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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

I finally watched Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 yesterday one week after its local release.  It wasn't my intention to miss the opening weekend but I got sick so I wasn't I able to go to the movie house.  One of the advantages of watching it late though is the crowd has relatively thinned and there's no need to fall in line just to get to tickets.

This is of course the second to the last movie about the boy who lived, based on the final book in the Harry Potter series.  Although I was excited to see how the movie treated the original material, I deliberately downgraded my expectations this time because I was disappointed in the last two installments.  That is why I am glad to find out that among the 6 movies produced so far, this one stayed closest to the book.  Nevertheless, there were still some materials that were left out, although it was referred to in passing.

In Deathly Hallows Part 1, we follow Harry's search for the remaining horcruxes and witness the return to power of Voldemort and his death eaters.  It began with an ominous statement from the Minister of Magic himself and this set the tone of the whole movie.  We see the three young protagonists dealing with more adult problems now, including the possibility of death.  In fact, somebody close to them died in the early part of the story and another one died in the end.  The final scene seems to be a warning to everyone that the next chapter will be even darker.

Some of my friends who obviously did not read the book asked me why there were so many new characters in this movie.  I explained that these characters will be, hopefully, explained more in the second part.  Others pointed out that the middle part, when Harry, Hermione and Ron went into exile, dragged and slowed down the movie. I also wondered why the director decided to stretch this part when there were other parts of the book that were interesting, including the family background of Dumbledore.  

I read somewhere that the entire series took 10 years to complete.  No wonder some of the characters already looked too old.  Alan Rickman looked so old in the few scenes he was in.  The three main characters, especially Daniel Radcliffe who played Harry Potter, already looked old to be 17 years old.

Nevertheless I truly enjoyed the movie.  For one, the special effects in this one are far more superior than in the earlier films.  This installment already covered almost two-thirds of the book.  If the next one will also stay close to the original material, then it will be even more exciting.  There will be a half blind dragon, a return to Hogwarts and a battle scene that will include centaurs, house elves, giants and lots of wizards and witches.  It would be fun and I can't wait.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Favorite Apps

In one of our discussions, one of my fellow Mac fans asked us what iPad or iPhone Apps are our favorites and can't live without.  I told him I have a number of favorite apps but not necessarily I can't live without.  I downloaded some apps from the Apps Store to my iPad and use some of them more often than the others.

One of these is Pulse, a news aggregator developed by two Stanford students.  It combines the convenience of RSS feeds with the engaging interface of a web browser.  What I like about this app is that I can choose which news provider to subscribe to and place them in a grid.  I can access them anytime I want and get updated on current and tech news without leaving the app.

For making on the spot reports and other documents, I use Pages.  It is almost the same as the desktop version except that when sent through email, you will have to convert your work into a document that Pages could read.  Otherwise, it's the only app I need to make documents.

I use iBooks and Kindle for iPad alternately to read my e-books because I have books on both formats.  My only issue about reading on an iPad is eyestrain.  Yes, even with the adjustable brightness, I cannot read as much as I would with paper book.  This is one reason why I am contemplating on buying a Kindle.

Another favorite is Magic Piano. I can actually make music with this app even if I don't know how to play the instrument.  All I did was turn on one of it's auto modes and voila! I can play music from it's songbook by just following the falling dots on the screen.

If I have time to waste, which is very seldom, I play games on my iPad.  The big screen on this baby could sometimes make me waste more time than I should.

There's Angry Birds, the insanely addicting game that involves slinging birds to beat the green pigs that stole their eggs.  The game is so wicked because its levels become more and more challenging as you progress.

Also wicked is Zynga's Scramble. It looks easy because you only need to make words from random letters on a 4x4 board.  Try playing the online mode and compete with other players around the globe. The next thing you knew, hours have passed and the deadline you're trying to meet has come closer.

These are the apps that I use most of the time.  There are others on my iPad that are also worth mentioning and I would discuss on another post.

Monday, November 22, 2010

His Holiness Justifies the Condom

In some extreme cases, that is.

Pope Benedict XVI said that condom use may be justified in "certain cases", such as with a male prostitute who would want to prevent the spread of infectious diseases like AIDS.  The Pontiff made the remark in an interview published in the official Vatican newspaper in relation to a new book called "Light of the World."

Light of the World: The Pope, The Church and the Signs Of The TimesThe leader of the Catholic Church, to which I belong of course, further said that where the intention to reduce the risk of infection, "it can nevertheless be a first step on the way to another, more humane sexuality."  But His Holiness is quick to add that the Church does not see the use of condoms as a moral solution and "it is not the proper way to deal with the horrors of HIV infection."

The remarks, as expected, created quite a stir among Catholics who are for and against the use of condoms.  Pro-contraception and reproductive health advocates see this as a softening of the stand of the Pope on the use of artificial methods of contraception.  One legislator even announced that the Pope's statement will "undermine the hardline stand of the Catholic Church on the Reproductive Health Bill."  Although I would like that to happen, personally I do not share his enthusiasm because the Pope was not very clear if reproductive health is one of those "certain cases".  

The head of the Catholic Bishops' group in the country was also quick to say that the Pope's message does not change the church view on the use of artificial means of contraception.  He said that the Church will continue to condemn the use of condom as a contraceptive but will take a different mind set when it is used to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

Interestingly, the Pope used a male prostitute as an example.  So, does that mean that it is still morally wrong for a man to wear a condom if he engages in sex with a female prostitute, even if he does so to avoid getting sick?  The UN agency working on AIDS welcomed Pope Benedict's remarks but noted that while most cases of HIV infection were sexually transmitted, only 4 to 10 percent result from sex between men.  

Nevertheless, the remarks are significant especially since they came from the same man who said just a year ago that condoms not only do not inhibit the spread of HIV infection but even aggravate it.  It is indeed a complete departure from his previous stand on the matter.  To me, by discussing AIDS and the use of condoms, Pope Benedict XVI has finally stepped into the 21st century where the epidemic continue to kill millions.  Whether it signals an enlightened view on the use of artificial contraceptives is still debatable.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

KFC Double Down Sandwich

I finally had the chance to taste the new offering from KFC called the Double Down. It's a sandwich with two boneless chicken filets, bacon, cheese and mayo. The ad says, "it's too meaty, there is no room for a bun!"



One look at the sandwich and I knew it would be the last time I'll order one. It was too oily that the paper covering the sandwich was drenched with it. You need a lot of tissue paper or else your hands will be oily too by the time you finish eating.

I took one bite and I found reason number 2 to avoid this. It's too salty for my taste. I looked for the nutrition information of the Double Down at the KFC website and found that it contained 1380 mg sodium. That is more than half the 2300 mg ideal daily requirement for adults like me.

Then there is the fat content, which is a whopping 32 g or 40 percent of the recommended 80 mg daily fat intake of adults.  No wonder I felt a little light headed after finishing the sandwich.  

The sandwich is also available in combo with a regular mashed potato and drinks (PhP135 or around US$3).  Some people I know eat it with rice as ulam (viand) and swear it's good.

I will avoid this one for health reasons.  I only wanted to see why it is always out of stock in most of the city's KFC outlets.  One has to try things at least once and with the KFC Double Down, that's enough for me.  If you ask me, my advise will have to be: eat at your own risk.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Heroes in Debt

A friend of mine recently sent me a link to a story on the Emirates 24/7 website which said that among expatriates in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Filipinos are the most indebted. Our countrymen account for 27 percent of personal loans in that country, followed by the Indians and Pakistanis.

For years, we have credited them for propping up our economy through their remittances even in the midst of the global financial crisis.  We could only guess that one of the reasons our kababayans (countrymen) had to take personal loans was to send the money to their relatives here.  The sad truth is, many of them go abroad to do just that, send money to the family they left behind here.

It is also sad to note that even before they leave for their work abroad, many of our overseas workers are already heavily in debt.  We have read and heard a lot of stories about families borrowing money even with usurious interest rates just to send the father or mother abroad.  Some even go to the extent of using their properties as collateral for a loan to raise the amount needed for various fees just to get an overseas job for a family member.  

We could only hope that their relatives and our government realize the sacrifice these workers had to go through just to send those precious dollars here. 

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Smart Bro Pocket WiFi

Smart Bro recently launched its Pocket WiFi, a 3G+WiFi router that allows up to 5 persons to connect at one time.  This is  Smart's answer to Globe's MyFi which was released in July.

This new service is available on postpaid for now at PhP495  for 50 hours per month.  Add another PhP150 for the device for the 24 months lock-in period.  So that means you should fork out a total of PhP645 for 24 months and should you exceed the 50 hour limit, you will be charged  Php10 for every 30 minutes.

Smart promises a connection speed of up to 2Mbps and a nationwide coverage, unlike the SmartBro Share-It which is area specific.  That means, you can create your own hotspot wherever you are in the country.

I'm a SmartBro user whenever I go out of town but I use the USB dongle.  I could easily connect wherever there is a Smart cellular coverage and the speed is good enough.  In fact I used it during my trips to Pagudpud and Bohol and I couldn't complain with the connection I got on both occasions .  If the same is true with this service, then it's worth trying.  The only thing that's holding me back is the 50 hour limit per month.  Yes, it's handy when I am out of town on a short period of time but when I am on vacation or something, I could easily use that up within a week.  Why Smart did not offer an unlimited plan is a mystery.  A little birdie told me though that Smart may have placed the time limit because   this new service might compete directly with their other products, like Smart Share It which has a Plan999 unlimited connection.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Christmas at SM City Baliwag on November 6!



SM City Baliwag joins the simultaneous launch of "Joyful Christmas 2010" at all SM Malls on Novermber 6, 2010.

SM City Baliwag will be Santa's Toy Room.  Everyone is invited to take a peek inside Santa’s Toy Factory where toys and gifts for good boys and girls are kept before they are given away.  You can lounge in Santa’s favorite chair and take your pick among the gifts you want to receive!


So come and join the launch from 4 in the afternoon onwards.  

To get everyone in the right mood, here's the teaser jingle from SM.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Small Reunion with the dead

We were at the cemetery yesterday to observe Todos los Santos or All Saints Day.  It is the tradition in our country to visit the final resting place of our dead relatives on this day.  Why we do it on November 1 and not on November 2 which is the All Souls Day is a mystery to me.  

Anyway, this annual tradition is one big party for many Filipino families.  It serves as a mini reunion for most families and a time to catch up with each other's activities.   It is also the time to reminisce about the dead and at the same time introduce the dead to members of the family who were too young to remember them or were not yet born then.  The living bring food and non-alcoholic drinks, which they will partake on the spot.  The whole scene takes on a fiesta atmosphere, all that's missing is a marching band.

This year was not different except that there were fewer people who came to the cemetery.  It was not as crowded as the years before.  Maybe because it was raining the whole early morning yesterday.  Luckily it stopped when the sun peered out of the dark clouds.

Another reason could be one that has changed Filipino families in a big way: immigration.  In our family for example, most of our relatives who used to come every year are now living overseas and thus could not come here anymore. 

There was a slight drizzle when we got to the cemetery yesterday.  Two of my cousins were already there and they've already lighted candles and placed flowers on the tombs of their parents.  My father, brother, sister-in-law and I  who remained also lighted some candles for our grandparents.  We all remembered that before, there were so many of us who would come there and it was a huge reunion.  This time there were only six of us.  

We spent about two hours there and had to leave because it was getting dark again and the rain could fall again.   My cousins opted to stay until the candles we lighted are spent.   

People continue to stream into the cemetery as we left.  Most of them carrying candles and flowers for their departed love ones.  Some even brought along small kids perhaps to ensure that this tradition will not be forgotten.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Goodbye Sony Walkman Cassette Player

Sony Corporation announced last week that it has already stopped production of the iconic Sony Walkman Cassette Player and the lot that rolled out of their factory in Japan last April were the final batch.

The Walkman first came out in July 1979 and revolutionized the way we listen to our music.  I was still in high school then and we were still using vinyl records played in large bulky stereo systems to listen to our favorite tunes.  The first time I saw an actual unit was before I graduated from high school when a classmate brought one to school.  We were all excited to try the player and he gave all of us to try it.  The first song I heard on a Walkman was "Boat on the River" by Styx.

It wasn't until I was in college that I finally owned a Walkman. By then, it has become more common and smaller.  A housemate had one that was only slightly bigger than the case of the cassette tape.  It was also during that time that we started producing "mix tapes" that we share among ourselves.  A housemate who had a good system in their house would gather all our tapes and choose the best cuts.  He would give each of us a tape of the music he has selected and we would play them as we go about our usual activities.

When I started working, the Walkman proved to be indispensable during my trip to and from work.  I put on my headphone, pump up the volume and I am by myself.  We also used it in our work to record and transcribe meetings, lectures and seminars proceedings.  At about the same time, a new technology was also slowly encroaching in the market of the cassette tape.  The era of the compact disc has began.  I would say that this was the beginning of the end of the cassette tape and the Walkman.  In fact, a few years later I bought my own CD Walkman and never went back to the cassette tape.

Digital music also gave rise to the MP3 format and the cassette tape was almost completely pushed out of the shelves.  It was just a matter of time before someone would come up with an idea for a gadget to play MP3s and revolutionize the way we listen to our music yet another time.  In 2001, a company in Cupertino unleashed the iPod to the world and the final nail to the coffin of the cassette player was placed forever.

But that's how it is with technology.  It is always changing.  Someone always has something that will change our lifestyle and the way we do things.  

Sony said that their factories in China will continue to produce Walkman Cassette Players for their markets in Asia and the Middle East.  The name Walkman will also live on through their digital players, although these gadgets wasn't able to dominate the scene the way their older sibling did for decades.

Sony Walkman Cassette Player, dead at 31.  Thanks for all the musical fun and the memories.