Monthly Archives: November 2014

A NOSTSALGIC RUN IN ZAMBOANGA CITY, THE CITY OF MY CHILDHOOD -Part 3

I failed to publish this when I was supposed to i.e. October 2013. My childhood friend Oscar has since died – a few months after his brother Augusto did. Shortly after we met then (as I reported in this blog), Oca was diagnosed with a terminal form of cancer. We pray for him and all the faithful departed.

Melody Theater by Orlando Uy

Melody Theater by Orlando Uy

Passing through The Edwin Andrews Airbase brought back nostalgic memories of the quiet streets of Sta. Maria where I used to ply with my bike, stopping by the homes of Butch Natividad or Oca Covarrubias, or a nervous rush through Doña Vicenta Drive. The side streets of Sta. maria were normally deserted then and it was just perfect for lazy quiet bike runs.

By this time I was entering my third kilometer. Normally I drink my water on my third kilometer if I plan a run longer than 10 kilometers. And today was such a day. As I had met my dear classmate Oca Covarrubias the day before, I wanted to surprise him by dropping by and asking for water. Then I would have the chance to see him, his mother, and his brother Augusto who had a stroke recently.

I was in for a shock.

As I reached Oca’s house, I asked for him and looking at me painfully, the lady who was apparently a relative, asked me “hende ba tu si Guido?” I took off my sunglasses and said, “si, talli ba si Oca?” With a really heartbreaking look, she told me that Augusto, Oca’s younger brother had just expired a few minutes before I arrived. Stunned, I couldn’t move and say anything…until Oca came out confirming Augusto’s death.

Oca and I go back to grade school years. So inevitably we spent time with each other’s families. Although I hadn’t seen his family for decades, it was still a shock to me especially under the circumstances, learning of Augusto’s passing. I decided not to get inside the house anymore to let Oca and his mother grieve in private.

I ran on and as I was approaching the corner of Sta. Maria Road and Gov. Ramos, I saw the at the corner of my eye the former house of the Dugan family which was subsequently rented by the Escudero family. I remembered that not far along to the east was the former Greenfields Barbecue place. I could not let my thoughts stray too far away as the traffic at the corner was horrible!

After the corner I was trying to look for the house of the Camins family. I was even hoping to catch a glimpse of Junie or Mrs. Camins, my teacher. The scenery had changed and I was no longer sure about the houses. I avowed though that I will be back to drop by these houses and visit my old friends.

I now reached the old Climaco house and by that time I was looking for the old house with flowers which was featured in many postcards in my younger days. This was owned by someone I only remember by the name of “Ñor Teng” (although I am now informed it is owned by the late Carmen Lacandalo Basilio) I couldn’t find it! It must have been covered now with the concrete houses. I remember the house well because behind it was a hill that we used to climb and eventually led us to our house. I soon approached the property where our house was located (“Kilometro Quatro” we used to call it).

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Our house was no longer there. Instead it was an empty lot with a few trees. We used to have lanzones in that property and right at the back was a stream where we used to bathe and catch tilapia. A small brook meandered through our property and my mother built our dining room right above the brook making it one of the most refreshing place to have a meal. Our dining room was just screened from floor to ceiling and the wooden slat floors had a small gap allowing us to see the water below and hear the soothing sound of water as well.

I slowed a bit to look whether the Montojos were still around but I found the house quiet. So I ran further and went up on the left hand road at the fork at the bottom of “kilometro cinco.” I didn’t realize the uphill climb was not that bad at all.

I then ran through the Tañada swimming pool, and up the “Wee-wee” kiddie’s pool and I stopped for a while at the “natural” pool.

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From there it was a downhill run passing through the Limbaga shrine where I spent so many nights camping and attending campfires. Stories of half-man half-pigs filled my childhood days in those camping days and they did not leave me until I was much older. We also used to have the School-at-Camp where for a week the students from the Zamboanga State College (now WIMSU) Laboratory School would camp and commune with nature. This was also the chance for us to socialize with our female classmates and hopefully hold the hands of our crushes!

The picture above shows the venerable Charlie Escudero the all-time master of the Boy Scouts in Zamboanga City with my mother, Gloria, and some of her friends.

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The Tree House is till there today and I remember I used to bring food and ironed clothes to my cousin, Nang Menchie Marfori-Avanceña who lived in the tree house when she was awarded the “Miss Caltex” title years and years ago. My mother is in this phto with her friends.

I finished running when I reached the fork in “kilometro cinco” and by then I had done eight (8) kilometers.

Indeed, a nostalgic run through my childhood years. I wish to make another run some day but hopefully Zamboanga City will be cleaner by then.

Films, iPhone 5s, and Travel

Prologue: I wrote this article almost a year ago when I had an iPhone 5s. Today I have an iPhone 6+. While some of the observations here no longer apply e.g. low light photography, most of the article still rings true today.

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One only has to tread the beaten tourist tracks of any major destination to see curio and tourist shops with awnings that still have advertisements for “Kodak,” “Fuji,” or “Agfa” to realize how fast time has flown from the days of film photography. Kodak itslef is now under bankruptcy and I really don’t know what has happened to Fuji and Agfa.

I remember the first time I travelled my wife and I had to bring 30 rolls of film (36 photographs of a fixed ISO). And one had to be careful that the film strip had been rewound back to its canister before opening the camera lest a whole travel episode be lost to an unwanted exposure to light! I cannot remember now the number of such mishaps in the past.

Today, I don’t even bring a camera. I have “bequeathed” my heavy SLRs to my two sons (it’s in quotes because this was done under duress) who have the patience and strength to carry them. I would, one of these days, go back to my SLRs for really serious photography. For now, however, my iPhone 5s is enough for me.

True, it uses up a lot of battery power, but I guess the extra battery backups one brings in trips replaces the old film canisters one would place in a camera bag. With my iCloud and Dropbox accounts, and with an internet connection ( I usually buy unlimited internet roaming when I travel), I can take as many photographs as I want and the photographs can be as stunning and clear as the SLRs.

Of course at the end of the day it’s all about composition and timing, an art, a talent, I have limited access to. Occasionally I get lucky with stunning landscape photography, but in the main I am resigned to my fate of being a point-and-shoot photographer.

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There are two major upsides to using today’s iPhone 5s (and other smartphones I am sure) camera: a) the ability to immediately share the photos; and b) the imbedded GPS location of the photos. The first, of course, gives the folks back home an almost live coverage of your travel. The enthusiasm, the awe, and the excitement are immediately shared with your friends and relations who may immediately reply or comment to your posts.

I love the imbedded GPS information in the metafile of the photo because it gives me a reminder of where places are located in the world. This helpful for uploading to my contacts or when I want to refer to a photo I want to write about. There are several times when walking through tree-lined boulevards or country lanes of some obscure but beautiful towns we take photographs and forget the name of the location when we get back to the hotel or back home. Clicking on the GPS link and calling on the new Apple map or the old reliable Google map is very helpful in refreshing my memory of where I have been.

The downside of my iPhone 5 is that it does not take very good low light photographs and the flash (which I rarely use) is of little help. The photos come out too grainy with a lot of noise. On the other hand, normally when the lights are low I would either be asleep or in some nice cozy bar listening to jazz neither of which makes a good time to take photographs – photography will be a distraction!

Far from just taking photos, I use my iPhone for recording my food and the wine I drink. For the latter I use Drync, an app I have found to be very useful in not only trying to remember the wines that I drink, but where I drank it, and the reviews the wines have obtained from experts. The app also allows you to order the wine, albeit only for US delivery. Drync asks you to take the photo of your wine’s label (here the low light problem can pop up) and the app scans the label and immediately identifies the wine, down to the vintage. Sometimes the app gets the vintage wrong, but you can always edit the information on the spot. Sometimes, it fails to identify the label and you just need to send the photo to Drync and normally within a few hours they get back to you with the correct identification. Even the Morocccan wines were identified correctly, which I thought were really obscure from the world market.

As I write reviews for hotels, restaurants, and general tourism activities and places, I find it important to record the places I eat in and the food I take. It can be embarrassing and tad uncouth but I always give my age as an excuse (over 60% of people feel that 51 is when one has passed middle age). For this purpose I use Evernote’s Food app. It can record the meals you take, the recipes you like, and the restaurants you have visited. The two core functions of the app are the camera and the GPS to locate the restaurant one’s in. Of course if it isn’t found in the app’s directory (Evernote works with Foursquare’s locations), one can always manually put in the restaurant’s details.

I also use Evernote to record documents and events. Evernote is basically an integrating “server” service with several attached apps whose outputs or documents are housed in Evernote’s servers. So the Food app is one of them. Penultimate is another one. It is a note-taking app which I use extensively albeit on my iPad as it is more practical to take down handwritten notes there rather on the smaller screen iPhone. I use a JotNote pen to scrawl my notes. Penultimate, however, also allows one to take photos or videos or recordings. This is very useful for meetings as one can take the photo of the whiteboard on which a speaker, for example, has written down his presentation. One can also attach photos from your camera roll.

When I use Penultimate in meetings where various documents are used like spreadsheets, word files, or PDF documents, I take photos of these documents and then imbed them into the sheets of the notes in Penultimate. From there I can scrawl or pen in my comments pretty much the same way I do in another Evernote app called Skitch. Skitch, however, is generally useful for photographs,putting comments on them, and filing them for my use later or sharing them with colleagues. An example of how I use Skitch is when I need to ask about things in a photograph:

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By the way, I use Numbers, Pages, and Keynote, for spreadsheet, word processing, and presentations, respectively. These Mac-based apps have both iOS and Mac versions and are connected via the iCloud. The convenience of using these apps deserve another article but suffice it to say the ability to work on the SAME document regardless of which device one uses – iPhone, iPad, or the Mac desktop – and regardless of where one is are conveniences which I can no longer give up. Working on these documents without having to worry about saving these documents is very convenient indeed. Today with Yosemite, the handoff has made it even better.

This convenience, in fact, is very useful in my business. I can prepare a presentation on my iMac desktop at home, close it, and then go to a meeting where I can open the same presentation on my iPad. Making a presentation on my iPad is almost always better for my meetings as opening laptops in hotel lounges or restaurants is, to say the least, very awkward.

And on a final note, my iPhone camera, or more frequently my iPad camera always come useful for online meetings. I subscribe to GotoMeeting and with its iOS apps, I can organize or join online meetings where I can videoconferencing, share documents, share a whiteboard, and almost any other convenience one has with a regular desktop or laptop.

Compared to all these, the SLR camera with the old reliable film will indeed be counted as a dinosaur of the past. With just a fraction of the weight, my current camera (well really, my iPhone 5) can do a lot more than my old SLRs. On another thought, I guess that will be an unfair comparison. My old SLR was made purely with just art and photography in mind. It did not have the distraction of emails and Facebook posts that many of us are faced with these days. Back then, we did not face the pressure of having our pictures “liked” or “re-tweeted.” Whatever we took was for our own enjoyment, our own pleasure.

In sum, times have changed and the iPhone has dramatically changed the way we do things. The awnings that show Fuji, Kodak, and Agfa, will definitely be a thing of the past, but certainly a wonderful reminder when things were much simpler, when photography was limited to cameras for shooting photos for posterity, art, or both.

In my book, those times will come back again, not too far in the future. In the meantime, enjoy your apps on your iPad and iPhone.

Italian Cuisine and Sexy Vespas

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After almost a week of enjoying the delectable Vietnamese cuisine, we decided to settle for a more mundane cuisine of the West – Italian. We found this place almost by accident. We had just crossed the street from the Legend Metropole Hanoi when the presence of a Vespa in the lawn caught our attention and we saw a big sign: “Casa Italia.” Upon closer inspection, we discovered it was an office of the Italian Embassy’s cultural section and Casa Italia is its restaurant!

The Vespa was born in April 1946 and launched by Enrico Piaggio one of the two sons of a major Italian industrialist Rinaldo Piaggio. The older Piaggio was a major aircraft manufacturer who contributed to Italy’s world War II efforts. It was no wonder then his factories were bombed by the Allies during the war. So Enrico had to build a new company from the ashes. He decided to focus on personal mobility and together with a former aeronautical engineer, Corradino D’Ascanio, he built his company on the first prototype originally based on Donald Duck! However, when D’Ascanio showed him the actual prototype, he exclaimed: “Sembra una vespa!” – “it looks like a wasp!” And thus Vespa was born.

Indeed, the Vespas on display at Casa Italia were sexy, the kind one would like to take home. But the service of the restaurant was great as well. And the pizzas and pastas were as authentic as they can get. “Authentic” because one wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between their dishes and those that one would have in Italy. Try their gnocchi – it’s unforgettable. They also have a modest but good wine selection.

A must if you want Italian cuisine in Hanoi.

Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi

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The family recently went on a short break in Vietnam. From Ha Long Bay we stayed overnight in Hanoi before flying back to Manila. Prior to going to Ha Long Bay, we stayed in the Old Quarter of Hanoi. On our return to Hanoi, we decided to try the Sofitel Legend Metropole, a hotel with rich history dating back to even before the Vietnam War. Located in the border between the old town and the French quarter, the Metropole is an easy walk to many places. There are a number of good restaurants not only within the hotel, but around the hotel as well. It is also a short walk to the Hoàn Kiếm Lake, or the Sword Lake. I did a run here and it is approximately 2 kilometres around the lake.

The hotel opened in 1901 and since then famous people like Charlie Chaplin, Somerset Maugham (The Gentleman in the Parlour), Graham Greene (The Quiet American), Jane Fonda and more recently George W. Bush had stayed here. But is is Joan Baez’s recording of “Where are You Now, My Son” that seems to stand out in the hotel’s history for me. In this 21-minute recording, the sound of the bombing by American planes in the Christmas of 1972, can be heard in the background. The hotel has a bomb shelter of its own. And Joan was supposed to have hid in the basement during the US bombings. Unfortunately, we did not have the time to visit the shelter.

Checking in was quick as it was done in the top floor – the club floor. They had a number of amenities for its club floor guests like a chocolate buffet in the afternoon and the usual cocktail hour from 5:30 PM. Although there was a pianist during the cocktail hour, it’s what I call technically great playing, yet the pianist needed more soul. I also had the chance to sit out the late night jazz music which turned out to be a disappointment because the musicians talked among themselves longer than they played! And the performance? So-so. Anyway, more on this in another post.

The room we had on the 6th floor was spacious and the detached bathtub was a great touch. Internet was okay but I would have been more impressed if they had the sound system to allow an iPhone or iPod to connect. I think hotels of this level should already cater to interests of travellers who love to bring their music with them (streamed on external hard drives). The hotel’s gym has a good number of equipment; the only disadvantage is you need to go through the patio to reach it. This means if it rains, you’ll need an umbrella.

As expected, the service was excellent. We got prompt responses, and almost everyone spoke good English.

We didn’t stay long enough to have more to say. But the short stay has convinced to come back to this great hotel.

TECHNOLOGY, THE STAR TOLLWAY, HUMAN RIGHTS, AND DEVELOPMENT

TECHNOLOGY, THE STAR TOLLWAY, HUMAN RIGHTS, AND DEVELOPMENT

It is indeed commendable that the Star Tollway managers are strictly implementing the 100 kph speed limit in that expressway. They have installed speed radars calibrated to catch cars on video at strategic places. They apprehend you at the toll exits where they politely tell you that the radar/video caught you over-speeding.

Having heard a lot of friends, including my son, who were apprehended, I was determined to make sure I will not go past 100 kph. However, I wondered, what happens when you do keep your speed limit and Star Tollway management still stops you? What happens when you surge past 100 kph for safety purposes e.g. overtaking a car that suddenly slows down in front of you with another car right behind you? I guess this is the reason other countries’ speed limits have a 10%-15% tolerance, Having driven in these countries all my life, I was never caught for over-speeding.

Going back to the Star Tollway, I wondered what proof would you have to counter their argument? I am sure they can show you their video and the latest calibration test, but not while you are sitting there on the road, arguing with the traffic enforcers. With the P3,000 fine PLUS the hassle of getting your license from the Lipa branch of the LTO, these are enough to entice one not to “over speed”. On the other hand, what if the radar was wrong? What if it was just a surge within tolerable or allowable limits? In other countries, there is a whole legal industry just dealing with traffic violation. So I guess violators in these countries have access to a rich jurisprudence to make sure their rights are protected. We don’t have the same benefit here, I imagine.

In my old SUV, I have a dashboard camera from which you can calculate your speed and location (it has a built-in GPS). The old SUV also has a secret tracker installed that allows me to track the SUV’s location using my mobile. I do not have this gadget in my new SUV. I have, in the past, used this dashboard camera against traffic cops who stopped me for red light violation. The video will clearly show whether one went through a red light or not.

These thoughts were in my mind as I was about to enter the Star Tollway from Batangas City. I decided to use my iPhone and the SUV’s Cruise Setting in a combination to protect myself in case I get apprehended. The Cruise Setting will show the speed at which I set the limit (in reality you can manipulate it up or down); the iPhone I used to capture the settings in a photo – it will show that my setting is indeed at the speed set to “cruising speed,” as well as indicate the time and location of the photo.

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I took a total of 3 photos of the settings maybe 5 -7 minutes apart, just for good measure. In my mind I was imagining an argument with the traffic cop and these pictures will just show him proofs of my concern about speeding. I highest speed I set the Cruise Setting was 97 kph:

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True enough, as soon as we exited the Calamba toll exit, there were two traffic cops who were waiting as I cleared the E-Pass barrier. As soon as he said I was caught by the camera overspending at 111 kph under the last bridge before the exit, I told myself, am I ready for you!

I got my iPhone 5s, showed them the pictures of the Cruise Settings and then explained to them how Cruise Setting works. I said I precisely went to this exercise because I felt I would be apprehended one of these days, and today could be the day. So they were taken aback; and I could see in the faces of the apprehending officers that they were not ready to face the situation. So they called in their chief, a lady.

So again I told her my story: I precisely took pictures of the Cruise Settings of my SUV to make sure I had proofs that I was conscious and abiding by the 100 kph rule. I told her that based on the experiences of my own son and friends, I felt I should protect myself against being told of breaking the law when in fact I did not. The lady chief did explain that the radar was recently calibrated and couldn’t have committed a mistake. On the other hand, I said I can download the data from the SUV computer and prove to her categorically that I couldn’t have been driving at 111 kph. The average must have been, mathematically, less than 97 kph because that was the upper limit I set. The photographs showed the speed and the time elapsed between the photographs; and knowing how Cruise Settings work, the speed couldn’t have veered much from the set limit. I told her I was willing to go to court and to have the court decide which data will hold water: their recently-calibrated radar, or my SUV’s computer system? If my SUV’s computer is telling me I am running 97 kph and their radar is telling me I am running at 111 kph, which information will be admissible in court? And if the SUV’s computer is wrong, will the driver of the SUV be responsible? What if the radar is wrong? What will happen to all of the past fines collected? An operative fact done in good faith?

What if I asked about the competency of the operator of the radar, or the basis upon which the radar was calibrated. These are just the many things I can ask about the radar according to one website that focuses on radar-related arrests:

1. Radar/laser device make, model, serial number, options, and age
2. The radar/laser device operator manual and specifications
3. Radar/laser device calibration certificates and calibration log sheets for the year before the violation (and months following if available)
4. All other maintenance and repair history of the radar/laser device
5. Failure and error rates of the radar/laser device
6. The officer’s certificate of competency
7. Records relating to the training received by the officer regarding the use of the radar/laser device including including dates, location, and instructor name and address
8. The training materials used by the officer when training on the radar/laser device
9. Date that the officer first used the radar/laser device
10. Information relating to the educational background of the radar operator to determine whether he or she possessed the requisite skill necessary to properly make detailed measurements based solely upon visual observation; this visual observation is commonly used to verify the accuracy a speed measurement device result
11. Radar only: National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) Public Safety Radio Services license (this license is typically good for a few years; alternatively, if the unit is unlicensed, it was being operated unlawfully).
12. Radar only: Radar guns are calibrated using tuning forks, which themselves must be calibrated. In addition, therefore, the calibration records and log sheets associated with the tuning fork(s) used to calibrate the radar detector will be required.

In fact, are our laws on radar-related speeding offences in place? Do we have trained personnel and do we have an established calibrating process? On broader front, how updated are our laws on road construction? Are the expressways, in fact, calibrated for the speed limits we impose? It might be we have too high speed limits. I have always maintained that it is not safe to drive above 60 kph in any road in the Philippines. Pedestrian behaviour (like cutting wire fences in C5), road design, lighting standards, urban growth (town centres along the highway), and drivers’ skills, all point out to a personal conclusion that we cannot afford to drive, as a country, more than 60 kph.

It must have occurred to this lady chief, who was really smart, that these questions do need profound pondering by the authorities. And she sensed I was not letting her go away without a fight. Although I was polite, I was firm about my stand: I took pains to follow the law and I took the extra effort to prove I was following the law. Technology made that possible and I knew I had a strong case should she decide to go to court.

So she said: “111 kph isn’t really way off the limit, so I am letting you go. Just show me your license and you are free to go. Just be careful sir as anything more than that speed we will need to apprehend you next time.” The lower ranking enforcers were polite too and wished me a safe travel. The lady chief was also correct in that in other countries, a 10 mph (16 kph) or less speed over the limit in 55 mph (88 kph) to 75 mph (120 kph) is not considered, by law, a violation (check for example: (http://www.kansashighwaypatrol.org/faqs/violations.html).

It is indeed gratifying to know that we are now serious about enforcing our rules and regulations. And for this, Star Tollway has to be commended. In fact if the government is serious about curbing overspeeding, shouldn’t requiring speed governors on all vehicles be required? This will be especially helpful for buses who carry innocent passengers everyday.

However, on the other hand, that incident did provoke me to think how ordinary citizens can be protected against accusations against which they just do not have the means to prove their innocence. Maybe they do not have the resources to pay for information, or maybe that cannot afford to hire researchers, technology or maybe just a good lawyer. How many innocent men and women get convicted because they are poor? If their poverty is what prevents them from getting the protection they need against false accusations, shouldn’t the state help them have this access?

It might have been a simple traffic violation misunderstanding, but it begs the question whether our country is in fact ready for a simple traffic violation. And if this premise proves to be correct, we ponder then on how much more we need to work to bring prosperity and well-being to our countrymen.

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