Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Smart Crows!

We've always known that some animals like dolphins and apes are intelligent, but apparently, so are crows. This first video is very impressive. A crow is given a complex problem and apart from a few seconds when it seems to get stuck, it actually figures out what it needs to do to get the food. To quote the BBC presenter in the video, "how on earth did that crow do that?"

video uploaded in youtube by BBC

Do you remember the Aesop fable about the crow and the pitcher, where the crow drops pebbles into a pitcher to raise the water level, allowing it to drink? It seems that in real life, these birds actually know how to do that! Check this next video out. I mean, talk about an amazing ability to understand cause and effect.

video uploaded in youtube by PLOS Media

The next time someone calls you a birdbrain, show them these videos and thank them for the compliment. :)

Monday, January 30, 2017

January hodgepodge

After having lunch with Daday and Patrick in Greenbelt, I decided to hang out a bit at the mall complex. I invariably found myself in Astroplus in Greenbelt 5 that afternoon, looking at the pre-owned CD shelf. As luck would have it, one of the first CDs I saw was Prince's 3121. I actually had been really interested to get this album after Prince passed away because it includes Lolita and Satisfied, two songs that Prince sang in one of the earlier seasons of American Idol. Without a second thought, I picked up the CD and purchased it immediately. (And yes, I am still stuck in the 20th century as I still buy CDs and DVDs while everyone else just listens to Spotify or downloads music and movies. Maybe over the next few years, I'll start becoming a bit more current in my use of technology. :))

It took a while but my washer-dryer (which broke down in late October) has finally been repaired. It was picked up from my place towards the end of November and returned to me in early January. I am now finally able to wash clothes again at home without having to go to Labarya. I will say though that my machine, or specifically the drying function, doesn't seem to be performing that well anymore. I now have to think about whether I should replace it (although it will be a very costly so I have to check my finances first).

I also only recently got to use the Severin coffee grinder that I bought more than a year ago. The cool thing about this is that I can now actually grind coffee beans right before I make coffee.

My nephew and I also had a crazy experience recently when our dog got loose when we took him to the vet. Apparently, the chain wasn't attached very securely and as he was resisting us as we tried to to usher him into the vet clinic, he got loose and starting running up and down the streets amidst traffic. It was so stressful running after our dog and I was really worried that he would be run over. After maybe five to ten minutes of running after him, our dog finally stopped and we were able to get a chain around him and bring him inside the clinic. Thankfully, what we thought could be some kind of major medical problem turned out to be a minor one so our dog was just prescribed some medication and we were able to take him home. The vet said that we might need to have our dog neutered though, so I might consult the rest of my family to see if this is an option we want to take.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Throwback Australian Open

If you saw the final weekend of the Australian Open, you could very well have been misled to think it was ten or so years ago and not 2017. The men's final featured Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal playing against each other for the 35th time. Their first meeting? 2004. Their first Grand Slam meeting? 2005 at the French Open. Their first Grand Slam final? 2006 also at the French Open. While Nadal leads their head-to-head, Federer won this match-up in a tough five-setter to win his 18th Grand Slam singles title, extending the record he already currently holds for most major singles titles among the men.

A Grand Slam singles record was also achieved on the women's side, with Serena Williams beating her sister Venus to win her 23rd major singles title, moving her past Steffi Graf to claim the record for most major singles titles won in the Open era. She is now just one trophy behind Margaret Court and the way things are going, she may end the year having tied or even beaten Court's all-time record. Also, if you thought that the men's final was a throwback, then the women just took it up a few notches. Venus and Serena's first match against each other? 1998 at the 4th round of the Australian Open. This was also their first Grand Slam match against each other. That was almost 20 years ago! Their first Grand Slam final? 2000 at Wimbledon. For perspective, Roger Federer started playing professional tennis in 1998. Rafael Nadal only started playing pro tennis in 2002.

It's just incredible that both winners - Roger and Serena - are 35 years old! This is also the first time I had ever seen a pro tennis event where all singles finalists were in their 30s (Venus 36, Serena 35, Roger 35, Rafa 30). Their combined age is a staggering 136 years old. Prior to the finals, their combines Grand Slam singles haul is 60. This goes even higher when you factor in the doubles and mixed doubles majors that the Williams sisters have.

As historic as this Australian Open finals weekend was, I actually hoped that it would be spoiled by a first-time Grand Slam finalist in the form of Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, who herself is 34 years old. I became a fan of Mirjana when she burst into the scene, achieving a handful of records: the youngest winner of a Grand Slam title (1998 Australian open mixed with Martina Hingis), winner of the first ever professional tournament she played (1997 Croatian Bol Ladies Open), and the youngest player to successfully defend a title when she won this event again as a 16-year-old in 1998. Unfortunately, she had a very difficult personal life brought on by an abusive father, preventing her from playing during what would have been her peak years. I was hoping for a Cinderella story and have her win a major title but Serena was just too good. Nevertheless, it was amazing to see her incredible semifinal run. Check out her post-match interview with Rennae Stubbs. It was very moving to see how grateful and joyful Mirjana was to get that far:

The great thing about this is that Mirjana is now ranked 29, her highest-ever ranking. Wow! Talk about turning back the clock. Serena also reclaims the #1 ranking from Angelique Kerber. Venus is knocking on the door of the top 10 again. And after a poor 2016 by their standards, Roger and Rafa have proven that they are still very much in the mix. With Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic still holding the #1 and #2 ranking, it will be extremely interesting to see how the rest of 2017 pans out. I can't wait to see what happens.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

January get-togethers

January often becomes an extension of the Christmas season because there are too many people to meet up and too little time (and the traffic tends to be quite prohibitive so everyone decides to just meet up when the roads are bit less tangled). First of these post-holiday get-togethers was my dinner reunion with friends from my first company. Chari requested that we meet up in the Ortigas area so I suggested Duck & Buvette. I hadn't eaten here in a while and I think everyone else had never eaten there before so when I suggested it, everyone agreed. Thankfully Anna was still in town so she was able to join me, Chari, Bett, Jette, Ric and Lany for the first time in a long while. Everyone also enjoyed the food so it ended up being a good choice for our dinner venue.

My friends Tim and Janice were in Manila post-New Year as well so I had dinner with them in Barcino in Greenbelt. After dinner, Tim was really in the mood to try local craft beers and the nearest one that was still open after our dinner was Big Bad Wolf so we decided to go there. We ended up staying there until the place closed. I can't remember which local craft beer I got but it was a bit too bitter for my taste.

I also met up with Marga and Romy, both of whom I hadn't seen in years. Marga has been living in Europe for a decade already and while she comes home every so often, I had never managed to catch up with her until now. I think the last time I hung out with Romy was when we were still colleagues more than a decade ago. Talk about a throwback evening!

My first weekend get-together was with my college friends. While we normally hold it in someone's house, this year, we decided to have lunch in Cafe Via Mare in our alma mater, UP. I didn't realize there was a Via Mare there. I ended up ordering a whole lot of food but I somehow managed to eat everything. We hung out there until mid-afternoon before a handful of us decided to move to Art Circle Cafe at the Bahay ng Alumni for late afternoon coffee. It was actually really nostalgic hanging out with my college friends in UP, the place where we all met and became life-long friends.

While this one wasn't a reunion, I also met up with my board gaming friends to celebrate Jovan's birthday. We had been talking about going to a karaoke place for a while now but we never managed to go so Jovan decided that she wanted to celebrate in a karaoke place for her birthday. I got there quite late but thankfully everyone was in the mood to sing the night away so I still got to hang out with everyone for a few hours until the place closed.

A week later, I attended the wedding of my teammate Cyd and his now-wife April. It was a lavish wedding and I felt that the first dance, the same day edit video and especially Cyd's speech were very memorable highlights.

Finally, I closed the month out with three more reunions. First was with my team at work circa 2011-2013. We had been talking about getting together for a reunion for a really long time now so I planned things out with Migs and we finally got the folks together at Richmonde Hotel on a Saturday night. I told our friend Case to bring her Splendor and I taught my friend how to play. They ended up being quite intense while playing and they really enjoyed it. Case's daughter also wanted to play Ticket to Ride so I set it up and played this game with both her and Case. A lot of picture taking followed before most people said their goodbyes and I ended up sharing stories with Migs, Magnus, and Jeoff until the wee hours of the morning.

I then met up with my friends from our CSR organization at work for dinner at Locavore in Forbes Town Center. The food here never fails to whet one's appetite and I ended up eating a lot. (My friends commented that I am so much fun to eat with because I tend to eat so much that they feel encouraged to eat a lot too. I'm not particularly sure that's a good thing LOL.) After dinner, we moved to Casa Italia for gelato and coffee.

The next day, I met up with Daday for lunch in People's Palace in Greenbelt. The idea was that this would be a mini-reunion of people who all met Daday during business trips or even short-term assignments in Brussels. Unfortunately, most people ended up being unavailable so it was just me and Patrick who were able to join Daday. I hadn't eaten in People's Park in maybe a decade as well and the food here is still really good. We ended up hanging out until the late afternoon before we all said our goodbyes.

It has been a full and packed month and interestingly enough, as I look forward to February, I realize that my weekend schedule in that month is also full. I definitely don't take this for granted and I'm just thankful that I have so many wonderful people in my life with whom I enjoy spending time (and who seem to enjoy spending time with me, too).

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Nomination #20

Given the fact that Meryl Streep has been nominated at the Oscars so many times already, I figured it would be a while before she gets honored again, and most likely not for a comedy. So when I saw that she was nominated yet again for Best Actress at the Oscars for her performance in Florence Foster Jenkins, I was pleasantly suprised. This now means that Meryl has an astounding 20 Oscar nominations in the acting category, 16 of which are for Best Actress and 4 for Best Supporting Actress. Even if just count her best actress nominations, she still has more than any other actor. Bravo!

I wanted to see Florence Foster Jenkins during its cinematic release but I wasn't able to. After seeing Meryl's nomination, I decided to check out some clips on youtube and I have to say that Meryl does put in a superb comedic performance. I found myself laughing a lot at her (intentionally) bad singing, especially when she attempts the higher notes. (Check out this clip to see and hear what I mean.) While Meryl will almost surely not win (Emma Stone seems to be the frontrunner and Natalie Portman has been getting a lot of buzz as well), it's amazing to see her continue to break the records that she herself has set.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Star Wars Episode VIII Title is Released

The 8th installment of the Star Wars Saga has been released: The Last Jedi. Naturally, people don't know exactly what it means. Who could this last Jedi be? And what are the circumstances that make this person the last? The theories and ideas for possible shocking plot twists are endless. You gotta give it to the Star Wars franchise for knowing how to generate buzz and excitement.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi will be released in December this year. I can't wait to see it. It will also be quite bittersweet because it is the last time we will see Carrie Fisher.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Kings of Leon Cover of Robyn's Dancing On My Own

Dancing On My Own is an electronic dance song by Swedish singer Robyn. It was performed on Britain's Got Talent by Calum Scott and on X Factor Australia by Cyrus Villanueva. Calum Scott's version was apparently inspired by the Kings of Leon cover of the song which they performed on BBC Radio 1's Live Lounge in 2013. Check out their powerful and emotionally charged cover. It is absolutely stunning. I am such a fan of lead vocalist Caleb Followill's uniquely gritty, edgy and resonant voice.

video uploaded in youtube by BBC Radio 1

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

My first game night of the year

I met up with my friends for our first board and tabletop gaming night of 2017. We couldn't stay as late as we normally do because our host Karen had an early morning event the next day. Still, we were able to play a few games. Or rather, I was able to play a few games. The way our game night turned out, one set of people played Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization which is a long game to begin with but it is even longer when it is still being taught to people for the first time. The folks who played it ended up playing only that game but I on the other hand was able to play three different games. The first one I played was Suburbia, which I played one time before. I guess my learning curve kicked in because after my third place finish then, I won this time around.

Suburbia (photo from Amazon.com)

A few other friends joined us after we completed Suburbia so we played Fresco. The last time I played this game, I played with wrong rules - to be fair, I was the one who read the instructions to teach the game to my other friends and I interpreted the rules incorrectly - and that led to my last place finish. This time, I was able to make a bit of a comeback as I finished first, making it my second win that night.

Fresco (photo from https://boardgamegeek.com)

The last game I played was The World of Smog: On Her Majesty's Service. Of the games I played that night, this was the only one I was hadn't tried before. I have to say, the design of this game and the artwork is incredible and the fact that you have to move parts of the board around during game play makes it interesting and unique. Thanks to one card I picked up which allowed me to take the lead and a move by another player from which I greatly benefited, I somehow ended up winning this game as well. Wow, what a big night for me!

The World of Smog: On Her Majesty's Service (photo from https://boardgamegeek.com)

If I factor in the last time I played in 2016 in which I won Bruges, I'm now on a four-game winning streak. Cool! I also just realized that I ended 2016 on a winning note and started 2017 also on a winning note. I am definitely looking forward to playing more games, including Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization since it looks really interesting (and, despite the length of its game play, is currently ranked #2 on Boardgamegeek).

Thursday, January 12, 2017

I got my Coldplay ticket!

I can't believe it. I actually got a ticket to the Coldplay concert in Manila!

I almost didn't get a ticket too. I missed the news that the tickets would be out for pre-sale to Globe employees so by the time I had reached out to my Globe friends, they had all reserved the maximum number of tickets allowed. I was toying with the idea of getting tickets in another country like Singapore or Seoul since tickets there cost significantly less there but the flight costs were not that cheap either. In fact, while searching for flights in Cebu Pacific, I got a pop-up message saying 599 other people were looking at the same schedule! I figured that the airfare would end up costing a lot more and I wasn't even sure I would manage to get a ticket abroad. I had practically given up and I was lamenting my missed opportunity to a friend when she said she would try to reach out to her
network to see if another ticket could be made available. I didn't expect a positive response but I told her that it wouldn't hurt to try.

Shortly after that, good news - she said she managed to reserve me the ticket that I wanted. Wow!!! And now, I actually have that ticket with me. :)

There have been rumors over the years about a potential Coldplay concert in Manila so I'm happy that they are finally coming here. I don't know what their setlist is going to be like, whether it will favor more recent music or it will cover their entire discography. I realized that I actually have their first five studio albums - talk about being a fan - but I also know and like a lot of their more recent songs such as Everglow, Up and Up, and a Sky Full of Stars so I am sure I will enjoy the concert no matter which of their music they perform. It is now just a few months away and I can't wait! :)

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Meryl Streep honored at the Golden Globes

Congratulations, Meryl Streep, for being recognized yet again at the Golden Globes, this time with a special Cecil B. DeMille Award, given by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association to artists who have made outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment. To quote the Golden Globes website, "with eight Golden Globes and 29 nominations, Meryl Streep is an icon of the performing arts." Note that this quote was most likely written before the acting award nominations were made this year, because she scored her 30th nomination - this time, as Best Actress in Motion Picture Musical or Comedy - for her performance as the title character in Florence Foster Jenkins.

From https://entertainment.inquirer.net. This image released by NBC shows Meryl Streep accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the 74th Annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017. (Paul Drinkwater/NBC via AP)

This Cecil B. Demille Award now moves her into a tie with Barbra Streisand for the most awards - both honorary and competitive - at the Golden Globes with 9 each. Meryl still continues to hold the record for most competitive awards with eight.

This award also became very memorable because of Meryl's acceptance speech that was powerful, political, and polarizing. Whatever your thoughts are on the content of that speech and whether or not you agree with her stand, you have to admit that Meryl is pretty ballsy for saying what she said, knowing the backlash she would get from it. I also found it touching that she ended her speech with a quote from Carrie Fisher, with whom she became friends most likely because of the film Postcards from the Edge, which was based on Carrie's semi-autobiographical book (she also wrote the screenplay) and in which Meryl played the lead character:

"As my friend, the dear departed Princess Leia, said to me once, take your broken heart, make it into art. Thank you."

Congratulations, Meryl!

Monday, January 02, 2017

Welcome 2017!

Happy new year!

What I love about blogging is that it makes it just a bit easier to look back and remember the many wonderful things that happened in the last year. I got to travel to new places and enjoy things for the first time. I visited my relatives in Kalibo and celebrated Ati-Atihan with them for the first time before spending a couple of very restful days in Boracay. I visited Baler for the first time. I spent a fun weekend with friends in Tagaytay. I also visited Singapore - my first international trip since 2013 - to watch Damien Rice, perform live (and that turned out to be a truly incredible concert).

That wasn't the only incredible show I got to see. I watched the goosebump-inducing and absolutely astounding Les Miserables (twice!) at the Theatre at Solaire. I saw Firebird and Other Ballets in CCP. And for something a bit lighter, I caught Rak of Aegis in the Peta Theater.

I was also able to spend a lot of time with my family and friends. We celebrated family birthdays in Casa Roces, Pinac, Relish and SM MOA. I met many friends who live abroad during their trips back home but I also spent a lot of time with my friends in Metro Manila, including a delicious dinner at Minami Saki with my high school friends. In fact, I think I actually got to meet up with my Manila-based friends more frequently this year than in previous years. I also made many new friends because of all the game day/nights. :)

In fact, if I could describe my 2016, I guess it would be the Year of Tabletop and Board Gaming. :) I played at least once every month, and in some cases even multiple times a month (I think at my most extreme, I played multiple times in the same week LOL). I also bought a tabletop game - Race for the Galaxy - for the first time since my first purchase since 2012.

Other stuff that happened: I got S&R membership for the first time, I made my final purchase at La Cocina De Tita Moning before it closed, I made several trips to Labarya while my washer-dryer was being repaired, and I availed of the 31% discount in Baskin Robbins.

While 2016 had it's fair share of challenges, it also had a lot of great moments. I'm happy that I still manage to take the time to write because it becomes easier for me to remember and focus on the positive stuff that happened.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

December hodgepodge

(So I missed out on writing about this on the last day of December but hey, I guess it's a good enough first post for 2017.)

As expected, December turned out to be a very full month, what with the Christmas season and all. Of course, there were a lot of get-togethers and reunions. I met up with my high school/college friends twice: first time was with Mitch, Ferg, Joyce, Iona, and JP because Mitch and Ferg were celebrating Christmas outside Manila. We had lunch and merienda at Joyce's place so it served as a housewarming as well since she had just moved to her new place. I volunteered to bring dessert and decided to get the Le Matcha cake by Rebecca Disini. This beautiful cake has a matcha glaze that is subtle and well-balanced and it is beautifully decorated with edible snapdragons and gumamela petals. I'm pretty sure even people who aren't big fans of matcha will love this.

Le Matcha by Rebecca Disini

Later that month, Anna took the place of Mitch and Ferg and joined us for a late lunch that lasted until the early evening. Of course, this gang wasn't the only one I met up with in December. I had lunch with with my colleagues and ex-colleagues in Salvatore Cuomo in Uptown Mall. My team at work had dinner in Jang Ga Nae in Ortigas before moving to Millenia Suites next door for our after-dinner celebration. I also had dinner and drinks with some of my other hang-out buddies at my friend's condo. And finally, my big boss prepared dinner at his house for the leadership team of our business unit at work. Highlight of the night for me was our traditional surprise exchange gift. The mechanics: everyone brings two gifts, one worth more than P500 and the other worth less than P100. Each person gets to pick two gifts based on a turn order determined by the ranking in the evening games. As such,  it is possible to pick two gifts worth less than P100 (which happened to me two years ago). This year, however, my luck changed as I actually got two gifts worth more than P500. One of them is a Scheaffer pen - I initially thought this cost less than P100 but my colleague said that this was worth more than P500 - and this was actually one of the last few gifts remaining (our team was in last place so we got everyone's else's "leftovers"). The other one was a box of Marks & Spencer chocolates. I was really pleased with this because I was really hoping to get a box of expensive chocolates and I did!

December is also when we commemorate my grandfather's death anniversary. We heard mass at the chapel in the cemetery before visting my grandfather's grave to pray. We then headed over to my aunt's house for dinner. It was a fabulous feast and the Nutella Fudge cake that I brought with me from Mom and Tina's provided a good ending to a delicious and thoroughly satisfying meal.

sunset at the cemetery

Other stuff: I almost went through the entire month without a game night but that changed when Mich, Mike, Reb and I met up shortly before Christmas to play. I placed second in Marco Polo (by a point!) but I won our Bruges game. I am also really happy that my shipment from Forexworld arrived shortly before Christmas because I had a couple of gifts in that package. Since I took the last week of the year off, I have also been able to spend some time updating my blog. As I mentioned at the start of the year, I was expecting to slow down in my posting but thankfully, I am still quite active. Hopefully I can continue to write regularly in 2017.