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Experiencing Blazing Fast 4G Internet with Smart LTE

13 June 2011

Experiencing Blazing Fast 4G Internet with Smart LTE

4G Internet services promise noticeably faster mobile Internet speeds as compared to its 3G forerunner and, as would you and the thousands of net critters like us, I said “I NEED THIS IN MY LIFE” when I experienced firsthand how FAST Smart’s Long Term Evolution (LTE) 4G service could really go. Imagine watching full-HD Youtube videos without the pain of letting them stream for hours on pause before watching them sans buffering. To understand the technology better, I tried reading through net materials on 4G and, not surprisingly, my brain would numb off when I force it to get as much supposedly life nurturing nerdy juice from them as I can. Right after my third failed attempt, I concluded with firm resolve that if I become Emperor of the known world, I’d ban techno-jargon from reaching the consciousness of ordinary mortals, this Mensa genius included, because of their arbitrary harmful effects, quite similar to getting too much UV, glucose from non-diet non-zero sodas, and fat from those delicious yet ordinary glazed donuts.

However, if there’s one thing I learned from my net-readings, it’s this: 3.5G and HSPA+ will be far FAR inferior compared to a 4G’s premise like, in my mind, somewhere along a 1Gb download in under 10 minutes while you play your favourite resource-hogging online flash or client-based MMORPG . Sounds ridiculous, yes? Actually, not with LTE.

Experiencing Blazing Fast 4G Internet with Smart LTE in Boracay

Smart will soon release its 4G LTE service late in the year and they have been fearlessly inviting several discerning users, yours truly included *chest thumps*, to try it out. The techno-masochist in me had a field day thinking of possible stress test scenarios for this special purpose.

When Bim from Smart said “download anything you can think of. Anything that’s legal, of course, LOL,” only one thing came to my mind: the massive 5.06Gb Adobe Creative Suite 5. To add to the challenge, I used the same browser to watch a full HD 1080p trailer of Summer Wars while the download is ongoing followed by me playing GodsWar Online, a flash-based MMORPG from IGG (that would on normal occasions freeze intermittently after around 30 minutes of continuous game play). Below’s a screenshot of the activity:

That's Nina Fuentes and Mica Rodriguez with Winston Almendras at the back. Amazed testers.

The MMORPG Test concurrent with Adobe CS5 download

Demo area setup where monitor is connected to a laptop with Smart LTE connection

The shot of the screen above was set up with a direct-to-PC connection at the briefing hub in Astoria, Boracay. My download speed averaged 1MB/s or 8Mb/s. The real test, for me, however, should be when I take the Smart LTE dongle up to my room, a considerable distance away from Astoria, and see for myself how this would fare wirelessly from there. Proceeding to download Adobe Photoshop CS5.1 trial version that’s around 1Gb in size, thinking the LTE technology would fail to deliver anything better than the 1MB/s speed from hours before, it finished in 8-9 minutes tops at speeds between 2.19 to 2.3MB/s ( or 17.52Mb to 18.4Mb/s!). More than twice as fast from my previous experience! My laptop must have felt euphoria that time because the 1Gb download finished in 8-9 minutes LOL.

That's my laptop connected to a 4G dongle set up in my room in Boracay

“LTE is a mobile standard which promises, at present, actual download speeds of up to 70Mb/s (as proven during the launch in Boracay) or roughly 35 times faster than that of the current 3G standard. It is 100% future-proof as it is designed from the ground up to handle massive amounts of data.

“With this, end users can fully enjoy multimedia streaming and downloads on their mobile devices faster than they could even on fixed-line DSL and cable internet connections” – Smart Communications.

I raised several questions during the test and briefing: when do consumers get it, who gets it first, and how much can we have it for? Smart LTE is currently slated for public release in December 2011 but the infrastructure is now established in Metro Manila and Boracay. Cebu, Davao, and other major Philippine cities and municipalities will follow shortly, Anne Binuya of Smart shared. There may be times when the 4G signal would go down to lower speeds depending on the location, similar probably to what I experience on my mobile phone with Smart’s HSPA when mobile. They mentioned that pricing would definitely be higher than the current rates for mobile broadband but there’s no final plan amount yet. Hopefully it’s friendly on my budget because I’m missing the speed already and I’ve been itching to change ISPs for a while now.

Smart Paraw in Boracay

Traveling to Boracay on a Saturday and back in Manila again on Sunday was worth getting a taste of something exciting from the near future, all thanks to Smart. Since we’re in one of the best beaches in the world and since we were afforded some free time, we got to beeline towards a small store called Jonah’s Fruit Shake (not an advertorial, mind you), the undisputed must go to place in Boracay for fruit shakes LOL, thrice in 24 hours! Thanks for suggesting the Avocado-Banana variant, Bim. IT WAS THE BOMB LIKE YOU SAIT IT WOULD BE!!!

Jonah's Fruit Shake Avocado-Banana FTW and Mango-Banana

Disclosure: airfare, living, and accommodation expenses for the one-day LTE testing event in Boracay was entirely paid for by Smart Communications.

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10 Tips and Facts for the Hot Air Balloon Festival in Clark, Pampanga Traveler

9 February 2011

10 Tips and Facts for the Hot Air Balloon Festival in Clark, Pampanga Traveler

Here are some 10 things that will come in handy for those who are going to this year’s hot air balloon festivity at Clark in Pampanga. Those who went in their own private vehicles or as a group whose transport had been pre-arranged sure had it great. Going to Clark, Pampanga via public transport, however, is an entirely different level of adventure, more so when none of the people with you know how to get to the event venue, hahaha. Talk about hard core! Enough of the blah and on with my definitive guide, owing to our personal experience during the 15th Hot Air Balloon Festival. Bookmark this page for future reference, dear backpacker/day-traveller.

Annual Hot Air Balloon Festival in Clark Pampanga photos (teams)

1. The Commute: there were five of us who decided on taking a bus for the Hot Air Balloon Festival. Take the Victory Liner or Dagupan Bus Lines from Cubao. Bus fare is P102.00 (2010 rate) for Dau, Pampanga via Dagupan Bus Lines. It’s a good thing that we left our homes at 2:00 a.m. because there were no Victory Liner buses scheduled to leave before 4:30. Get off at the Dau stop over and take a jeepney along the highway (will take a short walk from the stop over spot) for the “Main Gate.” At the Main Gate, take another jeepney that will take you to the festival grounds. People in Angeles are very helpful. Ask if you feel lost or if you are not sure where you are.

2. Event Ticket: if you can, buy tickets before going to Clark via ticket outlets scattered around the Metro. Now be sure to bring those tickets because I know some people who forgot to bring theirs LOL. You can always buy them from the gate but prepared to fall in line because the Hot Air Balloon Festival is a BIG event and it will never fail to draw more and more tourists every year.

Annual Hot Air Balloon Festival in Clark Pampanga photos (dawn)

3. Start Time and Program Schedule: check the schedule from the event’s official website prior to going to Clark. During the Saturday event last year, the balloon flight was slated at 5:20 a.m. but the first balloons only started inflating at around 6:00 a.m. While the balloons were being set up, at around 6:19 a.m. a person in parachute came descending from the skies carrying with him the Philippine Flag as the speakers played the National Anthem. Everything has already flown at around 7:00 a.m. and right on schedule, too. There are things happening all day long but, next time, I’ll make sure I leave after the balloons. The scheduled re-flight at around dusk did not happen because the winds were too strong that they can’t even be inflated! I’ll explain more about this in a bit.

4. Vantage Point: only those with media badges are allowed in the field area where the balloons are being inflated. The rest of the spectators get to stay behind a gated area around 30 meters (or so) from the nearest hot air balloon. Those who came in early had the chance to stay right in front of the fence surrounding the main activity area.

Annual Hot Air Balloon Festival in Clark Pampanga photos (shell)

5. Photographers Galore: as mentioned, people who get inside the venue earlier usually choose to stay very close to the fenced area. As there are also LOTS of photographers wielding huge-ass lenses on standby in that perimeter, it’s gonna be a feat get to have a better position than most others. Usually, the really very early guests reign supreme: a usual perk enjoyed by the sleepless but deserving. Remember, you are shooting opposite the sunrise. It’s challenging enough to get a good shot of the balloons, and then this lighting problem! Caltex held a contest for each of the days during the festival last year, selecting 5 best shots from submissions. Winners could get to win gas cards and a year’s subscription to a locally published photography mag. Winson, who was with us that time, submitted a photograph and won the grand prize! Woot! Lastly, bring extra batteries for your camera. I can’t stress this important little reminder enough. For what use are 32Gb memory cards when your camera’s in a temporary coma.

6. Weather: I suggest that you bring a jacket for the bus trip. I never thought the early pre-Valentine’s Day morning in Pampanga can still be chilly. The event venue is an open field with several hangars that organizers managed to convert to covered activity areas. At noon, and thankfully, it got a bit cloudy so everyone had heavenly protection from harsh UV rays, so to speak. The wind picked up late in the afternoon, much to the kite flyers’ enjoyment. As a drawback, the commentator explained, the balloons that were supposed to fly that night had a hard time inflating because the wind speed rose to around 7-8 knots (8 to 9.2 miles per hour) at the open field. In the event that the balloons did get to inflate, there’s also the risk of endangering the onlookers. They still tried inflating the balloons and it was evident from where we were looking that they were all having a hard time.

Annual Hot Air Balloon Festival in Clark Pampanga photos (sun)

7. Food: there were trailers where Burger King, Jollibee, and McDonalds sold freshly prepared food (megots Burger King Chicken Sandwich! WIN!). There were also hotdog stands, carinderia-style meals, dimsum, ice cream, water, Halo-Halo courtesy of Kabigting Halo-Halo at the Marquee Mall booth (with pastillas as a main ingredient), and Yellow Cab Pizza, among others. Some brought food but, IMO, that’s too much of a hassle since arrangements for food stalls were well taken cared of by the organizers. Just bring cash since there are no ATMs inside the event area.

8. Mall-Access: Speaking of Marquee Mall, they offered free shuttle service to spectators that left every thirty minutes for the Mall. We left for Marquee Mall at around 8:30 only to find out that the mall opens at 10. Major bummer! Good thing Starbucks opened earlier than everybody else. We went around, having nothing else to do, and found ourselves inside Saizen (a Japanese store that sells anything for P85) where we spent a good hour getting awed at the littlest things. It is only here that I saw the most expansive CDR King branch ever! There we also traces of concepts stores, one for each of Microsoft, Lenovo, Toshiba, Logitech, and Dell, the likes of which we’ve never seen anywhere in the Metro. We had lunch in the mall before heading back for more Hot Air Balloon festivities via the way we came: free shuttle!

Annual Hot Air Balloon Festival in Clark Pampanga photos ( hot balloon)

9. Stay all day: Next year, I’d rather leave for home after the early morning balloon flight. Don’t get me wrong, staying there the entire day will get you your money’s worth for all P150 of it (still the same price as in 2010). There are portalets in strategic areas that would have been easy to use in the mornings but got filthy-gross at dusk. The emcee was outstanding. I was not able to get his name but kudos to you, whoever you are. That guy was talking all day, talking sense of what the “plane acrobatic pilots” (the actual name they’re called escapes me) were doing or are about to do as the flying exhibition happened, helping children find their lost parents (LOL), explaining about the balloons and the science behind the flights, and taking good care that the program remains interesting even for those who are not facing the stage or field area. It must be exhausting doing all that for four straight days in a row! *hat tip* I would not dare stay later than 3PM again because of my next and last learning…

10. Going home on commute: We had a hell of a hard time going back home at around 7:30 p.m. There was traffic everywhere and it seemed that every commuter from the festival decided to go home at exactly the same time. Jeepneys heading back to the “Main Gate” were scarce and the traffic congested. Terrific! Outstanding! When we finally reached the Dau bus terminal, getting a Manila-bound bus proved to be the hardest task for the day. Oh boy, never again. It’s either I’ll take my own ride going to Pampanga for next year’s festival or I’m leaving the venue earlier and forego the afternoon program.

Annual Hot Air Balloon Festival in Clark Pampanga photos (glider)

There you have it folks, 10 thinks you should know and prepare for when going to your next Hot Air Balloon Festival. Thanks to Marquee Mall for the Event Pass!

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Davao Food Tourism with Davao “FAT”

28 April 2010

Davao Food Tourism with Davao “FAT”

On March in 2009, prior to me owning the high-power zooming ultra compact Lumix ZS3 and a Canon EOS 550D, I brought my trusty Nokia N82 camera phone to Davao City in time for the now annual Davao Food Appreciation Tour (DFAT) through the efforts and graciousness (not of the local DOT as you might think but) of local bloggers to show us visitors a different story to the city otherwise famous for its durian and suha. Think about it: taking upon a daunting task of getting select local restaurants’ buy-in to feed a group of hungry travelers from Manila for free is no easy task. But it’s happened AND it will again this year, this coming weekend, on its third straight year in a row. This “food tourism” project is the initiative of Davao City bloggers Ria, Drew, Blogie, and Chattee.

Looking back, let me re-count with words and a few food pron photographs how much of a swell time I had with good friends and great company. We did spend for our own airfare and accommodation, yes, but going to Davao with no other intention but to grub (and enjoy the city on the side) was IMHO a three-day travel-adventure worth saving up for.

During Lunch of the first day, we were sat inside the quaint Tadakuma Japanese Restaurant at Damosa where we were served one flavorful Japanese dish after another: Atuyaki Tofu, Sukiyaki, Yakisoba, Gomoku Chahan, and Gyoza. Of the lot, I’ll never forget their Sukiyaki, priced at a low P380.00 last year. Although I don’t have a photo of it here, I fondly recall its sheer magnificence (so not kidding) when I day dream inside meh Japanese fast food restos in Makati. Quite comparable to the Sukiyaki from the Jap resto along Pasay Rd and near Pasong Tamo (I’m not saying which, exactly LOL).

From this point, onwards, please hover on the images for descriptions. Thank you.

Gyoza from Tadakuma

Maki from Tadakuma

Yakisoba from Tadakuma

At dinner, we went to Aileen and Ria’s (the birthday girl 04.28 yay!) favorite restaurant, Lachi’s, where they served Cream Dory in Thai Sauce (limited release and “coming soon” back then), Breaded Tofu in Teriyaki Sauce, Laing Pasta (see how creative they are?), Pork Belly in red Bean Curd Sauce (also a limited release food item), Pork Marinara (pasta, Aileen’s favorite), Unforgettable Ribs (my ultimate favorite), and Ube Panna Cotta and Crème Brûlée for dessert. Lachi’s is famous for their Sans Rival, for those not in the know. I always make it a point to drop by this resto when I’m in Davao (Drew and Ria seem more than happy to oblige and take me there). Lachi’s, I overheard, makes cakes for several other restaurants in Davao City. Goes to show how good they really are in pampering a sweet tooth.

Pork Marinara from Lachi's

Cheesecakes from Lachi's

Choco Torte from Lachi's in Davao City

After dinner, we capped the night off with coffee (and stories) over at Kangaroo, a local coffee shop famous for their Alamid/Manos (cat poo LOL) coffee. Our group signed their guestbook like the self proclaimed stars that we are. I also bought mint chocolate chip cookies from the cafe as pasalubong for my boss (bribe for letting me take a leave that time).

Kangaroo Coffee

Guestbook Page at Kangaroo

On the second day, we went Zip-lining at Asia’s longest zip, The Xcelerator, first before lunch was served at a cozy restaurant called Pepper & Peppers. The most memorable dish they served was the Iberian Chicken: baked to perfection and glazed with spices that will make your mind spin in euphoria, despite it soaking in what appears to be heart-attack-inducing oil but is, in fact, zero-cholesterol-and-zero-trans-fat olive oil. I think you’ll have to call the store and order the Iberian Chicken in advance because it takes quite a while to prepare. It’s that special!

Pepper & Peppers in Davao City

Iberian Chicken from Pepper & Peppers in Davao City

Sisig from Pepper & Peppers in Davao City

Pepper & Peppers in Davao City

More city touring followed and at dinner, we went to Mamu’s where they served the best soup I had during my stay. It is here that I got to first eat salmon sashimi. First. You read that right. Contrary to the aura I project, I never got the hang of Japanese food from since I was little. To my joy and delight, my first salmon sashimi experience was ab-so-lutely fuckentastic! Mamu’s owner showed us around the hotel rooms of the adjoining Anisabel Suites. Had I known of this from before, I would have booked my stay at Anisabel, instead. Their Suite Room’s T&B has see-through showers with only a curtain dividing it from the bedroom. Perfect for the “first” during honeymoon night! OMG, an epiphany a year too late! Hahaha!


Anisabel Suites and Mamu's

On our third and last day, we had lunch at Cafe Andessa, home to the Bicol Express Pasta. A MUST TRY! On my notes, I scribbled down “Iced Tea FTMFW! (woot) (rock) (panic),” just so I could remember how fantastic their iced tea is. Now I want one. Bummer. For dessert, we had Suman Latik and Turon a la mode. Looking at my year-old photos is making me hallucinate. Not good.

Cafe Andessa

Bicol Express Pasta from Café Andessa

Pepper & Peppers in Davao City

Turon a la Mode (haha) from Café Andessa

This coming weekend, DFAT shall happen on its third year. For first time joiners, you’re in for a wild ride, I assure you. To Drew, Chattee, and Ria, you guys are amazing. Every city needs a clone of each of you and collectively, you and your clones will take food tourism to greater heights all over the country. To the DOT, learn from these guys. To the guys I went with, you are the best company ever! To the rest of the participants this weekend, please take better photos than what I got with my camphone. That’s a dare ;)

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First Shots off my Canon 550D (Rebel T2i)

24 April 2010

First Shots off my Canon 550D (Rebel T2i)

Got this baby on April 14 after much thought and internal deliberation (cost versus a 3-year warranty that’ll cover service and parts). I have now, ladies and gents, succumbed to the “this is long overdue,” “your talent deserves a DSLR,” “the point and shoot being as good as a DSLR is a myth,” and the “nothing feels better than composing your shot in-cam and not depend on post processing” advice I constantly get from peers. I bought a Canon 550D (Digital Rebel T2i in some parts of the world). Not a 7D as initially planned, shut up.

Shortly after purchase, I went on a trip to Legaspi City in Bicol, Donsol, Pili in Naga, and the Caramoan Peninsula in Camarines Sur all in 5 days. The trip deserves a lengthy post on its own and since it’s late and I’ve a bajillion things lined up for my Saturday, let me share with you the test shots I took with the 550D using a kit lens, an ultra wide angle, and a prime 50mm f/1.8 “plastic fantastic.” So far, I’ve done people, food, inanimate objects, and landscape mostly by tweaking the manual settings. Do critique and advise, if you must and let me know, my shots so I can improve on them as needed (yung mga nagbabalak magsabi para may masabi lang, tumahimik na lang at di ko yan kelangan LOL).

Mt Mayon (Mayon Volcano)

Matukad Island (Cam Sur)

Matukad Island (Cam Sur)

Pinalahos (Cam Sur)

The resort where we stayed at

Slow shutter sunset (digital noise infested)

Sabitan Laya (Cam Sur)

Fresh mangoes

Oyster Rockefeller (Mario's)

Misa (DeathNote)

There you go. The cam cost plus Markku’s 10-22mm ultra wide angle (got a great deal from him, too) practically made my financial liquidity non-existent but still, I’m happy. Happy and awed like seeing a Butanding up close. Will share that story in a few.

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Poblacion Makati Lent 2010

2 April 2010

Poblacion Makati Lent 2010

Resitends near the U-Belt area have so many churches to go to making it a cinch for them to complete visita iglecia, a custom for those of the Catholic faith where they visit 14 churches during the Lenten Season. In Poblacion, Makati, however, people visit elaborate works of art made to house various images of Christ depicting the various stages of his “way to the cross.” (You may see all the 42 photos I took below)

I’m not aware of any contest where the best designed stations win. The residents go all out to come up with these life-sized structures year after year like clockwork. Comparing this year with last year’s setup, I have observed that the statues are the same (as in 2009) for each street. It’s what surrounds it that’s different. Also, there are stations that look “low budget” as there are some that look well financed. You may catch yourself thinking, “oh, this one’s a B-Movie… but that other one’s definitely a James Cameron/Michael Bay.” LOL

If I recall correctly, come Sunday, all these shall already be taken down. If you’ve nothing to do on Holy Friday, take your cue from the hundreds of photographers I saw a while ago, go to Poblacion (Makati), and marvel at these, IRL, yourself. People from northern Metro Manila may make their way on a pilgrimage towards Antipolo but people in Makati choose to conveniently crowd the Poblacion residential streets (causing JP Rizal to become two-way during the day time). Instead of praying, why is it that I’ve witnessed hundreds of camwhores striking poses beside their suffering God again? *click* Am I missing something here? *click*

On Holy Friday, there will be a procession at around 6PM. Either stay out of Poblacion or stay in it for the highlight of their Lenten celebration.

Get the flash player here:

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So I Spent Four Days In Bangkok Last September With These Guys

2 November 2009

So I Spent Four Days In Bangkok Last September With These Guys

They’re Kring, Faith, Coy, and Rick. While I shot the scene and them, they shot themselves. As I went home with hundreds of photos of them and the scenes, they collectively ended up having about five shots of me with them. Story of my life.

I’ll show off more of Bangkok in my next posts. Meanwhile, I present to you the “crazies” in a collection I styled to look “tabloidal.”

*sigh* I miss Bangkok already!

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