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Friday, November 28, 2014

The Millennium Falcon Flies Again

I have to admit I almost cried when I saw the Millennium Falcon soar towards the end of the teaser of the upcoming Star Wars movie,  "The Force Awakens."   From what I know, the film is set 30 years after Episode 6: Return Jedi so we see new faces as well as a new droid in the trailer. Then there is a new Dark Lord with a new lightsaber.

I know a year is a long wait but I hope J.J. Abrams make it worth the wait and does not disappoint. In the meantime, let me share with you the official teaser of the movie. This is what we have for now so enjoy. And yes, may the force be with all of us.





UPDATE (11/30): So what's this issue about John Boyega,playing a Stormtrooper? He's the first actor who appears on this teaser and many were unsettled that he's black.  I am not one of them and I don't remember any reference in the last seven episodes that all stormtroopers are white. So people calm down and accept it.

UPDATE (12/1): I just learned tonight that the voice on the trailer belongs to Andy Serkis (Gollum in Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit).  He's in the cast of the movie too but I am speculating that he could be doing another motion capture performance and be transformed into a CGI character. I hope not an updated Jar Jar Binks.  An Ewok will be just fine.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

PHLPost Celebrates National Stamp Collecting Month with Exhibit of Papal Postage Stamps

We visited an on-going exhibit at the PHLPost main office in celebration of the National Stamp Collecting Month.  The exhibit named "Papal Visits Stamps"  features postage stamps memorabilia issued by PHLPost during the apostolic visits of Popes Paul VI, John Paul II and Pope Francis from 1970 up to 2015.



Each of the visits has its own display featuring the stamps issued during the occasion.  The panels also provided information about the apostolic visits.  It's a good lesson for kids interested in stamp collection as well as the country's religious history.  For those like me who experienced the Papal visits, it was a nice experience to look back at those days.  





The 1995 visit by then Pope John Paul II was specially memorable for me because I participated in the World Youth Day celebrations.  



   



The PHLPost also used the occasion to give the public a preview of the stamps that it will issue to commemorate the visit of Pope Francis in January.  This exhibit runs at the Manila Central Post Office from November 10 to 14. It will also be held at the Manila Cathedral (November 17 to 21) and the University of Santos Tomas (November 24 to 28) before going to Cebu and Davao.




The celebration is mandated by Presidential Proclamation Number 494 signed by former President Fidel V. Ramos, declaring the month of November as National Stamp Collecting Month (NSCM). with this year’s celebration carrying the theme “PHLPost: Going Beyond Tradition.”



Monday, November 10, 2014

My Lesson on the Difference Between Advertising and Reality from Bonchon Chicken Philippines

While looking for a place to have merienda at Robinson's Magnolia this weekend, my friend and I passed by the BonChon Chicken outlet and saw a poster of one of their offerings. The item was named Bulgogi Noodle Soup and the picture resembled something like the one below:

from bonchon philippines facebook page

I like many of BonChon's offerings.  Aside from the chicken I also order their calamari, chapchae and their fish and fries.  I haven't tried this soup so I convinced my friend to have merienda at the store and order the item.

The Bulgogi Noodle Soup comes in two sizes.: large and solo.  We ordered one large and one solo (for me).  The truth is, I wasn't expecting the order to look like the picture but neither did I expect to get these:

solo size

large size

My initial reaction was, "Is this what we ordered?".  It looked like something scooped out of a clogged kitchen sink instead of a pot.  The soup looked so greasy and all those floating sesame seeds and other stuff gave it the appearance of what we call "pinaghugasan ng plato" (water where one washed used plates). 

At first I didn't want to touch the soup but then I wanted to do this blog so I decided to taste it.  The soup was both salty and sweet at the same time and yes, very oily.  You have to dig deep to get the vegetables, beef and noodles.  The vegetables were overcooked. while the glass noodles were a bit soggy.  The beef was just right.  Over-all this noodle soup was not really satisfying, but it was not as bad as it looked.  

I have nothing against companies making their product look good in their advertisement. I only wish BonChon didn't make their promotional material so detached from what their product actually looked like, or maybe they could have made their Bulgogi Noodle Soup looked better.  I know it is a fast food chain and their products are inexpensive but that doesn't mean they should not think about presentation. 

Lesson learned.  Next time I will be more cautious.



Saturday, November 8, 2014

Amazon Echo: Speaker, Virtual Assistant, and Shopping Companion in One

The big news this weekend in the tech world was the announcement of Amazon on its website for its new product, the Echo.  

from amazon.com

The Echo is a cylindrical device that is basically a speaker that could fill an entire room with music. Just say the magic word, "Alexa" and the device wakes up to provide you with weather report, play music from your Amazon music library, and yes, go shopping with you on Amazon.

There are seven microphones on top of the Echo and it uses beam-forming technology to pinpoint your voice and make sure it can hear you no matter where you are in a room. It has an enhanced background noise cancellation so it can follow your commands and requests even when it is playing music.

The device is always connected to Amazon’s cloud-based web servers where most of the processing of data occurs.  The more you use  the better it understands your speech pattern and the more adept it becomes in identifying and responding to your commands over time. Let's just hope it won't be as buggy as Siri which took some time to recognize my speech pattern,

Music can be streamed through either WiFi or Bluetooth.  That includes music from iTunes and even Spotify.

It also comes with a remote control with a built-in microphone, music playback and volume controls.  There is also a companion app for iOS and Android gadgets and desktop PCs so you can further personalize your Echo experience.  



from amazon.com


Right now, the Echo is available for US$199 (roughly PhP8,900 at US$1=PhP44.5) and for a limited time, it is available to Prime Members at US$99.  Take note that getting the device is by invitation only and you may request it from the official site.  There's no word yet if it will be made available internationally but the way I look at it, Amazon must be testing first if they have a market for this and whether the Echo will work in the real world.  Maybe they were burned enough by the Fire Phone that they're being more cautious this time.

But being always on and with the capability to pick up one's voice where ever he is inside a room, will it be possible that someone could start listening to us 24/7 soon?  Maybe not as long as you don't have anyone in your household named "Alexa".

from amazon.com


Thursday, November 6, 2014

Lunch at Buffalo's Wings N Things

I went to Fairview Terraces today with my office mates to have lunch. We went around for some 15 minutes to look for a good place to eat and I found one called Buffalo's Wings and Things. Although the space was relatively small, it's cozy enough and since it's a weekday, there were no other customers but us.

 Their specialty is, what else, buffalo wings and ribs.  But I wasn't in the mood for some heavy lunch today so I ordered one of their set meal called "No Bones Fun." It's their take on the classic battered chicken tenders. 

The set meal comes with dirty rice, basically fried rice topped with salsa, and a can of soda (Pepsi products only). I went for Pepsi Max.  You can choose the sauce depending on how spicy you want it. I chose "Basil N Garlic" because our very helpful server said that that it is not very spicy and it tastes good.  My office mates both asked for the classic buffalo wings but I didn't get the sauce they each chose.

No Bones Fun
We didn't wait long for our orders to come. Our first impression was the serving was really generous.  I expected around 4 to 5 pieces only but the serving had more than that.  I love the sauce! It's tasty alright and not very spicy.  Just the right amount of heat that made me want to have more.  

By the way, the set meal is only PhP189 plus 10% service charge.  Actually, it is a steal for the size and quality of the meal.  The service was fast and the staff were very helpful. I had a good experience so I'd like to go back and try their regular offerings.

Buffalo's Wings N' Things is at the 2nd Floor of Ayala Fairview Terraces 



Monday, November 3, 2014

Christmas at Starbucks: A New Drink, A Mini Card and the 2015 Planner

image from starbucks.ph
It's that time of the year again...

When November comes, Starbucks aficionados like me look forward to having more than their share of coffee to get the store's organizer.  It seems that this year, Starbucks made it easier for us to get their planner: you only need to drink 9 Christmas themed beverages and another 9 regular hand crafted drinks, or a total of 18 drinks.  I remember when we used to need 23 drinks to grab just one planner.

Ever the eager beaver, I went to my favorite store yesterday and got my first sticker.  I hope I can get more than one of the four designs this year. By the way, the 2015 Planners have very simple designs. They come in green, black, red and brown with drawings.

So what are this year's Christmas themed beverages.  Aside from the usual toffee nut and peppermint mocha, Starbucks offers the Christmas Cookie Latte this year.  I think this is the most popular variant this year because when I was in the store yesterday, 4 out of the 5 persons before me ordered this item.  So I jumped on the bandwagon and asked for the same beverage but I preferred it cold/over ice.

My first impression was it's a very sweet beverage.  There were cookie bits and shortbread sauce in the mix.  I think it will be best to drink it when you're feeling down since all that sweetness (read: sugar) will give you a boost.  

In fact, I was in a bad mood yesterday because I specifically asked not to put cream on my latte.  The barista, maybe she wast tired after making all those Christmas Cookie lattes, automatically put the cream.  When she realized her mistake, she scooped it out and drizzled my drink with more shortbread sauce to cover any trace of the cream. All my sense of reason flew out of the window and I told her I saw what she just did so she offered to make me a new drink. This also explains why I wasn't able to take a photo of my drink.

Anyway, I think I will order 8 more of this beverage to fill my card with stickers. I will try the same drink hot next time.

image from starbucks.ph
The other new thing with Starbucks is the Starbucks Holiday Mini Card.  It's so small, about half the size of the regular card, and can be used as a dongle or key holder.  It is also eligible for the promo where you load it with PhP1,500 and you get PhP300 extra load.  However,  the cashier told me that the promo is only up to Wednesday, November 5.  If you don't want to spend PhP1,500, you may still get it at PhP500.  The other two designs looked they came from the designers of  Hallmark Cards.


So it has begun... 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Fight the Spread of Ebola Through Information

I have to admit, I am getting concerned about the Ebola crisis. The news of health and aide workers contracting the disease and eventually bringing it to their homeland only make me more afraid that it's only a matter of time before the disease reaches our country.  If that happens, it will be another major crisis for our country.

At one point I wanted to run to the nearest health store and stock on face masks, hand sanitizers and wet tissues to protect myself.  However, I decided to check first for information on the disease from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) websites.

Here are some key facts I got from WHO:

  • Ebola virus disease (EVD), formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever, is a severe, often fatal illness in humans.
  • The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission.   The initial source of past EVD outbreaks was likely human contact with wild animals through hunting, butchering and preparing meat from infected wild animals (“bush meat”), with subsequent transmission from human to human.
  • The average EVD case fatality rate is around 50%. Case fatality rates have varied from 25% to 90% in past outbreaks.
  • There are currently no licensed Ebola vaccines but 2 potential candidates are undergoing evaluation.

Dr Bruce Aylward, the WHO assistant director-general, warned that the number of new cases was likely to be between 5,000 and 10,000 a week by early December. Their regular updates show that deaths have resulted from 4,447 of the 8,914 reported cases. Aylward added that any assumption that the death rate was 50% would be wrong. He put the death rate at 70% because many deaths are not reported or recorded officially.

www.cdc.gov
From the CDC Ebola website, I gathered that Ebola is transmitted by direct contact with body fluids of a person who has symptoms of Ebola disease and unlike respiratory illnesses like measles or chickenpox, which can be transmitted by virus particles that remain suspended in the air after an infected person coughs or sneezes.  Also  coughing and sneezing are not common symptoms of Ebola, however, if a patient with Ebola coughs or sneezes on someone, and saliva or mucus come into contact with that person’s eyes, nose or mouth, these fluids may transmit the disease.  It is also NOT  spread by water, or in general, by food.

Moreover, the CDC website clarified that the EDV is killed with hospital-grade disinfectants (such as household bleach). Ebola on dried on surfaces such as doorknobs and countertops can survive for several hours but the virus in body fluids (such as blood) can survive up to several days at room temperature.  Also, there is no evidence that mosquitos or other insects can transmit Ebola virus. Only mammals (for example, humans, bats, monkeys and apes) have shown the ability to spread and become infected with Ebola virus.

Here's a useful infographic on the EDV with information mostly gathered from the CDC. It's not mine and I just got it from Google images but the information are very helpful in understanding this disease.







Friday, October 17, 2014

Apple Adds Two Items to My Christmas Wish List: iPad Air 2 and Mac Mini

I just finished watching the Apple Event this morning (it's 2 AM here in Manila) and I am stoked with two things that the guys in Cupertino unveiled today.  The company just released the latest models of their flagship iPhone last month and now, they released what could be the last of their gadgets for this year in time for the holidays.

Apple introduced this morning the iPad Air 2, which they say is the thinnest and most powerful iPad ever. In introducing the new iPad, Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing can't help gushing about the latest model of their gadget.  He described it as the thinnest tablet in the world and that two of the new gadget stacked on top of each other would still be thinner than the first generation iPad.  

fortune,com
iPad Air 2 has a new Retina display with anti-reflective coating, second generation 64-bit A8X chip, all-new iSight and FaceTime HD cameras, faster Wi-Fi and LTE wireless.  It also includes my favorite Touch ID fingerprint identity sensor.  

It's open for pre-order on the U.S. Apple Online Store starting later today. The Wi-Fi models are priced at $499, $599 and $699 for the 16, 64, and 128 GB capacities, respectively.  It will be available in gold, silver, and space gray.

Initial impressions of the new iPad Air 2 are very favorable.  Most are raving about how thin it is and the better screen resolution.  The Verge noted  the big improvement on the camera:

 "One thing that is definitively better is the new camera, which is now 8 megapixels; it's a lot faster and shots seemed a lot clearer, at least in Apple's hectic demo room. "

I am not yet sure how much iPad Air 2 will cost in the Philippines and when it will be available here but I hope just before the Christmas Season.  Apple also unveiled the iPad Mini 3 but I prefer the 9.7 inch iPad Air.  I am eyeing the 64GB wifi model owing to the experience of the on-air update of iOS a few months ago when I need to delete some files to get some space on my 16GB gadget.

Another good news at the event was that Apple has finally updated the Mac mini.   Nothing much change in the design of the  Mac mini, but many changes happened inside.  It now features fourth-generation Intel Core processors, faster integrated graphics, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, and Thunderbolt 2.  The new machine will be shipping with the latest iteration of OSX, Yosemite which was also released this morning and now available for download for free.  It also has a new lower starting price at $499, making Apple’s most affordable Mac an even better value.  Below is a screenshot from the Official Philippine Apple Store of the pricing for the new Mac mini.



I checked our online forum during the event and the most common complaint about the new Mac mini model is that it doesn't come with a quad core CPU. Nevertheless, I am glad there's a new Mac mini and that means I can change my hardworking Mac soon.

In fact, the new Mac mini is now available on the official Philippine Apple Store.  Shipping time is 2 to 3 weeks at the moment.

So these are too items on my Christmas wish list. I'm still thinking which of them I will finally get. I might get lucky though and ultimately get both of them. Happy Holidays, indeed!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

"What If?" Answers some of the most bizarre questions

I just finished reading this very amusing book named, "What if? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions"

The author, Randall Munroe is a physicist who use to work at NASA as a roboticist. He created the webcomic xkcd , which features stick figures and deals with themes of science, technology and math.  Alongside this webcomic, he created whatif  where he answers questions sent to him by his readers.

The webcomic actually has a cult following and has already received over 70 million hits.[citation needed]  The book is a compilation of some of the more bizarre questions he's received and answered since he started the project.

This is the first time that I encountered Munroe and his work so I am pretty amused by his writing style.  He answers questions that if I or anyone asked a school teacher, I would be immediately dismissed as impertinent.  Consider the following questions:

  • What would happen if everyone on Earth stood as close to each other as they could and jumped, everyone landing on the ground at the same instant?
  • How quickly would the oceans drain if a circular portal 10 meters in radius leading into space were created at the bottom of the Challenger Deep, the deepest spot in the ocean?
  • If someone's DNA suddenly vanished, how long would that person last?
  • How much physical space does the Internet take up?
  • What would happen to the Earth if the Sun suddenly switched off?
  • If an asteroid was very small but supermassive, could you really live on it like the Little Prince?
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

And my favorite: What would happen if you made a periodic table out of cube shaped bricks, where each brick was made of the corresponding element?    His answer: You can stack the top two rows without much trouble; The third row would burn you with fire; the fourth would kill you with toxic smoke; the fifth would do all of those and give you a mild dose of radiation; the sixth would explode violently and; Do not build the seventh row.  He gave a more detailed explanation of these answers in the same chapter.

All of these and the rest of the other main questions were answered meticulously by the author using both scientific fact and his brand of humor.  Yes, sometimes the reader needs a little background about the things he say but this won't stop you from enjoying the book.   Also, don't forget to read all the footnotes which were also as entertaining as the main texts. There's even a running joke about his constant use of [citation needed]. 

In between the questions are inserts called "Weird (and worrying) Questions From the What If? Inbox" and these contained even stranger questions (example: What is the total nutritional value of the average human body?) which Munroe answered with some funny stick figures or even deliberately left unanswered.

And one more thing, many of the questions and answers lead to scenarios of destruction of our home planet, which may be the reason why the author, after discussing the effect of the different magnitudes of an earthquake (Q. What if a Richter magnitude 15 earthquake were to hit America at, let's say, New York?),  ended his book with "Sometimes it's nice not to destroy the world for a change."

I really enjoyed reading this book.  I laughed and learned a lot while reading it. Even if it's your first time to encounter the author and his work, you will still find the book very interesting.  

What if? by Randall Munroe
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 303 pages
Available from amazon.com






Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Latest in Agribusiness at Agrilink 2014

I went to the Agrilink 2014 this morning at the World Trade Center in Roxas Blvd. Agrilink is a trade exhibition on agriculture, food and aquaculture  held every October. We went there to see what latest technology and trends in agriculture that we can apply in our little farm in Mindanao.

Here are some of the things I saw in the exhibit:

Here's a very good looking Duroc boar. This reminded me of my course in college called Swine Production. 


These fowls are very nice to look at. I was attracted to the crest of feathers on their head that looked like cotton.



These are Pearl Gray Bengalas, their dotted plumage are so beautiful to look at.



I didn't get the name of this beautiful bird but its plumage is so stunning.



American Mallards. A pair cost Php4,000 during the exhibit.


The booth of the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Agricultural Research featured "edible landscaping" developed by the University of the Philippines at Los Banos (my alma mater). It combines vegetables such as camote, herbs, etc. with traditional garden plants.



There were also a lot of learning seminars held simultaneously for free. Most of them are focused on increasing competitiveness in the light of the ASEAN economic integration next year.  Unfortunately I did not have enough time and I wasn't prepared. Maybe next year, in the 22nd Agrilink,



Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Identifying the Near Poor in the Philippines

Policy makers tend to lump poor people into one homogeneous group – the poor, At the most, poor people are classified into two groups: the poor and the extremely poor. Now, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) wants to add another classification: the near poor.

dswd.gov.ph
In a forum I attended just this morning, the DSWD in cooperation with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) presented a study by Dr. Vic Paqueo entitled “Analysis of the Near-Poor Challenge and Strategy Development Ideas." It identifies near poor families as those "who live at a knife-edge with little or no buffer against the economic shocks such that they can easily become poor when faced with crisis."

So how do we know who the near-poor families are?  Dr. Paqueo explained that near poor families are those with incomes that are just above the total poverty threshold.  Given that at present the national poverty threshold is at PhP9,686, the near poor threshold will be at PhP12.400.

The near poor, added Pacqueo, are those who have per-capita income higher than the poverty threshold, with small family size, the family head is educated, mostly non-agricultural workers, more of them are unemployed, have access to electricity and live in houses made of strong materials.

In spite having jobs and earning or having some savings these families can easily become poor when faced with crisis such as loss of job, loss of financial assistance or sources of income due to calamities, and sickness that incur big amount for their medicines and hospitalization costs.

He said that many near poor families may be considered as "balik-balik" or those that are in and out of poverty at certain points in time. By classifying these households as a separate sector based on their poverty risk, government programs can make better and target-driven programs for them.

Pacqueo recommended that the government should take steps because near poor households are more prevalent.  This may have been due to some policy and program failure, such as the minimum wage law. Also, it is easier to prevent them from becoming poor and therefore should be part of a comprehensive  and sustainable anti-poverty programs.

This is not an entirely new idea as this has already been proposed by Dr. Celia Reyes of the Philippine Institute for Development Studies.  In a study, she identified what she called then as transient poor – families that go in and out of poverty due to shocks they experienced.  Dr. Reyes even pointed out that there are more of these families than those covered by the Conditional Cash Transfer program of the DSWD.

Perhaps this near poor idea is also an indication what most of us have been thinking all along: the CCT is not effectively addressing poverty and is just creating a new culture of dependency and mendicancy.


Friday, October 3, 2014

Kindle Unlimited: Over 600,000 Books Available But...

I recently received an email from amazon.com inviting me to avail of a 30-free day trial of their new service, Kindle Unlimited. The idea is great for any book lover: for thirty days you are free to read as many books as you want (and can) from 600,000 titles. After the trial period, you only need to pay $9.99 per month as subscription.  It also comes with a complimentary three-month Audible membership, which gives access to additional 150,000 audiobook titles.

from amazon.com


This is good news for someone like me who loves reading and at the same time owns a Kindle reading device.  Yes, you can also read through any of the free reading app from the company and the audiobooks are available to those who own Kindle Fire. 

So what is the "but" on the title for?  For three reasons. First, although 600,000 title seem a lot, at present I couldn't find the kind of titles I am interested in and want to read.  I expect Amazon will improve the selection later but right now it is extremely limited.

from amazon.com
Second, if I choose to stop the subscription, I will lose all the books.  This is because I don't own them and only rent them from the service.

Lastly and related to my second reason, the price of the subscription.  I like reading books at a leisurely pace or at my own pace. If I really like the book, I can finish it in one to three days.  Sometimes, I read it only when I have the time. Most of the books for Kindle are at or near the $9.99 price point, the same amount as the subscription.  I do not see myself buying one book per month so that means that there will be months that I'd be obligated to pay for the service which I cannot use.


I am not discouraging anybody from trying the service.  You may want to take advantage of the free 30-day trial subscription for now.  I am sure that heavy readers would find Kindle Unlimited as a great way to enjoy reading books and save money at the same time.



Sunday, September 28, 2014

Marciano's Bakery Cafe

We went out for lunch recently to a just-opened mall near our office.  The mall named Fairview Terraces has not been discovered by the regular mall crowd yet so it's still quite comfortable to go around.

Our choice was Marciano's Bakery Cafe. Their specialty are pizza and pasta but they also have rice meals which are reasonably priced.  The place is clean and orderly, not too big but spacious enough.  Another thing that attracted us to the place is that there were no customers yet.  We've been warned by an co-worker who recently dined there that the pasta is a bit salty.  I always considered pasta and pizza as snacks so I went for the meal with rice.


Our orders took some time to arrive but we reasoned that perhaps all their meals are freshly cooked and take some time to finish.

I had the Citrus Pork Belly/ It came with garlic rice and some vegetables.  The pork was sweet but not too much to make it taste like a candy.  The citrus flavor did wonders to neutralize the sweetness.  The meat was tender and had the right amount of juiciness.   In short I enjoyed my meal.

Citrus Pork Belly


My office mate went for the Baby Back Ribs, which came with mashed potato and a piece of broiled corn on the cob.  According to her, the meat was really tender and easily fell off the bone. In terms of taste, however she preferred the back ribs at Chocolate Kiss in UP.  I've tried that one too and I can say that those were really good ribs. In fact, we've been there several times ordering the same item.  She didn't have any problem with the size of the serving too.

Baby Back Ribs

I want to go there again and try the other items they offer.  I also want to try their cheesecakes and other baked stuff which all look yummy.


Saturday, September 20, 2014

Laika: The Tragic Space Pioneer

We once had a dog named Laika. My mother named her after the first dog who went to space. That was the only thing I knew about the name and the dog. There were very few information about this space dog aside from those that say Laika was from the Soviet Union and she was a space pioneer.

Laika the Space Pioneer

Now that information is readily available, I found the real story of Laika which was bigger than what I previously knew. She turned out to be a space heroine but a tragic one at that. She's a victim of the space race between the two world powers – the US and USSR which were trying to outdo each other by sending a human being to space.   

Laika was born during this period in the streets of Moscow where she lived as a stray. One day she was scooped out of the streets and became part of the Soviet space program.  The Soviets used dogs as their specimen to test the limits a living being could take when launched into space. They preferred stray dogs like Laika because these are used to extreme conditions like cold and hunger. 

Laika in her Sputnik 2 compartment
In October 1957, the first man made satellite was successfully launched to space. Then Soviet Nikita Khrushchev wanted to send another satellite to space this time with a living passenger.  The catch is that the space team only had a month to prepare for the launch.  

The task of being the first living creature to space went to Laika who was described by her handlers as "quiet and charming".  She was launched to space in November 3, 1957 and survived the launch.  It was only after the dog went into orbit that the Soviet scientists told the world that it was a one way trip for Laika and they do not have the technology yet to bring the poor thing back to Earth.  Laika was sent to orbit by the people she trusted who knew that she will perish there.

Initially, the Soviets told the world that Laika stayed alive for a week and she died peacefully when she was euthanized before the batteries in her shuttle went off.  She was hailed a heroine in her country and its allies.  



However, in 2002 new information came out about what really happened to the little space pioneer. For one, Laika didn't survive as long as the Soviets initially reported.  Within hours, the intrepid space dog died a painful death.  

Although her capsule was equipped with fans to cool the dog once temperature inside reached 15 degrees Celsius, the equipment failed due to damage during the launch. The little dog was already doomed. The temperature rose to more than 40 degrees and poor Laika died due to heat exhaustion and distress.   

In a later interview, one of the scientists who sent her to space said, "Work with animals is a source of suffering to all of us. We treat them like babies who cannot speak. The more time passes, the more I'm sorry about it. We shouldn't have done it... We did not learn enough from this mission to justify the death of the dog." (wikipedia)

After orbiting Earth 2,570 times in 162 days, Sputnik 2 eventually fell out of its orbit.  On April 14, 1958 it entered our atmosphere and disintegrated along with the remains of its lone tragic passenger.

In 1997, a monument for Russian conquerors of space was erected in Star City, the training grounds of cosmonauts. In one panel, peering out of her capsule was a representation of Laika, the space dog.

Conquerors of Space


In 2008, Russian officials unveiled a memorial for Laika also in Star City near the building where the dog was prepared for her historic flight, It featured a dog standing on a rocket.

Laika's monument in Moscow

Laika's contribution to space flight is not her only legacy.  The furor over the fact that she was purposely sent to space to die sparked an outrage and demands for review of policies on the use of animals for scientific research.

As for our dog Laika, she stayed with us for 14 years.  She came to us as a puppy and one time, we thought we had lost her.  It turned out that she slept under one of the furniture and cannot be easily seen.  She had three sets of puppies but we do not have any of her descendants anymore.

Our Laika was a good guard dog and a loyal one too.  Although she was also a mongrel like the little dog she was named after, she was an affectionate one and was always happy to welcome us home.

One night, when my mother came from work, Laika who was not feeling well looked at her pleadingly.  My mother took the poor dog's head in her hands and at that moment, Laika breathed her last.  I will never forget that dog.  Our Laika may not have conquered the stars but she'll always stay with me.

I do not own the photos on this post. I got them from Google.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Apple Gives Free U2 Album: People Freak Out

I woke up one morning and found U2's new album, Songs of Innocence ready for download to my iTunes library.  At first my sleepy head had to make sense of the event, I didn't pre-order or purchase any U2 album recently so it must be a mistake.  I downloaded it anyway and while waiting for it to finish, I scoured the Internet for information.

I found out it was a gift from Apple as a way of thanking its 500 million iTunes clients. Besides, the guys from Cupertino must still be giddy over their recent announcement of the iPhone 6 and 6Plus, as well as the Apple Watch – which of course deserves another post.

So back to the album. Who doesn't like music that's given free legitimately?  Well, it turned out there's a lot of them.   After a couple of hours, I started getting posts on my Twitter feed from angry iTunes users who were disgusted with the free download.  Apparently, many of those who received the gift took it as an invasion of their privacy and/or Apple made a decision for them to download and listen to the album.  Others were simply non-U2 fans.  They want the music out of their devices pronto. 

There was so much clamor against the download that the band's manager even said in an interview that if people do not want it they could just delete it, which I agree on.  In fact, I still do not understand what the too much anger was for.  Maybe they also hated it that they have to manually delete the contents from their gadgets.  Anyway. the din must have been too loud and reached the Headquarters in Cupertino that the people there developed a tool for people who want to delete the album from their devices. Here's a link if you're one of those not thrilled about this gift.

This just proves that one cannot please everybody – not even with a gift of free music.  I think the comic strip from The Joy of Tech sums up the situation very well. As for me, I am keeping the album. It may not be as great as the earlier outputs of the band, but there are still some that are above the average music one hears everyday.  I just hope the experience doesn't stop Apple from surprising us with another gift in the future.  





Saturday, June 14, 2014

Back on Board... Hopefully

Hi.

I know it's been 8 months since my last post and there have been lots of things to write and talk about in that period. But I have no other excuse for being away but I have been distracted, and perhaps that distraction will become the topic of most of my posts from hereon.

For now I hope that I'd spend more time with this blog and make it active again.