Archive of ‘technology’ category

pop goes the world: those unimaginative copycats

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  27 October 2011, Thursday

Those Unimaginative Copycats

 When an actress/politician officially backed the installation of a huge white “Hollywood”-style sign on an iconic Philippine natural landmark, it was only to be expected that reactions would erupt like, well, lava from a volcano.

To promote tourism in her province, Governor Vilma Santos-Recto wanted gigantic letters spelling “Batangas” across Taal Volcano. The news spread, and the majority of public opinion was vehemently against the silly idea.

Artist’s rendering of what the sign might look like, from GMA News Online.

The cybercommunity had a field day. Their collective ire caused the beleaguered Santos-Recto to backtrack and claim that the idea was a mere proposal under review; she asked the public not to “over-react”. But vice-governor Mark Leviste II had already confirmed that the Batangas provincial council passed a resolution on October 5 for a “a hard-to-miss landmark and potential tourism draw”. How could that be a “proposal under review”?

True, a sign that large sprawled across the volcano’s slopes would indeed be “hard to miss”. But would it be a “potential tourism draw”? Yes, for the wrong reasons – for people to jeer at and ridicule and shake their heads over the folly of misguided attempts at marketing and hype and snigger, “Who made money off that monstrosity?”

I wonder who really came up with this horrible idea to copy the “Hollywood” sign. They deserve to be pelted with eggs and rotten tomatoes, the unimaginative copycats. Boo. I’ve seen the real thing. Hollywood has done it already. They were first. It’s theirs. Why should we imitate them? How is this even a good thing?

How much would it have cost to put up such a sign? Wouldn’t that money be better spent on poverty alleviation, education, health care, infrastructure – in fact, a myriad of more pressing social problems and concerns?

Why, as a people, do we have to copy other people’s good ideas to turn them into our own bad projects? Remember the Department of Tourism’s Pilipinas Kay Ganda” campaign, which looked like it could have been drawn by a six-year-old, and turned out to have been lifted from Poland’s tourism authority?

We Filipinos are a creative people, more than capable of coming up with our own original concepts. Witness the many global awards our advertising people have won for their ad campaigns. Our artists and designers are lauded around the world. Just yesterday, breaking news on the Internet was that international pop star Lady Gaga wore a creation of Filipino designers Leeroy New and Kermit Tesoro on the cover of her new single off her Born This Way album, “Marry the Night”. (For the curious, it was described as a “leather body-armor outfit”. It rocks.)

Which is all the more bewildering why there are proposals and even done deals that cut corners, that reek of laziness and that odious mentality, “pwede na.” No, pwede na is not enough. “Good enough” is not enough. It is a base insult to the creative Filipinos who are guided by quality and excellence and maintain the highest standards in their work.

Case in point: the badly Photoshopped image of three Department of Public Works and Highways officials that appeared on the agency’s website soon after the typhoon Pedring assault. Not only was it in poor taste for such an image to be created in the first place, what added insult to injury was that it was an awful Photoshop job.

That went viral on the Internet too, and those three DPWH officials’ images appeared in all sorts of incongruous locations: behind the winner of the Miss Universe contest, on the ring with Manny Pacquiao, on Taal Volcano beside the proposed “Batangas” sign, but with the letters B, the first A, and S omitted.

Via Facebook’s “Photos of HollywoodPilipinas”

 Another example: the gaudy and tasteless lamp installations in various Manila parks and along the bridges. Bulbous and garish, they hurt the eyes and offend aesthetic sensibilities, not to mention use too much electricity better spent on more important things. Like food for the hungry and shelter for the homeless in those same over-lit parks.

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” – this was the credo of Steve Jobs, Apple founder, and he went on to build the world’s biggest and most respected company on that. It is also the cultural design philosophy of the Japanese, and we all know where they are now.

What this incident also makes painfully obvious is that up to now, many politicians and public officials still do not realize the power and influence of the cyber community. To be blind to the impact of current communications technology is stupid and foolish. Have no lessons been learned from the Mai Mislang sucky-wine-and-no-pogis-in-Vietnam Twitter debacle?

The Internet is a force for disseminating information almost instantaneously, and unlike traditional media, the cost of using which precludes access by the masses, the Internet may be used as a communication platform by anyone with a computer and broadband connection, or even just a smartphone and a data plan. Anyone can be a “journalist”, anyone can spread “news”.

So it’s no surprise that Gov Vi’s resolution went viral on the Internet, spawning a host of photos making fun of the “Taal Volcano” sign idea. That’s an indignity that’ll take some time to die down, and it certainly won’t help the tourism industry at all.

* * * * *

For runners/walkers: the 500 Smile Run aims to raise funds for the free surgery of 500 Filipino children and young adults born with cleft palates or lips. The race is set for November 6 at the Quirino Grandstand. Distances are 500m, 3km, 5km, 10km, and 16km. Registration is until November 3. See takbo.ph for details. Since it’s for a worthy cause, quite a few enthusiasts have signed up, among them the newly-formed Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office Runners Team.  ***

Polska-Pilipinas image here. Lady Gaga “Marry the Night” cover art here.

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pop goes the world: in the eye of the beholder

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  15 September 2011, Thursday

In the Eye of the Beholder      

Keyboards ceased clattering. Phones stopped humming. Work ground to a halt in the country the other morning as people downed tools to watch the live airing of this year’s Miss Universe pageant. It was said that the Philippines stops for only two things – the Miss U contest, and Manny Pacquiao fights.

Such is our fascination with the contest, which was established in 1952. Year after year, people have sat glued to their sets to watch how our candidates fare. Those at work had to rely on word-of-mouth for the results, and watch the replay at a later date. But with the Internet now providing the live feed, anyone with a broadband connection could watch it. The contest this year garnered more interest, with the well-beloved Shamcey Supsup fighting other Amazonian beauties to uphold the pulchritude of Filipinas on the world stage.

Shamcey was a pambato on many levels. Physically, she is a gorgeous specimen. But what’s more interesting is her blazing intelligence – a magna cum laude Architecture graduate of the University of the Philippines and Board topnotcher? Her future offspring would be formidable if they inherit her combination of beauty and brains, assuming she has them with a male of such impeccable DNA as herself.

Whether or not she should have won is a moot point. Beauty contests are subjective. The question is why someone as intelligent and talented as Shamcey, who has proven the quality of her brains in the academic arena, should still seek to validate her physical worth as well in a contest that looks primarily at appearance.

Shamcey Supsup’s Philippine Architecture Board exam result here.

We know the question-and-answer portion is a mere accommodation to deflect accusations of shallowness. If you really wanted to test a person’s intellect, then ask them to solve an algebra problem or write an essay. Pageant questions generally ask what a contestant would do given a certain scenario. The answers are usually grounded on the candidate’s cultural background, which the judges, who also come from different backgrounds, may not entirely agree with. So how can the Q & A be considered as a serious criterion for choosing a winner? No, it’s still primarily the looks.

And there we see that no matter how long the feminist battle has waged, it’s still the world’s commercial standards of beauty that prevail. Women all over the world strive to reach this ideal. Many spare no expense for cosmetic surgery and dentistry. Advances in knowledge and technology in cosmetic surgery have made it easier for non-contestants – the average person – to look like a “Miss U” candidate.

Those who can afford the procedures end up looking like each other, blank-faced Barbie dolls with breasts larger than nature can make them, their foreheads immovable from Botox. (Google images of US reality show celeb Heidi Montag.)

What’s alarming is how, in the process of socialization, these standards of beauty are being applied to younger females. Children have always been sexualized at various points in history; the question is, is it in their best interest for adults to allow this, in this day and age that we supposedly know better? Can we not protect children from this trend?

But in America, for instance, we see how child beauty pageants are so popular that there’s even a reality show for it – “Toddlers and Tiaras”.  Girls as young as two are dressed in frills and made-up. Those six and older sport fake eyelashes, elaborate hairstyles, and are made to look as much like adult women as possible.

Some studies have linked preoccupation with appearance to dissatisfaction with body image, trust issues, impulse disregulation. Other women suffer from eating disorders – anorexia, bulimia – or put other forms of pressure on themselves as they struggle to conform to the world’s notions of beauty. Is this worth chasing after?

We need to revisit our ideas of beauty and body image. Filipinos are racist. Some have expressed dissatisfaction with the victory of Miss Angola, the lovely Leila Lopes, because of her skin color. Otherwise, they said, she had attractive facial features and a great body. This mindset hearkens back to our colonial mentality. It’s a cultural disadvantage that prevents us from seeing more beauty and goodness in the world.

The debate will rage on. One thing is certain – our fascination with beauty and beauty pageants will not go away.

* * * * *

Education through entertainment: Web developer Bea Lapa announced the release of an “edutainment” online game that will help children learn about history and geography by taking a virtual trip on “Janjan the Jeepney”.

The game took three years to develop and is a pro bono project of Anino Games, Inc., the Cultural Center of the Philippines, and the now-abolished Commission on Information and Communication Technology. Says Lapa, “It’s part of our mission to uplift Filipino talent and culture and support our education sector.”

The game is free for access at http://janjanthejeepney.com/.

* * * * *

Art Alert: Controversial artist Mideo Cruz’s all-paintings show “Phases of Ra” runs from October 8 to 29 at Gallery Duemila, Pasay City. In this group of portraits in oil on canvas, Cruz looks at “the representation of power and how the public assigns reverence to those who have it.” The images are of the elite of society, but with the heads “replaced by filled-in or imprints of circles, a direct reference to Ra, the Egyptian sun-god.”

Mideo Cruz, “Eclipse”. Oil on canvas. 36 x 36 inches. From the artist’s Facebook page.

“I always look at how people attribute to sacredness to a thing,” Cruz says. “I try to deconstruct those things and put parallel meanings to them.”

Long interested in the “dynamics of belief systems,” Cruz’s works ask: “Why do we sanctify something and how do we arrive at doing so? In this cycle of paintings, he asks us to look at the “neo-deities” and see why we revere them because what we hold in high regard says much of ourselves.” ***

Shamcey Supsup image here. Toddler in tiara here. Leila Lopes here. Janjan the Jeepney here.

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i drank the cupertino kool-aid…

…and it is good.

Steve Jobs, with Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne, founded Apple Computers in Cupertino, California, on 1 April 1976. I first bit into the Apple in the early ’80s, when The Beloved acquired an Apple IIe and taught me how to do my college papers on it using Bank Street Writer. It was a satisfying marriage of hardware + software, the Apple’s blinking screen complementing the software’s powers to compose a written document and allow deletions and edits BEFORE IT WAS PRINTED. It had cut-and-paste! It showed upper- and -lowercase letters as they would appear on the page!

At the time it was the pinnacle of technology, but given Moore’s Law, Silicon Valley research-and-design innovation, and savvy techpreneurs, computing in general and Apple in particular went on to smaller, better, and faster.

Today Apple founder Steve Jobs is hailed as a visionary for his creative genius and insistence on melding style + substance to create highly functional consumer products that are also beautiful to look at.

I didn’t get to taste another Apple until the late ’80s, after I’d been sprung from college and was working as a sports feature writer for the now-defunct Manila Chronicle, where they  installed Macs for writers and editors. It has since become the standard for the publishing and graphics industry.

When Apple first came out with laptops I wanted one badly but cost was a deterrent. You do get what you pay for, after all. Other Apple products were more easily acquired – the Shuffles, Nanos, iTouch, iPod. But having reaped a good harvest lately, I’ve finally brought home a couple of the juicy fruit.

This is now my writing workhorse and the pride of my computing stable – a 2011 Macbook Air, 11-inch aluminum unibody, 4GB RAM, 128GB flash storage, packing Lion OS, iWorks, and Office for Mac, the essential suite of programs for my needs. It’s light and impossibly thin, perfect for slipping into a Longchamp Le Pliage or some other tote. 

Ik puts this one through its paces. It’s a 2009 Macbook Pro, 13-inch aluminum unibody, 4GB RAM, 320GB hard disk, crammed with a slew of programs – Lion OS, Office for Mac, Aperture, Photoshop, InDesign CS5, etc etc. This one’s for Alex, the photography major.

“Once you go Mac, you’ll never go back,” chimed Ik the other day, having read it somewhere. It’s true a PC can do the work, but without the same savoir faire or psychic gratification. Apple’s graphical user interface alone is worth the price of its laptops. Imagine being able to manipulate objects on the screen with gestures on their Multi-touch glass trackpad – the pinch to change sizes of photos and rotate them; the four-finger swipe to call up Launchpad; the two-finger scroll-down and -up – it’s all easy and intuitive. Using the trackpad in lieu of a mouse has also alleviated the focal dystonia in my right hand.

Do I sound like an enthusiastic disciple? The Cupertino Kool-Aid is sweet, and I drink it willingly. Bless Steve Jobs for planting the seeds for his technological orchard on that long-ago April Fool’s Day.

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CBTL single-serve coffee machines

Coffee is big business. This is clearly true in the Philippines, where, as the President declared in his State-of-the-Nation address yesterday, one government agency alone spent P1 billion for coffee during the previous administration.

And with food and its preparation being important in Filipino culture, the quest to find the perfect way to prepare a cup is never-ending.

Single-serve coffee machines have been popular abroad for some years, and have recently reached our shores. One of the most visibly marketed here is the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf (CBTL) system.

CBTL had a demo some weeks back at the Powerplant Mall at Rockwell, where they showed off two models, the Kaldi and the Contata.

I saw a demo of the Kaldi, thanks to pretty and helpful sales associate Sy. She guided me using the system which is easy to use. Just pop a beverage capsule (CBTL offers coffee and tea) in a slot in the back and pull the lever down. Hot water from a chamber at the back of the machine shoots through the punched capsule, resulting in a no-hands-brewed cup of coffee.

I must say the crema on the espresso was rich, thick, sublime. Sy also showed me how to use the accessory CBTL milk frother, which steams milk for lattes and machiattos. The latte she made me was one of the best cups of coffee I’ve ever tasted.

The Kaldi (above) comes in red, white, blue, and yellow, the Contata only in black. 

The beverages can be enhanced with the addition of “flavored powder sachets” which come in French Deluxe Vanilla and Special Dutch Chocolate.

Their promotional flyer gives the price of the machines as P13,750; the frother (which comes in white and black), P4,250. Capsules per box of 10 cost P400. At the time of the demo, they were having a special sale. The Kaldi and the frother together would have cost around P14,000.

I fell under the spell of the luxurious cup of coffee the machine created, but the system was rather too pricey for me. Other brands of machines cost only half as much – the Nescafe Dolce Gusto at $135 (P6,000), the Bosch Tassimo at $125 (P5,500).

For coffee lovers like me, you can’t go wrong with a single-serve system, and somewhere out there is the right one for you.

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laptops i have known

The other night I was going through my blog stats and found these search terms: “jennyo laptop” and “jenny ortuoste netbook”. Or something like that. Point is, someone seems to be curious about what laptop I am using, if any.

Since I am all about ibigay ang hilig (give what’s wanted), then here’s a rundown of the portable computers in my life.

STOP!!!

WARNING: This post contains many photos of laptop porn that will be of interest only to gadget geeks.

PROCEED ONLY if truly interested in hardware.

I got my first laptop in 2005 – this Stormtrooper white Ebox made in China. At the time it was quite expensive. It served me well for a couple of years and I was happy with it. It had a PENTIUM M processor! Centrino technology! It even had a – gasp! – DISKETTE drive!

(For young people, old people, and people who have been living under a rock since 1985 who do not know what a “diskette” is, click here.)

Even back then, laptops already had a track pad and two buttons that were the equivalent of the right-click and left-click buttons on a mouse.

But this Ebox is heavy and I used it as my work computer, keeping it on my desk at the office. In time, models with bigger and badder specs emerged, and this guy was relegated to the kitchen, for my helper’s use. (Facebook, mostly.) It still works, and she says it’s a whiz at picking up wifi signals. (Yay, Intel!)

Then in 2006 my sister gave me this powerful Acer Travelmate 6292 installed with Windows Vista and that same bad-ass Centrino tech, but “Duo” this time, and with a Core 2 Duo processor. It has a fierce number of ports – USB, Firewire, you name it, it’s got it.

It also has a DVD writer and a built-in card reader, very handy for uploading photos and files from different storage media. It can be connected to a projector for presentations, and to video cameras for editing. One of my video editor friends told me, “This rocks, it’s got everything we need for video and photos. Don’t give it to your kids!”    

Since I prefer having other people do video editing for me than doing it myself (mainly because I can’t video-edit), I ended up giving this Acer to my kids. My eldest still uses it, not only for video editing but for a whole lot more besides, like downloading Korean pop music videos and other important stuff. This is one good puppy of a lappy. However, it now runs Windows 7, because as the whole world and his aged grandmother know, Windows Vista is one of the crappiest OS’s ever to come out of Microsoft.

I realized I didn’t need a monster lappy powerful enough to run black-ops by itself. In the dark. Without backup. What I really needed was something simple – the electronic equivalent of paper and pen – in short, a gadget running just Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and an Internet browser would be enough.

Then netbooks were invented. (Insert “Hallelujah Chorus” sung by divine celestial beings here.) Around 2008 I got this wee cute little pink Acer Aspire One. What sold me on it was the fact that it was pink.

Being a netbook, it is smaller and lighter than regular laptops. Compare it with the Acer Travelmate, which my daughter has covered with Tokio Hotel and Puffy Ami Yumi stickers. Big diff, right?

The bad thing, the EVIL thing, about the Acer Aspire One models, was their batteries. My sister also has one in black – she bought hers in Dubai – and both our batteries gave out after only a year or so of use. Of careful use. I had to ask a friend in the US get me a new one, and he did in grand style, getting me the largest he could find on eBay. It is so big, it functions as a stand. It also lasts for nine hours of regular netsurfing and Word use.

Being so tiny, the Acer did have one disadvantage for me – the keys were all cramped on the keyboard, and it was difficult to type. I ended up not being comfortable using it to write, a defeat of purpose because that was the reason I got it. I did like the design of the trackpad, with the right- and left-click keys placed on either side of it, instead of below.

The Acer Aspire One runs Atom and was designed for Windows XP, but being the contrarian that I am, I had Windows Vista installed in it. This was before I learned Vista is crap, okay?

This pretty baby has no DVD drive, but it has several USB ports, a card reader, the usual jacks for mic and headphones, and a port for projectors and LAN connections. I’ve used it successfully for Skype/Yahoo! Messenger and projector presentations. Like the Acer Travelmate, it has a built-in webcam at the top of the screen, now a standard feature for these gadgets. It’s still heavy, though. Especially with that gargantuan battery.

So I was happy when the office issued me this delightfully slim and elegant Sony Vaio.

It’s still not as light, as, say, an Apple iPad 2, but then those thingies are tablets, which are a whole different animal altogether. The Vaio possesses decent specs, and runs like a charm. It’s got Windows 7, one of the least crappy OS’s Microsoft has come up with (showing that some people do learn their lessons, although for some it takes a while), and an Intel Core i3 processor that is frakkishly fast.

I like the Vaio’s chiclet keyboard. In overall size the Vaio is larger than the Acer Aspire One, but as a person gets older (I’m not speaking from personal experience, I can just imagine), it’s more comfortable to work with a decent-sized screen and keyboard. Squinting is so not cool.

The Vaio’s trackpad is sensitive enough, made of plastic with the click-keys below it. It’s fairly responsive, and I hope it’s not that way just because it’s new. I’ve already used it for a Powerpoint presentation, hooking it up to a projector with no problem at all.

The gold standard in laptops for creatives is still Apple. I want one, but I can’t decide yet between a Macbook Pro or a Macbook Air. In any case, it might be cheaper to buy abroad than in Manila.

I’ve become increasingly dependent lately on my Samsung Galaxy Tab for media consumption – surfing the Net, using Facebook and Twitter, reading ebooks – that I can’t leave home without it. Still, it is difficult to create content upon it – the touchscreen sucks for typing. Tablets are not the gadget of choice for writers. Laptops and netbooks are.

The babies I’ve featured here are good and reliable workhorses; in terms of function and utility, they get the job done with a minimum of fuss.

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