaurant, and it was just plain awful.

The resort offers free WiFi access. That's a welcome service since most hotels seem to want to make money out of it. I think it should really be part of the basic amenites. The signal is a bit weak at our room, but I was able to test OpenVPN on my HP Netbook and ran pcAnywhere to remote control my server at Mozcom's data center. It was my first time to actually test this configuration and I was surprised it worked pretty well!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Simpler Way of Converting and Uploading Videos from Canon to YouTube

I recently uploaded a video of the kids using our Canon Powershot SX210 as the video camera. Since Canon uses the Quicktime format, I had to do several steps to downsize it from its huge HD format into something that will load easily to YouTube using Microsoft Expressions. This involved several steps as described in my previous blog post.

Then I came across a free software that pretty much does the whole works at much fewer steps. Check out the Freemake Video Converter. It allows you to convert between video formats, while changing resolution at the same time. It even comes with a button that will let you directly upload the video to YouTube at a click of a button (no need to open your browser and go to YouTube).

Freemake even allows you to edit your video (ex. cut out un-needed portions) prior to conversion or upload. Very versatile. And to top it all off, its completely free software. Below is a video from Ethan's birthday using the same camera and Freemake to convert and upload it to YouTube.


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Japanese Eat-All-You-Can @ Libis

We treated out my folks tonight at the new Japanese eat-all-you-can + smokeless grill along C5 in front of Eastwood City called Bono Yaki. Its similar in concept to the wildly popular Yaki Mix, except its about P100 cheaper per head. :) For a peak Saturday night dinner, we were charged about P550++/head. The kids did not really eat much, but they still charged us P350 for Caitlin (Ethan was free).

The food was ok. Not really fantastic. The sushi and sashimi selection was very restricted. The tempura shrimps are nothing to write home about. I thought Saisaki's ebi tempura's are even better. The food is a mix of Japanese, Korean (Jap Chae) and Chinese (sweet and sour pork).

The total bill came out to more than P3,000 for 5 adults and 2 kids. Its a bit expensive if you are not really a big eater. If you're into Japanese buffets, I guess you can give it a try, but I wouldn't really give it a two-thumbs-up recommendation.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Ethan's 4th Birthday Party

From Ethan's 4th Birthday

We held a party at our house to celebrate Ethan's 4th birthday. Only immediate family was invited so it wasn't really a big gathering. Of course, the birthday cake had to be a special, customized Thomas and Friends cake since that has always been his favorite cartoon character. Ethan finally got to open his Tidmouth Sheds from Alvin. He's been excited about it for weeks.

This is the first time I've really used the Canon flash that I got from my brother-in-law, Leslie. He left it with me when they came home this summer, but I haven't really had a chance to use it as we haven't really had any evening event before this. I had a field day using the flash and bouncing it off the ceiling. The result is definitely way much better than using the built-in flash of the EOS400D that shoots direct to the subject's face.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Latest YouTube Sensations!

Cols recently bought a point-and-click Canon Powershot SX210IS digital camera. Among its many DSLR-like features, it has the ability to record high-definition (HD) video @ 720 lines. Its not really Full HD (1080), but 720 is pretty high already.

I shot Caitlin and Ethan singing Justin Bieber's song, Baby. Its a 3-minute-plus video. But at HD recording rate, that translates to more than a whopping 600MB+ in file size! To upload it to YouTube, I have to reduce the file significantly. I normally use the freely downloadable Microsoft Windows Media Encoder. There is just one problem in this case -- Canon records in Quicktime .MOV format and Windows Media Encoder does not support that format.

Media Encoder is actually a very old software. The latest equivalent software is the Microsoft Expression Encoder 4.0. Its also available from Microsoft as a free download. It requires .NET Framework 4.0 and Windows XP SP3 or better.

Expression Encoder is not as simple to use as Media Encoder. With Media Encoder, you use a wizard which leads you through a series of dialog windows to accomplish your task. With Expression Encoder, the plethora of options available on screen is daunting. It took me quite some time to figure out what I needed to do.

But I was able to finally reduce my video into 10mb -- by using only 12 frames-per-sec, reduced frame size, mono audio and much lower sampling rate. The result can be seen below. Go kids!


Sunday, September 12, 2010

Not-so-sizzling Pepper Steak

Had lunch with Cols at Sizzling Pepper Steak along Katipunan. This is my second time to have lunch there. I wasn't too happy with my meal today. The rice that they served on the sizzling plate was regular, plain rice. It was not even "pepper rice". Service was a bit slow. There were only two people serving -- one was doubling as the cashier and the other seem to be doubling as a kitchen crew. The serving was pretty big though -- lots of rice. Couldn't finished it so I had it doggy-bagged for breakfast tomorrow.

I think Pepper Lunch at Rockwell Power Plant is way much better. Its a bit more expensive compared to Sizzling Pepper Steak. Sizzling Pepper Steak is part of the Pancake House group. Pepper Lunch is part of an international franchise.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Request.Redirect vs. Server.Transfer in ASP.NET

Which is "better" -- Request.Redirect or Server.Transfer? Both provide similar functionality, which is to send the viewer/browser to another webpage. But they way they achieve the task is slightly different. With Request.Redirect, the server basically goes back and tell the browser to go to a different page instead. With Server.Transfer, the server just returns a different page without notifying the browser. So the browser is not any wiser that it has already been sent to a different page. The url in its navigation bar stays the same (which is that of the original url visited).

Performance-wise, there is a difference. Because Request.Redirect is a request to the browser to go to another page, it involves an extra roundtrip. Depending on how fast or slow your Internet connection is, this extra trip can add a pause of a second or two while the browser fetch the new page. With Server.Transfer, the redirected page appears immediately in lieu of the originally requested page.

I have to admit, I'm beginning to be a bit of a fan of Server.Transfer. But most programmers don't seem to like it based on other blog posts. They say that its an old API that should not be used anymore. One of its disadvantages is that it will not allow the user/browser to bookmark a page since it does not know the actual url of the redirected page.

With .NET, passing parameters from one webpage to another using Server.Transfer requires the use of the Context objects. With Request.Redirect, the practice is to just use the more common Session object. Truth be told, I really don't understand what is the difference between those two object types. PayEasy uses a combination of both.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

BPI Call Center IVR

I've been having a hard time accessing BPI Express Online. When I click on the Personal Login link that will take me to the BPI Express Online login page, it keeps giving me this error message instead:

BPI Express Online has detected a response delay in your access request. You may try again later.

According to the same page, possible reasons are:
  1. A network problem has been encountered causing the slowdown in the transmission of request and/or reply of BPI Expressonline.
  2. BPI Expressonline facility is receiving huge transaction requests.
  3. The network where you are located has installed a firewall parameter which limits your access to send and/or receive requests to/from BPI Expressonline.
I encounter the same problem at home using a Bayan DSL and at the office using Mozcom's various links. So I decided to call up the BPI Call Center number listed there for assistance.

I blogged a couple of months ago about Citibank's phone system's Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS) that takes you nowhere. Surprise, surprise -- BPI is another culprit. I kept going around in circles trying to figure out where to get help for BPI Express Online. Its simply not anywhere in the menu. If you choose "others", it will eventually take you to a submenu where there's really no other option that fits anything.

So just like with Citibank before, I went for the tried-and-tested "report-a-lost-card". That is always guaranteed to land you with a live operator. Sure enough, it did. Unlike with Citibank where the operator was still willing and able to assist me even though I was not reporting a lost card, the BPI operator insisted that she should transfer me to the concerned person. I told her that their IVR has no option related to ExpressOnline. So she gave me a tip -- when you dial the BPI Hotline (89-100), just hit "000" (that's 3 zeroes) the moment you hear the IVR starts talking. That will take you straight to a human operator!

Anyway, going back to my problem, the operator was pretty vague. She asked me standard questions like what browser I was using, etc. I can tell that she was just reading it off from her checklist. At the end, she gave me a reference number and ask me to call back in 3 days for a result in their investigation as other customers are apparently experiencing the same problem.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Aftermath of the Hostage Crisis @ Quirino Grandstand

Three (3) days have passed since that fateful night when 8 HK tourists were killed during a hostage-taking event by an ex-cop who was axed due to extortion charges. Fingers are pointing everywhere as who is to be blamed. I sympathize with the family and the HK people over the obvious bungling of the Philippine National Police SWAT (Sorry Wala Akong Training) team.

Anyway, several hostage situation experts have voiced their opinion on what went wrong. There was one guy from UK's Scotland Yard who gave his comments at today's Inquirer. Some of them made sense -- ex. there were several instances when a sniper could have taken Mendoza out; or when a negotiator could have disarmed him since they were very close; etc.

But one comment from him stood out particularly for me because it sounded so logical. He basically said -- why didn't the government just agree to his demands? After all, it wasn't as if the guy was asking money to be wired to a Swiss bank account and to be provided with a fully-fueled, getaway jet plane. He was just asking to be reinstated to the police force. So why didn't the police just agree to reinstate him, then on the next day, imprison him for hostage-taking. Its not as if anyone will expect them to hold onto their word since any promise given under force or coercion is invalid and is most probably not legally binding anyway.

Wouldn't that have ended everything peacefully if they did?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Spartacus Blood and Sand Fantastic Season Finale

Just finished watching the 13th and final episode of the first season of Spartacus Blood and Sand, and wow! What a first season it was! The series is produced by Starz network and plays mainly in cable channels because of its very graphic violence and tons of nudity in every episode. The production is like a cross between Ridley Scott's Gladiator and Frank Miller's 300.

I first heard about Spartacus Blood and Sand from an article by Philippine Star columnist Scott Garceau. The review was not very flattering but it made me curious enough to try it out for a few episodes. Then I got hooked! A more detailed plot summary can be found here.

The cast is just perfect. Little known Australian actor, Andy Whitfield, plays the lead role of Spartacus. John Hannah, from The Mummy, plays Batiatus, the owner of the ludus or the gladiator training school where the whole story takes place. His insatiable thirst for power and political office is complemented by his equally power-hungry wife, Lucretia, played by New Zealand superstar Lucy Lawless of Xena: Warrior Princess fame. Manu Bennett, as the Gaul gladiator, Crixus, was perfect. The tension between him and Spartacus from the start up to the end; culminating to them joining forces was a bit expected, but provided the perfect ending.

A little trivia -- it seems that the series, as broadcasted in New Zealand, does not show any nude scenes of Lucy Lawless. They edited it all out. Actually, Spartacus is being shown on HBO already. I've never watched it on HBO though so I don't know how they managed to edit out all the nude scenes as there are just too many of them.

Unlike the other TV series I've followed, Flash Forward, Heroes, and Sarah Connor Chronicles, this one actually finished the season nicely. Even if they completed decide to not do a Season 2, the closure is already perfect. There are no plot lines left hanging. Season 2 should be a completely new storyline already.

Really looking forward to Season 2. According to news, the filming of Season 2 was delayed due to Andy Whitfield's health condition. During that time, Starz decided to do a 6-episode prequel. That should be great too!

How to Undo a Sent Email with Gmail

Accidentally sent an email via GMail? Not to worry -- you can "un-send" it. Well, that is, if you enabled the unsend feature through one of the Google Labs features. There's really no magic to it. What GMail does is basically just delay the sending of your email if this feature is set. You can set the delay to 10 secs, 30 secs, etc.; whatever you think is a reasonable time for you to react if you want to take back what you just sent.

I love GMail and I think its one of the most powerful email program out there. But I was surprised by this article that shows Hotmail has more than double the number of users. I guess it is mainly first mover advantage since Hotmail has been around much longer. But still, its surprising to know that those users have not moved to another free email provider since.

Even more surprising with that same article is that Skype has 590 million users -- that's 90 million users more than Facebook. I previously thought that Facebook was already the 900 lb gorilla, but Skype actually has more subscribers? How can that be? Not that many people use VoIP vs. Facebook. Maybe they count the Skype licenses used on hardphones?



Friday, August 20, 2010

Sending Email to Undisclosed Recipient List with GMail

I've always wondered how one sends email to multiple recipients in Gmail while keeping the "To:" address list as "undisclosed". I would normally put some generic email address on the "To:" box (ex. myself, or some info@xxxxx address) just to keep it filled, then put the real recipients on the "Bcc:" list so that they do not appear to each other.

As it turns out, the "To:" address in GMail is optional. It does not really have to be filled-in. So to send to a list of undisclosed recipients, just put all the addresses on the "Bcc:" box and keep the "To:" box empty! It works and does not prompt an error about having an empty "To:" box.

Globe DUO All-in-One Mobile and Landline

I activated my Globe Duo (combo mobile and landline on a single phone) today by texting DUO MM ON to 8888. Even though the mobile phone companies basically just copy each other's Value Added Services (VAS) and giving it a different name, it is interesting to note that neither Smart nor Sun seem to have done anything similar to Duo.

The concept of Duo is simple -- you have one Globe SIM with two numbers associated to it: the usual mobile number, plus a landline number. When you place outgoing calls to a landline, it automatically selects your landline number so that it becomes an unmetered, local landline-to-landlne call. When you call a mobile number, it automatically selects your mobile number as the call originator so that its treated as a mobile-to-mobile call. And people can call your phone whether they dial your mobile number or your landline number.

Globe charges postpaid subscribers P399 per 30 days for the service. There is a minimum lock-in period of 3 months from the time the service is activated. After that, you are free to deactivate it anytime.

P399 per month is actually not cheap. In comparison, I'm only paying P250 per month for my PLDT wireless landline. But the reason why I prefer Duo is because it does not require a separate phone. As it is, I already have 2 mobile phones -- 1 Globe and 1 Smart. Adding a 3rd phone for a PLDT landline is a bit too inconvenient already. Besides, I availed of a P250 per month discount with Globe for the next 24 months as part of their retention program. So the net addition to my subscription is only P149.

As a little bonus, I received a pretty good number as my landline number -- 9xx-1111. It almost looks like a vanity number, but its not. I just got it by pure randomness. I did not pay any extra to get assigned that number.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Bad Experience Opening an Account with EastWest Bank

I went to the Katipunan Branch of EastWest Bank this Monday to open a corporate bank account for Dragonpay Online Payments. I got there at around 2pm and there was only one lady at the customer service counter and one teller. The Katipunan branch is actually in White Plains already, and not in the Ateneo area of Katipunan.

The customer service lady told me that EastWest has this zoning policy which basically says that a branch can only accommodate account openings for individuals or companies whose registered address is in the geographical vicinity of the branch. Since Dragonpay is officially registered as a Makati company, she said that she cannot open an account for me at Katipunan. She added that she will have to consult with her branch manager (who was not there) if she can open an account for me since my residence is closer to this branch.

To save myself the trouble of dragging Cols again to the branch to sign documents, the lady agreed to let me take home the signature cards and other application forms. Then once she gets confirmation from the branch manager that its ok to proceed, all I have to do is drop-off the signed documents.

The next day (Tuesday), I called the branch for an update on the approval. The lady said she did not have it yet but promised to call me within the day. The day passed; no call. The next day (Wednesday), I called the branch again and looked for the same lady. Again, she promised to get back to me within the day for an update. The day passed again with no call from her. Very poor customer service!

Thursday came and it was Quezon City Day, so the branch was closed; not that I was actually expecting them to call. I decided to just bring the signed application forms and signature cards to the PBCom branch of EastWest along Ayala Avenue. Since the docs were already signed, Cols did not have to go with me anymore.

The two guys manning the customer service also seemed totally clueless when it came to opening corporate accounts. They were obviously greenhorns and had to ask for help from other officers with almost everything that I inquired about. They were actually more pre-occupied entertaining the guy deployed by their IT department to fix the PC's there, than to entertain clients. One can really see the difference between big banks like BDO, BPI, Metrobank and these smaller/mid-size banks when it comes to training their personnel and providing decent customer service.

After about 30 mins, I finally got an account opened. I can't believe it actually took me four (4) days just to open an account with EastWest. Contrast that with my experience with BDO, Unionbank and Metrobank where account opening takes less than half-an-hour from the time you enter their doors.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Linking Facebook Messages to Twitter

Maintaining too many social network sites? The Facebook / Twitter integration makes it much simpler. You just need to post messages on your Facebook wall, and Facebook takes care of re-posting it to your Twitter page. The steps are very simple and straightforward:
  1. Login to your Facebook account.
  2. Open a new window or tab and login to the Twitter account that you want to post to.
  3. From the Facebook window / tab, go to http://www.facebook.com/twitter
  4. Just pick the Facebook page you want to Tweet and click the link button
That's all there is to it. My Dragonpay Online Payment Facebook Page is now sending tweets to my Dragonpay Twitter page.

Getting a Vanity Name for my Facebook Page

Ever wondered how some sites get to have a short Facebook URL like http://www.facebook.com/mysite while others have very long hard-to-remember names like http://www.facebook.com/pages/Dragonpay/150520031629713? Well, it seems that in order to request for a personalized name, you have to accumulate at least 25 "fans". Once you have achieved that, then go to http://www.facebook.com/username and check the availability of your desired name.

For me, I have registered my personal vanity name. So my personal Facebook page is now:


But, of course, I really couldn't care less about having a personal Facebook page for myself. My goal in this whole exercise is to get a vanity name for Dragonpay's Facebook Page which I've been experimenting with for the past few days.

Now, I've finally accumulated 30 "fans" (thanks in large part to my previous postings at the Facebook Developers Forum), so I was able to acquire (tada!):


So typing my original URL now redirects to this shorter URL.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Integrating Facebook Like Button with Open Graph Protocol

I've been stumped for the past couple of days trying to figure out the Facebook Open Graph Protocol. I think I've finally figured it out today. To summarize, I have an external website based on Wordpress:


I created a Facebook Page manually using my account:


My objective was to put a Like Button (or Like Box) at my external site, which when clicked, makes the "clicker" my Facebook page's "fan".

Just like several people in the Facebook Developers Forum, I was getting that weird og:type=link error on both the Like Button and the Like Box. Sure enough, if you view the html source of the Facebook page above, you will see a meta tag for og:type=link. There seems to be no way to edit the meta tags in the Facebook page.

What I did next was to create a Like Button for my external site using the Facebook Like Button generator. As explained by another forum member, this generator seems to be intended for external websites. So I put in all the necessary meta tags on my external site (you can do a view html source of www.dragonpay.ph to see the tags I inserted in my Wordpress header.php). As expected, the "Like Button" works fine for my external website.

But wait -- this was not what I intended originally. I wanted the user to "like" my Facebook Page, not my external site. Now here's the twist that I discovered. When you ask Facebook to like your external site, it actually creates another Facebook Page for your site on-the-fly. In my case, it created the page as:


Notice that this is a completely different URL from the one I manually created above. And more interestingly, if you do a view html source of this new page, it actually has an og:type=website!

So I quickly went to the "Like Box" generator and typed in the Facebook page id of 150520031629713. And guess what -- the "Like Box" now works perfectly fine as well.

So, to summarize my findings, it seems that you cannot use the "Like Button/Box" generator and link it to a Facebook Page that you created manually. It seems that you have to let Facebook create the page for you on-the-fly by first putting the necessary open graph meta tags on your external site, then wait for Facebook to scrape it. This page that it creates on-the-fly will have the correct open graph meta tags that will work with the "Like Button/Box".

Now the only problem which I cannot answer is -- what if the original Facebook Page that you have already has a significant number of followers? How do you now switch them over to the on-the-fly version? In my case, its not a big deal since my original Facebook Page only had about 20 followers. So I'll just kindly ask them to re-click my "Like Button/Box" so that they become followers of the new page.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Video-based CAPTCHA's

CAPTCHA is an acronym for “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart”. These are often used by sites to prevents bots or web crawlers from filling up forms often with the intention of posting unwanted text, or to break passwords by doing brute-force matching. The general idea is the image or pattern is something that can be discerned by a human but is very difficult to understand for a machine. But the images are often so warped that even humans will have a hard time understanding them. I know I've encountered several of those myself.

A company called NuCAPTCHA is introducing a video-based method that is supposed to make it even more difficult for machines to read the message, but is very clear to a human. It uses Flash video, so forget the Apple products (iPhone, iPad, etc.) which do not support Flash. There's a whole bunch of API's available at the site which can be used to integrate across a broad range of platforms include a Wordpress plug-in.

Hmmm... maybe I should consider embedding this into Dragonpay for online payment authentication.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Accessing Multiple GMail Accounts Simultaneously

Here's a really amazing new feature from Google -- you can now open 2 GMail accounts at the same time on two different browser tabs/sessions! Previously, if you login using a different account, it will logout your other account first.

I have multiple GMail accounts: one for personal, another one for ThePictureShop, and another one for Dragonpay Online Payment System. Its very tedious having to logout/login to switch from one account to another, so I end up just forwarding everything to my main personal account and answering my email from there. The problem with doing it this way is the reply-to address is my personal email.

By enabling the Multiple Accounts option in your Google Accounts page, switching from one account to another becomes very easy. You just pick the account you want from the dropdown list at the upper right corner.

The system is not available for all Google services as of now. Picasa and Blogger will only work with the main login account. But that's fine with me. I really just need the multiple login capability on GMail anyway.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Globe Telecom 1H2010 Revenue Down by 30%

Globe Telecom announced today that their 1st half 2010 revenue is down by 30% compared to last year mainly due to the maturing mobile market. Even though total voice and txt usage increased, revenue went down because of the various bucket and unlimited pricing promos.

Here are some interesting stats that they revealed in their announcement:
  1. Globe generated a 50% increase in text messaging volume and 100% in voice minutes in 1st half of 2010.
  2. About 90% of text messages sent via the Globe network are on unlimited and bucket pricing promos, while only 10% are on the regular service
  3. For voice, 80% of the total voice minutes generated were made via these unlimited promos
  4. The mobile business accounts for 80% of Globe's total service revenue.
  5. As of end-June 2010, total subscribers reached 24.6 million. The postpaid market, comprising about 4% of total base, capped the 1st half with 909,466 subscribers.
  6. Globe's total broadband subscriber base is now 930,000 and is expected to reach 1.2 million by year-end.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Working with Hidden Fields in ASP.NET

I need to use old school HTML hidden fields in a webpage I'm making because I need to pass it as a post parameter to an external server. I tried using the .NET server controls (ie. runat='server') but realized later that it mangles the name. So by the time the external server receives it, the names has some gibberish prefix or suffix.

Next I tried using the Visual Studio standard html hidden fields control but found out that they cannot be accessed from Code Behind. Since I need to set the hidden field values dynamically at runtime, and not at design time, that's a bit of a problem. The way I used to do it is to use the .NET Literal text control. I would put the Literal control on the page and set its value to the actual html code of "input type=hidden..." during runtime. Not a very efficient method.

After doing some more research, I found a way to dynamically insert hidden fields programmatically through the Page class:

this.Page.ClientScript.RegisterHiddenField(fieldname, fieldvalue)

That solved my problem!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Microsoft Tags

Microsoft tag is a 2D barcode meant to be read by your mobile phone and access the corresponding information from the internet. All you need is a camera phone and the freely downloadable software from http://gettag.mobi/. Specific builds for iPhone and Android phones are available, but the more generic Java reader seem to work with most phones supporting J2ME. Microsoft Tag can read from the environments which other barcode readers cannot read such as monitors, televisions.

I tested the Tag reader on Cols' Wifi-capable Nokia phone and it was very impressive. Using 3G on my entry-level Nokia 2730 classic is another story. It takes a long time to respond after you "snap" a tag image, and it prompts too many questions before establishing the 3G connection to pull down the site content. :(

Since Microsoft Tag also uses colors to encode data, it can store more information than typical 2D barcodes. This information can be a web site address, a contact card, a text or a phone number. When you scan a tag, your phone's default browser will open a website, add a contact to your contacts, show text message or dial a number according to the tag type you scanned.

You can use the online tag manager at http://tag.microsoft.com. Its very user-friendly. It allows you to easily generate tag images in different formats (pdf, jpg, gif, png, etc.). You can modify the URL that a tag points to from the web interface anytime. You can define date ranges when that tag is considered valid for time-based applications.

Microsoft published a set of API that allows developers to create and manage the tags programmatically. This C# example is a great starting point for developers who want to get into the nitty-gritty:


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Lasik Video

And here's a video of my corrective eye surgery. This short clip is just for my right eye. To save on size and bandwidth, I will not show the left anymore since they are just the same. This is not for the faint-of-heart. The opening of the corneal flap is particularly a bit gross.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

E-Books Outselling Physical Books

This is simply amazing news -- e-commerce 900-pound gorilla Amazon.com is now selling more Kindle e-books than physical books. With the advent of the Apple iPad, and the expected army of iPad-clones that will inevitably come out of Taiwan, e-books will even become more accessible to a larger group of people.

Maybe this is for the best since less physical books means less paper, and less paper means less trees getting chopped down. For kids, e-books can provide a much more interactive learning experience than plain-ol' ink. I have to admit that the main reason why I would still want a physical book is it looks nice to have a den with a full book shelf. :)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Installed my first SSL Certificate

I bought an SSL certificate from GoDaddy last week for use with Dragonpay's online payment service. To validate your ownership of the domain, GoDaddy requires that you create some CNAME entries on your DNS Server. They call this "Domain Control Validation". Since I registered my dragonpay.ph with DotPH, I just used their web-based DNS management system. The interface is a bit crude, but it gets the job done.

Next, I just followed the step-by-step instruction from GoDaddy for generating a certificate with Windows 2003's IIS. You enter basic information about the company and create a 1024-bit certificate. You copy-and-paste the value onto GoDaddy web-based SSL Certificate Management page; select which OS certificate you want; and they generate 2 downloadable files for you -- an intermediate certificate (*.p7b) and the web certificate (*.crt). After installing both, my API site is now running in secure https mode.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Hello World From My New Eyes

I finally went for my LASIK (Laser Assisted In Situ Keratomileusis) corrective eye surgery last Friday at American Eye Center. My surgery was scheduled at 2pm, but they asked me to get there by noontime for the retinal scan and other pre-op procedures.

Cols and I had lunch first at Sango. Its a Japanese hamburger restaurant. I've seen it at Power Plant before but haven't gotten around to trying it. I had the beef with rice bun. The serving was very generous. They used sticky rice and compressed it into the shape of a bun. Very interesting and filling.

Anyway, going back to my eye surgery, it was a very long wait for the pre-op procedures. I went through several more eye checks before I was brought into the surgery room at around 3:30pm. American Eye averages about 12 LASIK surgeries in a day from what I heard. So its practically like an assembly line already. They say that the likelihood of something going wrong is very slim. But of course, it is never good to be that 1 in 10,000 statistic who goes blind. :P

My turn came at around 3:45pm. They made me lie down on the hard operating bed. My left eye was covered first while they put tape on my right eye lids to keep them from closing. Then they placed a forcep-like apparatus to keep my eyes wide open. That was a very uncomfortable feeling. I'm not sure exactly when they put the topical anesthesia but other than the slight discomfort, it was really not as painful as it looked.

Each eye took about 7 mins to operate on. The actual "laser" burning was only about a minute. Near-sightedness or "myopia" is caused by the eyeball not being perfectly spherical but a little bit more oval (think American football vs. basketball). Laser correction works by using "cold" argon-based laser to "flatten" the eyeball back to a spherical shape. It loosens the corneal tissue and I guess they wash away the excess.

The really weird part is they first have to make an incision to open up your cornea. They call this the "corneal flap" because they literally open a flap on your corneal surface so they can laser the tissue underneath it. I will be posting a video of my operation in the next couple of days to better explain this. Yes, the operation comes with a DVD of the whole procedure to serve as your remembrance.

I spent about another hour in the recovery area before I was discharged. Vision was very blurry and my eyes were uncomfortable. But over all, I would agree that the LASIK procedure is relatively painless. I went to sleep early since there's nothing much to do if you cannot see anything -- no computer, no tv, no books, etc. When I woke up Saturday morning, I felt back to normal already. No more discomfort.

I can imagine that for people who spend their entire lives with eyeglasses, getting a LASIK surgery is a major life-altering experience. But since I've been wearing contact lenses for a very long time, the change for me is not that dramatic. Pretty much the only thing that changed was I did not have to go through the ritual anymore of putting my lenses on in the morning and taking them off at night.