Friday, June 27, 2008

Friday night at the movies

I just got out of the cinema after watching the Incredible Hulk, and man, it was incredible!

The Incredible Hulk had been showing here for a couple of weeks already, which essentially means it would be taken out of movie-house circulation in Manila soon. So I made time to see it in the theater while I still could. And I certainly wasn't disappointed. I loved practically everything about it - the action, the conflict, the drama, and the set-up for a sequel. Definitely a film I'll be getting on DVD when it comes out. I really am such a sucker for superhero movies...

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Marathon training tracker - June 12 to June 23

I've been incredibly busy the last week or so and haven't really been able to blog. So here's how my training has gone so far:

June 12
I managed to run 12 kilometers in 1 hour 14 minutes. The good news - I met both distance and time targets. The bad news is that this is the first time in a couple of weeks that I slowed down during training. In all my previous training runs, I managed to keep increasing my speed slowly from start to end. In this run, however, I was doing pretty well until at around 10 kilometers when I started feeling winded. I managed to cover several hundred meters more before needing to slow down.

My main goal during the marathon is to run 30 kilometers at an average speed of 9.5kph (or higher). If I can do that, then I can surely finish the marathon in under 5 hours (and possibly even beat my best time of 4 hours and 52 minutes). I now need to learn how to pace myself over longer distances much better and how to manage my energy more efficiently.

June 14
My target was to run 18 kilometers on June 14 (saturday) in 1 hour and 54 minutes. I barely missed my time targets - I covered my target distance in 1:56. The good thing though is that I managed my energy levels and pace much better, which was really my goal. I think that I could have kept running at least a few more kilometers without dropping speed which certainly gives me a lot more confidence with respect to achieving my speed goals for the marathon.

One week off
Last week, I had so much work that I didn't have time to train. I was a bit upset about it, buy my friend Allan told me that there in certain running circles, there is a school of thought that it is sometimes good to take a week off from training. I thus decided to just run again on Saturday.

June 21
Goal: 10 kilometers in 1 hour.
Result: 10 kilometers in 59 minutes 45 seconds


June 23
Goal: 7 kilometers in 42 minutes
Result: 7 kilometers in 41 minutes

So far, so good. My speed is increasing, and my discipline to run has been pretty decent. My next goal is to run 14 kilometers in 1 hour 24 minutes.

Monday, June 23, 2008


Wimbledon, the lone tennis Grand Slam on grass just started today. Roger Federer swept aside his first round opponent, Dominik Hrbaty in three very easy sets. He's won this title five years in a row and hasn't lost on grass in - get this - his last 60 matches on this surface. Despite the fact that he hasn't been in his best form this year, he just won a grass tournament in Halle a couple of weeks ago and he is still a strong favorite to win the title. I wouldn't be surprised if he breaks Bjorn Borg's record of consecutive Championships won (they are currently tied, both with 5 titles in a row).

I would love it, though, if Rafael Nadal can actually breakthrough and win his first Wimbledon title. He just won his first grass court title a couple of weeks ago, and it was a pretty strong win because he had to navigate through two strong-servers and grass-court specialists in Ivo Karlovic and Andy Roddick as well as world #3 Novak Djokovic en route to the title. He is definitely on a hot-streak right now (he's won his last 17 matches) which will certainly help his confidence, but he does have a tough draw. He gets a bit of a break though, with Djokovic being Roger's half of the draw.

Two more weeks of very interesting tennis. Let's hope this tournament lives up to the hype...

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Independence Day

Before the day ends, let me greet all Filipinos all over the world a very happy Independence Day!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Marathon training tracker - June 10

Breakthrough! I just ran 6 kilometers in 35 minutes and 26 seconds. That is an average of 5 minutes and 54 seconds per kilometer. Or an average speed of 10.14 kph. This matches the my speed about 2 years ago. Yahoo!!

Of course, I covered "only" 6 kilometers. But even in previous shorter runs I've had this year (i.e. 5 kilometers) I had to start running at 8.5 kph and just gradually build to 10kph towards the end of my run, ending up with an average speed of about 9 kph. Even in all my long runs recently, I had to start running at 8.5kph.

When I got to the treadmill for this training run and started at that speed, I somehow felt I could actually run a faster. I moved up to 9kph but I felt I could still take it up a notch. So I took a gamble and moved the speed up to 10 kph. I completed my first kilometer in a smidge over 6 minutes and I decided I was feeling strong enough to try and complete my 6k run with an average speed of 6 minutes per kilometer. I slowly increased my speed over the next half hour to 10.5kph. And with 200m left in my run, I still managed to sprint (or well, I ran at 12.5kph).

As I posted the other day, my initial goal was to cover 6k in 39 minutes (I was supposed to do it on Monday, but I had to work and ended up meeting up with my friend David for drinks - I hadn't seem him in years so it was great catching up - so I moved my training run to Tuesday). Needless to say I am really happy that I managed to shave off more than 3 1/2 minutes from my target. This gives me lots of confidence now leading to the marathon.

Next target: 12 kilometers on Thursday in 1 hour 16 minutes.

Rafael Nadal, the King of Clay

Rafael Nadal annihilated Roger Federer in the final of the French Open, 6-1 6-3 6-0. Wow.

If I had to put money on it, I would have bet Rafa to win his 4th French Open title in a row for sure. But I would never have bet him to have won in the manner that he did.

Clearly, there was immense pressure that was on the 22-year-old's shoulders (in fact, he was only 21 before the tournament started and just turned 22 while it was going on). He was the heavy favorite to win, with a good chance to equal Bjorn Borg's record of 4 consecutive French Open titles. Djokovic was hot on his heels and could take over the #2 spot that Rafa has had for more than 150 weeks (i.e. 3 full years) in a row already. Nadal also didn't have a very good start in 2008 and lost early in Rome, a clay court tournament he had owned for the last few years. He had to battle blisters during the clay court season. And Roger Federer, the guy who Nadal has beaten in every French Open encounter they have had since 2005, recently hired Jose Higueras as his part-time coach in the hopes that having a clay court specialist in his camp would help him in his cause to win the one Grand Slam event that he has not won yet.

The fact that he played 3 close sets in his first round win against a player I had never heard of before certainly didn't help his case. But that must have been a fluke. Because after that, Nadal just put on a dazzling display of aggressive claycourt tennis that left his opponents bewildered and matched that with his patented incredible defense that left his opponents frustrated. And exhausted.

A lot of people were expecting the final to be a more or less close encounter. After all, Roger took Nadal to three sets in Berlin a couple of weeks before. And their previous encounters in Roland Garros went four sets. So when Nadal whipped the mighty Roger - possibly the greatest tennis player ever - with the loss of only four games, it had everyone shaking their heads in disbelief. Including Nadal himself.

With Roger still firmly at the top of the rankings and Djokovic nipping at their heels, Rafa may very well end up being the best player never to reach the #1 ranking. A lot of people talk about how Roger could have easily won a couple of French Open titles, and even the elusive calendar Grand Slam, if Rafa were not if the picture. But if you look at it from the other side of the fence, Nadal could very well be the #1 player in the world 3 years in a row, with a couple of Wimbledon titles under his belt, if Roger weren't around.

Rafael Nadal did not drop a set en route to winning the trophy - only the seventh time in the open era that a male player went through the draw without the loss of a set - and it now gives him a perfect 28-0 record in the second Grand Slam event of the tennis year. At just 22 years of age, Nadal may very well win a few more Grand Slam titles in Paris. Clearly, he is the king of clay. And may very well be the best male clay court player in the history of tennis.


Congratulations to Ana Ivanovic, who won her first Grand Slam title by beating Dinara Safina in straight sets. The win has also allowed her to become the #1 player in the WTA rankings.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Still Oz Elbow Room gig last May 23

Last week I posted about the audition that my band, Still Oz, had in Elbow Room last April 5. We passed the audition and were asked to return for a paid performance on both May 23.

We had to play 3 sets which meant about 25 songs or more. We hadn't played in a long time so we needed practice, which was difficult due to conflicting schedules, but we managed to re-learn enough songs.

Our first set went fairly well - we ended up throwing in a lot of songs we were very familiar with already. I managed to take a video of most of our songs and when I watched our performance of Third Eye Blind's "Jumper", I cringed as I was singing the verses way too quickly! We also performed Radiohead's "Creep" for the first time and it was a bit rusty with some wrong chords here and there but not bad overall - we got good applause from the crowd, in fact.

The second set was good too, but we played a lot of not-very-popular songs so the audience impact wasn't as high. We tossed in Bush's "Glycerine" (which we haven't played in ages!) and the Dave Matthews Band version of the Bob Dylan classic "All along the watchtower". "Stuck in a moment you can't get out of" by U2 was a partial disaster. While I was singing the first verse, Bunky told me twice to jump straight to the chorus so I omitted the second verse. But somehow the rest of my bandmates kept playing the second verse so it seemed like I actually forgot a portion of the song! Ugh. Anyways, we also got requests to play "No rain" by Blind Melon and "Crash into me" by Dave Matthews Band. Now most of the time, we get requests to play songs that we don't know how to play, so when we got this, we decided to go for it. We also tossed in "Black balloon" by Goo Goo dolls which is probably one of my favorite performances of ours that night.

Our third set was for the most part decent. The crowd was fairly sparse already so we didn't get a lot of cheers from the crowds anymore by this time. We performed Coldplay's "Yellow". Now clearly I am no Chris Martin, but what I loved about this performance is that I can now sing it much better than when we were starting out. I used to have difficulty singing in this range without belting. Also, my lower falsetto was too thin and I wasn't very good transitioning from a chest tone to a head tone and vice versa. Now I do a much better job of it (still room for improvement of course...)

Our last two songs for that night were "Far behind" by Candlebox and "Ants Marching" by Dave Matthews Band. What was interesting was that for most of the third set, which started at around 1230am, the crowd had thinned significantly so we no longer got a lot of strong crowd reaction. That changed when I belted out "Far behind" - the moment we finished, we got pretty loud cheers and applause from the crowd. Bunky actually gave me a high five and told me I nailed it. Which was great, except for the fact that when I checked my camera, I saw that it had run out of memory!!! I only managed to save the first 30 seconds of the song. I need to make sure that in our next gig, I start recording late enough in the show to make sure I get "Far behind" on video.

Anyways, a pretty good gig overall, and definitely not bad considering the amount of practice we got to put in. Click here for to see the rest of the videos of our gig (or well the rest of the vids I uploaded on youtube).

Marathon training tracker - June 7

I ran 15 kilometers today in almost 1 hour 39 minutes. Woo-hoo!

I have to say I am really pleased at the rate that my training is going. I have managed to run a few times (about once a week maybe) for a couple of months but it was only in the last two weeks that I really buckled down and started setting specific targets to get me ready to run the full marathon. And so far it's been pretty good.

Next goal is to run 6 kilometers in 39 minutes on Monday.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Arnel Pineda: the new lead vocalist of Journey

Talk about Philippine pride: Filipino Arnel Pineda is the new lead vocalist of the band Journey!

Some time ago, Journey were looking in the internet for a possible new vocalist and stumbled into Arnel's videos on youtube where his former band "The Zoo" were covering Journey songs such as "Faithfully". Lead and rhythm guitarist Neal Schon was impressed enough by the performance that he found a way to get in touch with Arnel and he then asked Arnel to audition for them.

Check out this video for the full story. It's a really amazing story, which includes his audition in the US embassy and his inspiring rags-to-riches story.

video uploaded in youtube by user lizejedlily

And here's an interesting story posted in the Philippine Star a couple of days ago (apparently, the story has been making its rounds on email but I only read about it the other day)

How Arnel impressed US Embassy officer

Here’s an interesting follow-up item to Funfare’s story a few issues about the GQ magazine’s six-page splash on Arnel Pineda as the newest Journey vocalist, this time about how Arnel impressed the US Embassy officer when he applied for a US visa, taken from the US Embassy News on the Internet (passed to Funfare by Jojo Gabinete).

The GQ story recounted: When Pineda went to get his visa, the guy who interviewed him at the embassy — “His name is Ben. I can’t forget his name,” Pineda says— was a fan who’d seen him play with the Zoo a couple of times, so Pineda took a request, and everybody in the office looked up from their desks at the guy singing Wheel in the Sky.

Here’s the full account by “Ben,” from the Embassy News on the Internet (tense changed from “present” to “past”):

Months ago a band showed up at my window. It was Lemons and Oranges, or something fruity. I asked about their music; looked at their posters, CDs, etc. At the end of the interview, they were saying, “Come out and see our show tonight.” I said, “I can’t take any free tickets yada yada yada but maybe I’ll pop in.”

It was a Friday. I went with two LES. We got a table, ordered some beer, fried chicken and so on. The opening band came on. They were called “Zoo” — this I’m sure of, since I’m from Kalamazoo, the name stuck.

The Zoo started rocking out to 70/80s tunes. But the coup de grace was indisputably when they busted out Journey. I mean, the singer was not just goo — 95 percent of all Filipinos are good singers — he was really darn good. I couldn’t shut up about it. I was telling anyone who would listen, “Dude, not only does this guy have pipes, and range, he’s got perfect pitch. He has only missed a few notes on some of the hardest power ballads in schlock n roll history.”

The LES grudgingly agreed, but they’ve been desensitized to the regular displays of amazing karaoke you get in Manila, so maybe they were just humoring me.

The next week I was sitting at an NIV window next to an officer named Singer. Singer and I were doing FMJs and so we would trade off regular NIV applicants occasionally so that we got fair share of student visas.

I heard Singer say, “Journey? The band Journey?” He flipped through papers. He sounded unhappy.

I butted in: “What’s that all about?” He turned off his mic and looked over at me. “I don’t know. This guys says he’s going to try out for Journey.”

I was puzzled. “Journey? The band Journey?” Singer went, “That’s what I just said, [EXPLETIVE]!”

“Great, another nutjob. I’ll take it.” Singer took my student, I took the nutjob.

I looked over his stuff and said, “Purpose of travel?” and all that. I started to scrutinize more carefully and realized it was the guy I saw from the night before.

“Hey, does your band play at Bagaberde?” He confirmed and he went on to tell me the story of how he uploaded some clips of his band that he recorded to YouTube and contacted Journey’s manager, having heard they were looking for a new singer.

He said they called him up and invited him to the US to try out. Given the malarkey you get at a Manila NIV window, this story only got points for being original.

He produced some flimsy e-mails and letters, etc. So I went, in my best dubious voice, “Yeah? let’s hear Wheels in the Sky!”

He belted it out for the whole waiting room and for the staff to hear (I made sure to take off my headset and let the speaker play it because what I was really doing was covering my butt).

I said, “Look sir, there isn’t a person in this Embassy who would believe that story — going to try out for Journey! — not a soul would believe that. Except for me. I saw you sing last Friday and I couldn’t shut up about how your vocals were perfect Steve Perry. So I tell you what. I’m giving you that visa. You’re going to try out. And you’re going to make it....”

And the rest is rock ‘n’ roll history, my friends.

Marathon training tracker - June 5

I was initially planning to run 10km on Wednesday but due to scheduling constraints, I decided to run instead on Thursday. I'm still training on a treadmill even if I actually perform better on the road. This decision on my part is due to two things: (1) it is so hot this summer that if I run on the road now, I'm certain I will get dehydrated and tired - a lot more really quickly, and (2) running in the gym allows me to go home immediately after a run and put ice on my knees. My plan is to keep running on a treadmill for the next two weeks then do a "short" run on the road (maybe about 8km) and see where my endurance level is at. Hopefully by then my leg muscles would have strengthened sufficiently to provide better support to my knees and keep me injury-free. And hopefully my stamina would have improved a lot as well which will allow me to fight dehydration much better.

In any case, I managed to complete my 10km run in almost 1 hour 5 minutes. My speed has ever-so-slightly improved over the last few runs which is a good sign for me. I also managed to keep increasing my speed all the way to the end.

Next goal: run 15km in 1 hour and 40 minutes on Saturday.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

French Open 2008

So the French Open is in its second week already, and there have been quite a few surprises to go along with several expected results.

Probably the biggest surprise actually came shortly before the French Open started when Justine Henin, who was #1 at that time, announced her retirement from tennis effective immediately. It was shocking in that she was a four-time Roland Garros champion, and had won the last three French Open championships. Despite her below-average results early this year, she had to have been the favorite to win her 5th title and 4th in a row.

A couple of other surprise results include the elimination of Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. Then again, both results probably weren't that surprising. Serena did win a clay title this year, but it was on green clay, which plays quite differently than that red dirt. This is Serena's worst surface so a loss is probably more expected than a title, but she did get bumped out of the tourney by Katarina Srebotnik and if I had to put money on that match, I'd go with the younger Williams sister.

Maria Sharapova on the other hand lost to an in-form Dinara Safina who just won a clay title in Berlin shortly before the French Open started. Like Serena, Maria has never really well done on clay as the surface takes off some of the power of her shots. So her losing to her countrywoman who has been playing well recently isn't much of a shocker, at least not to me.

On the men's side, most of the top guns are still around. Nadal hasn't dropped a set and is favore to win his 4th French Open title. Federer has been playing superbly too and hasn't dropped a set either. Djokovic has dropped one set, way back in the first round I think, but has been pretty ominous since then. In fact, the Serbs have been doing pretty well here, with both Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic still in the running.

If I had to guess, Nadal will win the title on Sunday. On the women's side, I'm not too sure. Jankovic, Ivanovic, Safina, Dementieva, and Kuznetsova all have a shot at the title. Makes it interesting to see how things pan out on the women's side.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Marathon training tracker - May 31

I was planning to run 12 kilometers on 1 hour and 20 minutes last Saturday. It was really hot that day and I knew dehydration could be a factor. And after my bad experience with feeling quite dehydrated in a 5k run I had earlier that week, I decided to make sure I had a water bottle with me during my training run.

I managed to run 12k but about 2 minutes slower than I had planned. Still, it's not bad. I am also loving the fact that my knees are still holding up and that I'm not experiencing any pain. Hopefully it stays that way. My next target is to run 10km on Wednesday and then to go 15km on Saturday. Let's hope I can achieve both these distances. There really isn't a lot of time for me to get to 42k, so the more long runs I can do between now and then, the better.

Summer Ice Escapade

My mom and I took my nephews ice skating yesterday in the Megamall ice skating rink. The initial plan was that only my nephews would go on the ice - we would get them each an ice skating instructor who could help them learn how to skate. But as they getting ready, they asked me to join them. So I got myself a ice skating ticket and got on the ice with them.

I've only been ice skating three times in my life before. The first two times was in the Megamall ice skating rink when it was fairly new (which was way back in the early 90s). The third time was with my colleagues in Belgium about 5 years ago during my short stint there. I have mentioned in a previous post that I do know how to move on skates or rollerblades (not very well, but well enough) so I was certain I would find my footing fairly quickly.

In fact, I actually found my balance on the skates a lot more quickly than I was expecting. Especially considering the amount of time it took for me to find my balance on my rollerblades a couple of months ago. What made it even better was that in a fairly short period of time, my nephews both figured out how to move on skates too. They obviously had difficulty initially and couldn't really move without assistance. But after some time, the instructors taught my nephews how to walk - and to stop - on the ice and pretty soon they managed to get around without having to hold on to anyone. They did have their fair share of falls but they knew how to stand up whenever they fell.

I managed to take a few photos of my nephews while they were skating (I was comfortable and confident enough on my ice skates to actually carry around a camera with me and take photos) but I used my mom's camera so the photos aren't with me. In any case, it was a really good day. I'm pretty sure that we'll be ice skating again sometimes in the fairly near future.