Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Stuck in GenSan Airport

I've been here in Gen San airport for more than 5.5 hours already.  Woke up before 5:30am to catch a supposed 7:40am flight.  Alas, the Cebu Pacific flight 5J 992 that I'm supposed to take back to Manila has been delayed due to the tropical storm Maring.  I heard things are even worse in Manila with flooding everywhere.  No idea how I will drive out from Terminal 3 when I do get there.

CEB crew fed us with Jollibee Chickenjoy and bottled water.  That was nice of them considering its not really their fault -- well, sort of.  According to the ground crew, the Manila plane crew is still in the old Domestic Terminal 4 and the road towards Terminal 3 is impassable so they cannot get onboard the plane.

I've already finished 1.5 movies -- the 2nd part of Beautiful Creatures (I watched the first part on my flight in to GenSan), and The Host.  Both movies are adaptations from books and belong roughly to the same genre.  Beautiful Creatures is a love story between humans and witches (or "Casters" as they are called there), while The Host is a love story between humans and aliens.

The Host is based on a novel by Stephenie Meyer, yep, the same one who came up with that godawful vampire love story series (cringe).  Sadly, her take on science fiction is not any better.  Except for Diane Kruger who looked like an alien supermodel, the rest of the cast was pretty lame.  The movie was probably a flop in the box office (was it?).

Well, the PA system just announced that our flight is estimated to depart at 1:20pm (that's 6 hrs later from the original schedule).  I only have 1 movie left on my Samsung S3 -- The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.  Better save it for the 1.5 hr flight back to Manila (or should I save it for the wait at Terminal 3 while waiting for the flood water to subside?).

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Caitlin's Recital

Caitlin had her third piano recital today at UP Diliman's Aldaba Recital Hall.  Her first piece was Mozart's Sonata K.545.  Its supposed to be a fast piece, but she seem to have played it way too fast in my opinion.

For her second piece, Caitlin played Through the Eyes of Love from the movie Ice Castles.

During the intermission, Teacher Dennis Ortega played a piano solo of Pirates of the Caribbean.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Superman 2013

The family went to watch the latest reincarnation of Superman in the silver screen -- Man of Steel.  The movie has been getting lots of good comments from friends so I had high expectations.

The Cast

At the lead role is Henry Cavill.  I last saw him at Cold Light of Day opposite Bruce Willis.  Let me go straight to the point -- I don't like cleft chins.  I know that is very shallow and does not really say anything about the acting skills of the person.  But I can't help it.  I find cleft chins very distracting.  I hated Timothy Dalton's rendition of James Bond 007 because of his chin also.  He looked like he really buffed up for the role though.  He did not look that big in Cold Light of Day or Immortal.

Amy Adams made a great Lois Lane.  Definitely not as annoying as Margot Kidder in the original Christopher Reeves series.  And they made her smart in this movie unlike Margot Kidder who couldn't tell Clark Kent and Superman are one-and-the-same given that their only difference was the eyeglasses.

I've never really heard of Michael Shannon before this movie, but he played a pretty impressive (and scary) General Zod.  He is a good choice too.

The Music

I like Hans Zimmer's electronica music, but... it just doesn't measure up to a John Williams score.  After the movie, you wouldn't remember what the Man of Steel soundtrack sounded like.  But even 20 to 30 years later, people still know the soundtrack of Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and of course, the original Superman series.  John Williams' music takes up a life of its own.  I think the Man of Steel producers **should** have used the original theme somehow.  They could let Hans Zimmer update it a bit for the 21st century if they do not want it to sound too fanfare-ish.

The Villains

For a superhero who has been around decades (in real time, not comic book time), one would expect Superman has amassed a large pool of arch-enemies.  But surprisingly, there seems to be a shortage of them.  So far with the movie adaptations, its just either Lex Luthor or General Zod.  Zod is not really much of a recurring character in the comic book series unlike Luthor (can't figure out why Superman can't beat this normal mortal with all his superpowers).  Bring in Brainiac or some other inter-stellar baddie.

In contrast, Batman has a great pool of great enemies to choose from (I hated Jack Nicholson's rendition of Joker in the original Batman movie).  Spiderman also has a lot of great villains that has still not appeared in the movies.  Even second-tier superheros like The Flash has an entire Rogues Gallery.  But Superman seems to be stuck in the same category as Green Lantern who does not have much of a list of enemies other than Sinestro; or Thor who only seem to have Loki as his constant enemy.

The Plot

DC took some liberty in changing the original Superman mythos.  Lois Lane knows from the start that Clark Kent is Superman.  Kal-El goes soul-searching as he learned of his powers early in his life and seems to have completely skipped the Superboy/Smallville phase.  Jor-El becomes a scientist who apparently is capable of beating up their planet's top military guy (duh!).  Well, I guess Russell Crowe is still Gladiator.

A couple of scenes that did not make sense to me:

1. When Superman and Lois where in Zod's ship, Superman slipped her the black key (with the "S" emblem).  Lois later plugs the key into a slot which brings up the consciousness of Jor-El who guides her to escape from the ship.  I don't recall Lois ever pulling out the key.  So how come at the end when they were going to drop Kal-El's baby spaceship into the alien spaceship, the scientist onboard the plane had another black "S" key to plug in?  Where did he get that key from since the one from Kal-El was left at Zod's ship?

2. How did Clark Kent, with no previous journalism background whatsoever, become a reporter at the Daily Planet on Day 1 of his work alongside Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists like Lois Lane?


I rate the movie 4 stars out of 5.  I felt the Marvel Studios movies (Iron Man 3 and Spiderman) were more fun to watch.  Ethan rates the movie 3 stars out of 5 -- because Superman did not wear his red briefs outside as what he was looking forward to see.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Internet Explorer 10 (IE10) Causes Problem with ASP.NET Applications

A customer reported a problem to me today that the button at our site does not work when used with IE10.  I've never encountered this problem before because I use Chrome mainly (I think the only people still using IE are those who do not know how to download a new browser and just sticks to the one pre-installed with their OS).

When I fired up my IE10 and tested it against our test server, it also worked fine.  After trading screenshots with the customer, I found the problem!  It seems that our production server (which runs on an older OS compared to our test server), has an ASP.NET installed that does not recognize IE10!  And if it does not recognize a browser, the default system behavior is to assume that the browser is not Javascript-capable and disables support for Javascript altogether.  This has the effect of disabling buttons that rely on Javascript.  This behavior is documented in Scott Hanselman's page.

I tried Scott's suggestions from the Machine-Wide and the Site-Only fixes, which basically updates the browser definition file of the .NET framework, to no effect.  The hotfix described in the Microsoft knowledgebase that is supposed to fix this issue also does not work for me.

In the end, I tried forcing the browser to emulate IE9 by sending a meta tag from my page as described here:

<meta http-equiv="X-UA-Compatible" content="IE=EmulateIE9">

With .NET websites, inserting this in the Masterpage automatically fixes all pages.  IE sucks.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Programmatic POP3 Email Access with C# .NET

For more than a year already, I've been using Peter Huber's POP3 Email Client for .NET 2.0.  It has been working fine for me until recently when I tried automating some more processes.  I found out that the old (2006) code does not handle different types of MIME attachments properly.  Searching some more at Google, I found out Peter Huber had another C# POP3 class that handles MIME.  I tried it out but found it just as complicated to use and poorly documented.  And it still could not properly read 1 specific email format that I was receiving from a supplier.

I tried the OpenPop.Net project and it solved all my problems!  Very simple and intuitive to use.  Requires very little effort to read the MIME attachments.  It handles all the transcoding behind-the-scenes beautifully.  No need to know about Base64, QuotedPrintable, etc.  It just works.  I'm now migrating my old code based on the Pop3MailClient.cs to OpenPop.Net!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Sumilon Bluewater - Holy Week 2013

Holy Week came in early this year.  To avoid the rush hour crowd, we left town by Wednesday (Mar 26) for Sumilon Bluewater in Oslob, Cebu.  We took the 7:10am Cebu Pacific flight to Dumaguete.  From Dumaguete airport, we were met by the resort representative who took us to the nearby Sibulan Port.  The "fast craft" leaves only every hour at the top of the hour.  Since we missed  the 9am craft, we had to wait for the next one at 10am.  The boat ride to Oslob was very dizzying because the waves were very strong.   It took about 20 mins to go across.  From there, it was another 15 mins or so ride to the Sumilon Resort dock where we had to wait for the 11am ride to the resort.

Sumilon Bluewater is part of the Maribago group, which also operates resorts in Cebu and Bohol.  Sumilon Bluewater is a bit old already, but it has been reaping the windfall benefits of a recent resurgence in local and foreign tourists due to the presence of the whale sharks (butanding) in Oslob.  In fact, other than the whale shark interaction tours, there is really nothing much to do in Sumilon.  If one is looking for peace and quiet, then its a good place to go.  With only 14 cottages, it offers an exclusive feel and away from the maddening Holy Week crowd of places like Boracay.

If you have hyperactive kids looking for activities, Sumilon does not have much to offer.  The infinity pool is tiny.  The beach shore is too rocky.  You cannot really walk on it without wearing sandals.  The waves are too strong for kids to swim.  The island shuttle van is dilapidated.  The rooms are very old but spacious (although, in fairness, they are building new cottages).   The island has a natural lagoon where we kayak-ed in the afternoon.

The highlight of the trip had to be the whale shark interaction on Thur (Mar 28).  We took a boat from Sumilon back to the Oslob side.  Then it was a very short shuttle ride to the area where the whale sharks were lounging.  There must have been around 8 to 10 of them, by my estimate, swimming only several meters from shore.  Cols, Caitlin, Ethan and I jumped down from the boat while the folks stayed on the boat.  The organizers charge P300 for whale watching only and P500 for diving into the water with the whale sharks.

I brought along my DiCaPac DSLR underwater camera pack but it was next to useless.  The waves were too strong, while the pack was very unwieldy and kept floating up.  So I just blindly took shots underwater by pointing the camera in the general direction of the butanding.  You just have to take my word that the image below is really the "Big Mama" whale shark just a couple of meters away from me.  She was about the length of 2 cars.

Conner mostly stayed at our cottage and only joined us when we went swimming within the resort.  He did enjoyed the pool but did not really like the beach as the water was too salty.  Personally, I thought it was saltier than normal sea water.  Just a splash on the face really stings the eyes.  Maybe its something in the water that is driving the whale sharks to this part of the world.

Ethan and I went hiking on Fri (Mar 29).  It was a 45-min hike and I was fairly impressed with Ethan.  He was a good sport even though he tripped and scratched his right knee.  The hiking path was actually fairly tough as it was very rocky.  I couldn't imagine Caitlin coming along in this hike.  She would definitely be complaining all the way.

There is only one dining place in the entire island -- the Pavilion.  The food selection is decent.  Food is a bit expensive as one would expect from an island resort, but nowhere near the price level of Bellarocca.

Over-all, it was a good vacation.  The butanding interaction is definitely one of those once-in-a-lifetime experience.  But Sumilon Bluewater is not really one of those places that I would want to go back to again and again.  Once is enough.  Onward to our next family adventure!

View all our photos here!

Friday, February 8, 2013

PLDT Fibr @ Home

After five months of waiting, PLDT finally installed their Fibr fiber Internet-to-home service at our house!  Sheesh!  I don't know exactly why it took them so long to do it.  In fairness to their telesales team though, I have to give them credit for being very persistent in following up with me and the contractor throughout all these months.

I availed of the 8mbps package for P3,500/month.  It comes with one free phone line.  The fiber optic access device comes with two VoIP ports which is mapped to a regular Manila number.  The audio quality is indistinguishable to a regular POTS service.  But I feel (maybe its just my perception) that the post-dial-delay (PDD) is a bit longer compared to regular traditional copper phone service.

When the PLDT installer initially tested the speed, it was maxing out at only 5mbps.  From what I can tell with his conversation with their central network office, PLDT seems to be performing traffic shaping only to set the speed limit based on the subscribed plan.  It does not seem to be a hardware port speed setting typical to traditional DSLAM implementation.

When the PLDT guy performed a ping to "google.com", it gave a 1msec reply time.  Google must have co-located some servers at PLDT.  Otherwise, I cannot think of any other explanation as to how they would have a trans-Pacific latency that low.

Is 8mbps Fibr way that much better than plain ol' MyDSL?  For downloading large files (aka. Torrent), yes, its night and day difference.  But for regular usage for GMail and Facebook, the difference is hardly noticeable.  Even uploading and downloading of GMail attachments do not feel significantly faster.  Of course, YouTube streaming is much smoother now also for Ethan.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Jackie Chan's Last Action Movie

I took the kids to watch the much ballyhooed last action movie of Jackie Chan, Chinese Zodiac.  With Jackie Chan retiring from doing action movies, the movie's main selling point is basically -- "this is your last chance to see Jackie Chan in action".  This is an HK production and not a Hollywood movie.  Supposedly, it has been breaking box office records in China.

For a movie whose main target audience are the kids (and ok, maybe the old nostalgic crowd who has followed Jackie since The Drunken Master), the plot is particularly convoluted.  I have to be honest -- I did not understand half of what was going on.  Sure, the action scenes were fun to watch, but the plot, and the numerous sub-plots, were just all over the place.

The stunts were so-so.  I have to give credit that Jackie, at his age, can really still do difficult stunts.  But over-all, it was nothing surprising already.  The James Bond-like movie intro where he was strapped to that suit with wheels was innovative, at least.  The overall martial arts of the film was lame.  Or maybe after watching HK superstar Donnie Yen in Ip Man, everyone else seem to pale in comparison.

The acting, outside of Jackie Chan himself, was really lame.  They seem to have hired a bunch of never-heard amateur actors.  From the aristocratic French lady, to the Caucasian youth activists, the actors looked like drones memorizing their lines.

In the final scene where Jackie swoops down to risk his life to save the Dragon head, there was a flash of hope for a great ending.  With Jackie's bloodshot eyes, bloody face, and broken legs, I really thought that they will kill him off.  That would have been a first -- Jackie dying in his movie.  And it would have been a blaze-of-glory kind of ending.  Seemed like a great way to end his action career.  But 'no', he was still alive and the sub-plot further gets complicated -- who was that lady at the end?  Was that his wife?  Girlfriend?  Why was she not answering his phone all that time?  Why were Jackie's team mates referring to her as "sister"?

I still think that the Rush Hour series with Chris Tucker were Jackie's best action-comedy performances.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Mysteries of the Deposit Slip

Having worked closely with all the major local commercial banks for the past couple of years with Dragonpay, there are some things about the ubiquitous deposit slip that has always boggled me.

Mystery #1 - Account Type

Why do banks ask us to tick the box if the type of account we are depositing to is a "Checking" or "Savings"?  Can't the teller tell (no pun there)?  Surely by simply encoding the account number in their screen, their system can immediately tell if its a Checking or Savings account.  So why even bother asking the depositor to tick it?

I noticed that even if you leave this field blank, the teller will just process it anyway without asking.  This proves that they can easily tell from their screen.  So why bother asking?

Kudos to banks like Metrobank whose deposit slip has never seem to have bothered asking for this data as far as I can recall.  The 4th digit of your bank account number already tells them if its a PHP or USD, Savings or Checking account.  No need to ask.

Mystery #2 - Date

Why on earth do banks ask you to write the date on the deposit slip?  Isn't it obvious?  Its always the date of that day.  The teller will never accept a deposit slip which is dated in the past, nor in the future.  The teller will only accept current dated deposit slips.  So again -- why bother asking?

All banks print validation data on the slip when the teller processes it.  And all validation data contains the date and time it was processed.  So since the date is already there (based on the back-end system), why are they still asking the depositor to write it?

Mystery #3 - Currency

To a lesser extent, this field is similar to the account type field in my opinion.  When the teller types in your account number in their system, they can already tell what is the currency of your account.  So why bother asking you?

Mystery #4 - Signature

Why do several banks ask you to sign on the deposit slip?  Of what value does it serve?  Metrobank, Landbank, UCPB, etc. have this field that perplexes me.  The teller never actually validates if that is really your signature by comparing it against a government-issued ID.  You can ask your 3-year old kid to doodle in that box and it would not make any difference.  Why, oh why?

Mystery #5 - Relationship to the Account Holder

This one seems to be unique to Landbank and UCPB.  You (the depositor) have to declare your relationship to the account holder on the deposit slip.  Why on earth is that important?!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Google Cloud Servers

Google is now offering cloud server hosting services under the tradename Google Compute Engine.  Its currently limited to Linux Virtual Machines.  The pricing is comparable to that of Rackspace for the same specs.  But for entry-level VM's, Rackspace still comes out a bit cheaper.  And Rackspace still offers companies more OS options.

Where Google is known to excel is in scalability.  So companies looking for massive scaling solution and high-performance computation of "BigData" should look into this.  I do not know about Google support though compared to dedicated hosting companies like Rackspace or Softlayer, who have solid track record for excellent support.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Jelly Bean on my Galaxy S III

My Samsung Galaxy S III downloaded the latest Android OS (Jelly Bean) and firmware by itself.  It just prompted me if I wanted to install it already.  The installation process went very smoothly except for a minor inconvenience -- it complained that my external SD is damaged.  I've suspected before that I might have removed it improperly as a USB device so it did not get ejected properly.  I had to reformat it to make it usable again.

The new OS seem zippier (or maybe its just my imagination).  For one, I am happy that they re-positioned the Bluetooth icon in the pull-down menu to be accessible on the first screen.  With the previous OS version, I had to do an extra swipe to the right just to be able to access it.

There is also a multiple window support now.  I'm sure this is handy with a tablet but I don't know how useful it is for a Smartphone with a small screen anyway.  Splitting your screen further into multiple windows does not really give you that much real estate left.  It is kinda cool to see both Facebook and GMail on a tiled layout within the same screen though.

The "desktop" already support folders similar to iOS.  So multiple icons on the same screen can be grouped together into a "folder".  Clicking the "folder" will expand it to what's contained inside.