Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 in a nutshell

As the year becomes part of history, here are a few news items that made 2011 a unique year (for me):
  • Final mission of Space Shuttle Atlantis marks the end of NASA's Space Shuttle Program.
  • Prince William weds commoner Kate Middleton.
  • Calamba City celebrates Jose P. Rizal's 150th birth anniversary.
  • My supervisor accepts a professorial post at the University of Queensland; our department prepares for leadership transition. 
  • People in the Middle East fight back against the ruling dictatorships.
  • Harry Potter finally defeats Voldemort (and now it can be said... the movie has been shown in cinemas).
  • It's been ten years since the terrorist attack in the USA on 9/11.
  • Typhoons wreak havoc in Manila (flooding and storm surges with Typhoon Nesat) and northern Luzon (the garbage landslide in Baguio with Typhoon Nanmadol).
  • Worldwide, the stock market is shaky. Financial institutions are put to the test. Economies gear for recession.
  • Steve Jobs passes.
  • The UPLB is outraged at the killing of a third-year BS Computer Science student, Given Grace Cebanico.
  • UPRHS alumni 2LT Jose Delfin Khe is killed along with 18 other soldiers in an encounter with the MILF in Basilan.
  • The world should have ended at least twice this year.
  • Long-time Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is killed.
  • Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Ladin is killed.
  • A second Philippine president is brought under hospital arrest.
  • Thousands of people in Mindanao died because of rains brought by Tropical Storm Washi ('Sendong').

Friday, December 30, 2011

learning to [graciously] say NO

One of the things I learned this year is the importance of saying "No". This two-lettered word used to be one of the most difficult things for me to say. Saying "No" to easily offended people used to feel like being on the edge of a cliff: a strong gust of wind, a wrong step, some loose rocks, and I'd be falling to the ground below. 

Me on a ledge at Grand Canyon West's Guano Point, about 4000 feet above the Colorado River. 
Photo by Biboy.

Opportunities this year have helped me get over the fear of conflict: expressing my unavailability or disagreement has become a lot easier. Thanks to attempting to be more straightforward, I may have successfully earned the ire of some people or have come across as mataray to others, particularly to those who are used to the always-agreeable-me. From what I am learning all throughout the year, there's a way of saying "No" without hurting other people's feelings. Until I've mastered this level of diplomacy, I would appreciate it if people alert me when the way I say "No" offends them.

On the other side of the coin, I am learning to appreciate people who say "No". And there are only a handful of people I know who do so. Just imagine how difficult an event coordinator's job is and how much money and food are wasted when guests fail to RSVP, or when they say "yes, I'm attending" only to back out at the last moment with some lame excuse. And these people don't say "No" because they're probably afraid of losing face or of offending the hosts. Answering "Maybe" at the first instance is all right, especially when one's schedule isn't confirmed yet; but "Maybe" isn't the final answer. A "Yes" or a "No" is still expected to follow the "Maybe".

"No". A very short word, yet one of the most difficult to say graciously. However, a straight "No" is much better than no answer at all.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas is a time for family

My paternal side of the family has shrunk! Until last year, I was preparing more than 50 Christmas gifts for both sides of the family and my list didn't include relatives residing overseas. This year, however, a huge chunk of the family has been stricken off the list because they've migrated; also, I decided to give gifts only to those who were present during the family Christmas Eve reunion.

The family reunion then became more about a family spending time together, sharing a meal, and exchanging gifts. The absence of others was mentioned in passing but was downplayed. The focus was more on those present. Thus, I felt that we were more solid as a group than before; to be fair, though, it is admittedly more difficult to form a cohesive group when there are a lot more people with a variety of interests.

To our relatives who didn't attend the reunion, we missed you all. But don't worry, we ate your share of dinner.

Photos: Cuevas Christmas 2011 party

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

my first career orientation :)

Engineers. Chefs. Teachers. Doctors. Nurses.

These are just some of the professions that 35 high school students were aspiring to be when they grow up. These students were participants of the career orientation program sponsored by volunteers from the General Electric Money Servicing Philippines, Inc. and from the Food for the Hungry International, in partnership with the International Rice Research Institute.

Listening to these students' career aspirations, I realized that the concerns raised last year, during an armchair discussion with high-level scientists,were more urgent than I thought. In a world where agriculture is becoming increasingly science-driven, it appears that the next generation of professionals still think that agriculture is only about "magtanim ay 'di biro". And yet, none of these students consider agriculture as a viable career option.

Web specialist. Agronomist. Molecular Biologist. Grain quality specialist.

These are the people IRRI fielded on December 21 to talk about the possibilities of pursuing careers in the agricultural sciences. It was a tough call for Jun Correa, Darell Sison, Mico Duenas, and me; we had to show them that the sciences are not exclusively for the brainy/nerdy/geeky bunch.

Jun talked about how information technology and agronomy go hand-in-hand in helping farmers maximize resources. Darell shared stories about how his work on information dissemination via the internet brought him to where he is today. Mico presented slides about what molecular biologists do and how concepts in his field can improve the nutrient content and the tolerance to pests, diseases, and unfavorable growth conditions of rice. I described the multidisciplinary nature of grain quality science and then answered the participants' questions about rice as a food source.
Why are some rice varieties called 'sticky rice'? What's the difference between brown and black rice? Why do rice grains harden as they are cooled?

Were we successful in opening these students' minds to the possibilities in the rice sciences? I don't know. I think that we could consider ourselves successful that day if some of these high school students eventually become agricultural scientists... or become other types of professionals who apply their work in agriculture (like the economists, the information technologists, and the agricultural engineers).

One thing's for sure though: we were able to pique their curiosity about rice as food. The fastest way to a person's heart is still through food, I believe.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

helping "Sendong" victims via the UP Pahinungod

Still on finding ways to help others...

I got a message from Dr Sharon Madrinan, a pediatrics resident at the Philippine General Hospital: 

Donations for victims of Tropical Storm Washi (Sendong) are being accepted at the University of the Philippines Pahinungod Office (located inside the Philippine General Hospital in Manila). Clothes, blankets, food, and medicine will be distributed during the UP Pahingungod's medical mission in Iligan City after Christmas.

Friday, December 23, 2011

evaluating high school science project proposals

There are times when people just feel the need to give back. In my case, the opportunity came this month: I was tasked to evaluate high school students' science project proposals.

The project proposals of the students were quite practical. Some of these project proposals stemmed from the students' concern for the high costs of fossil fuel; some students were inspired by the presence of disease-causing bacteria in lakes. There were students who were interested in making computer-based teaching materials while others wanted to use a similar technology for quality assurance of fruit for export. Then there were those who want to try out antimicrobials from various sources. 

Familiar names popped up when I looked at the manuscripts: some of the students' consultants were my teachers in university! It was so nice to see that the people who made a mark in my life as a college student are also piquing these high school students' interests in the sciences.

And while these students were presenting their proposals to us and to their peers, I was fascinated by how prepared most of them were in answering the questions. They have consultants supervising them throughout the study; all the panelists had to do were to make sure that these students understand what they are in for when they start their projects over the summer and to impress upon them the hazards associated with the chemicals and the microorganisms that they propose on using.

While most of the proposals were well defended, there just had to be one that was poorly planned and explained. As I started asking the proponents to clarify what they're planning to do, I started to have a sick feeling in my stomach that the students had a lot more work to do on their proposal. At that point, I thought that this must be how a teacher feels when a student is about to receive a failing mark. I just hope that this first rejection is a learning experience for the proponents, rather than a discouragement.

In the end though, I think that there were a lot more relieved students. They've received tough questions but they passed.

Thanks to Dennis Tuyogon for inviting me to join him as a panelist at the San Pablo City Science High School's Science Colloquium. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

the end of the world (as we know it) -- 1

People predicting the end of the world have marked several specific dates. This year alone, it should have ended three times: May 21 (Harold Camping), October 16 (various people, Comet Elenin), and October 21 (Harold Camping, again). Why do people predict the last day of the world? Are any of these predictors in a rush to end the world?

I just don't believe that the world will end on any of the dates predictors have mentioned. What I do believe, though, is that the world as we know it is ending. In my opinion, "the world as we know it" is synonymous to "business as usual" in organizational parlance. And based on the contents of newspapers and broadcasts, we no longer live in the world that we used to know; we no longer work with business as usual. 

The world is now, more than ever, noticeably in flux. I marked three, of numerous ways, that the world (as we know it) is ending:

the end of the world (as we know it) -- 2

Social unrest has taken over the political and economic world. 

First, there is the Arab Spring. Triggered by youth dissatisfaction, decades-long heads of state in Western Asia and Northern Africa have been toppled and replaced with untested leaders. Once the dust and the sand have settled, we'll see the repercussions of such social upheavals: will these new leaders install changes that will improve the lives of people on the streets or has the movement only succeeded in replacing old tyrants with new ones? 

Then, there is the Occupy Movement mainly in the developed countries. These places are the pillars of democracy, of freedom of speech, of equality. Using these liberties, participants have set up camp across the United States and in other key cities around the world, protesting what they perceive as unfair treatment to them by their governments and by the business world, if I understood their case correctly. Like the Arab Spring, some of the protests have resulted in bloodshed and in death.

With all these protests, riots, and violence taking over the internet and the headlines, TIME magazine has recognized The Protester as 2011's Person-of-the-Year.

<< Previous     Next >>

the end of the world (as we know it) -- 3

Environmental phenomena have wreaked havoc to human habitation and industry. 

The Philippines has had it's share of weather disturbances this year, with the latest one submerging the southern cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan in flood waters. The Philippine National Red Cross has reported that Tropical Storm Washi has claimed over 1000 lives in an area that is not in the typical typhoon route in the Philippines. This storm is the 27th weather disturbance in the western Pacific and the 19th to have entered the Philippine Area of Responsibility in 2011. Other cities have been hit by flood waters as well: Brisbane and Rio de Janeiro were underwater in January, Bangkok has been flooded since July, and Darfur was flooded in September. Many of these floods have been described as the worst in the century. With more extreme weather and lots more precipitation than "normal" will boats be the vehicles of the future?

Aside from excessive precipitation and its consequences, the world also stood witness to huge earthquakes, the three with the highest death tolls being the 6.3-magnitude quake in New Zealand in February, the 7.2-magnitude quake in Turkey in October, and the 8.9-magnitude earthquake-tsunami combination that hit Japan in March. The Japan megathrust earthquake is said to be rare, recurring at intervals of 260-880 years. The New Zealand quake, on the other hand, occurred in an area where large earthquakes are supposed to rarely happen. In contrast, the Turkey quake occurred in an earthquake-prone area but where buildings following improved building codes are rare. Then there's the 5.6-magnitude Oklahoma, USA earthquake in October, an area known for tornadoes rather than for movements along fault lines. 

The world is indeed morphing into something we don't know. We have to adjust. We have to be prepared. People with wide influences, such as Al Gore, have been doing the rounds, making people more aware about the reality of climate change and the consequences that we face because of changing weather patterns.

<< Previous     Next >>

the end of the world (as we know it) -- 4

Increased environment-friendliness affects the way we do business.

One response to all these environmental changes that made a huge impact to so many people is the ban on plastic shopping bags, particularly in Laguna and Quezon. Personally, it took a while before I got used to bringing a shopping bag with me all the time (just in case I make a pit stop at the mall or the grocery). Then a few days ago, I found out that there's a move in San Pablo City that prohibits restaurants from issuing drinking straws. That's even less plastic use!

In the event that plastic shopping bags are no longer the norm in the rest of the country, would its manufacturing become obsolete eventually? With an increased use of paper bags, are we killing off more trees than before?

* * *

I just got thinking about all these things when I noticed the date: December 22, 2011. We are less than a year away from the much-hyped interpretations of the Mayan calendar. We've got 364 days 'til the world ends: 12.21.12.

Do you think that this is true? Or another much-anticipated date, like January 1, 2000?

<< Previous

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

my leaflet-making comes full circle

I'm still in reminiscing mode after my other blog post today, since my supervisor for (almost) eight years is moving on to the next stage of her career...

I became involved with a musical show called The Sounds of Christmas two days before the event. I became in charge of doing what I enjoy best in these events: preparing the playbook (in this case, the program leaflets), taking over some of the visual aspects of the show, coordinating with the tech crew... things that happen on the back-end, invisible to the audience, but important in making a show as flawless and as seamless as possible.

While folding the leaflets at the front row of the auditorium, I remembered one of my first creative assignments with Dr Melissa Fitzgerald, my supervisor: in 2004, I had to prepare the lay-out of invitation cards for the opening of what was then known as the Grain Quality and Nutrition Research Center (the lab underwent two name changes since then). Afterwards, I'd been assigned or been involved in producing leaflets, brochures, and handouts tailored to fit the needs of whoever needed an introduction to what the Center does. I've also prepped a program and handled back-end stuff for Mozart's Requiem, my first involvement with the Mud Springs n-tet (where Melissa plays the clarinet). 

As Melissa's stint draws to a close, The Sounds of Christmas appears to be the last program leaflet I prepared (and on the fly too!) for a project/program that involves her as an IRRI staff. I just found it interesting that I began, and will end, working under her supervision with preparing program leaflets. 

I've come full circle indeed.

farewell and thank you, Prof. Melissa Fitzgerald!

My supervisor, Dr Melissa Fitzgerald, is leaving in a few days to take on a professorial assignment at the University of Queensland. As her stay at the International Rice Research Institute draws to a close, I remember Raymond Lauchengco singing Odette Quesada's lyrics (Bagets OST, 1984)...

Now that the end is already here
We reminisce 'bout old yells and cheers
Even if our last hurrahs were never clear.

Yesterday's a treasure, today is here
Tomorrow's on its way, the sky is clear
Thank you for the mem'ries of all the laughters and tears
And not to mention our doubts and fears
The hypertension we gave to our peers

It's really funny to look back after all of these years.

I agree with the lyrics 100%.

Melissa has been a big game changer in my career as a food scientist, beginning with my entry as a Researcher at what was then the Grain Quality and Nutrition Research Center (2004). Through her research collaborations, I was initially admitted into the University of Sydney's (2005) and then into the University of Queensland's (2007) graduate school programs, under her co-supervision with Prof. Robert Gilbert. Then a few months after my graduation, I began my fellowship, still in her department, known in 2010 as the Grain Quality, Nutrition, and Postharvest Center. I had fully expected that she'd be my mentor throughout my post-doctoral fellowship but I was wrong.

I am very grateful to her for being one of the more influential of my mentors. I have definitely learned a lot from her, not only as a scientist, but one who has her own brand of leadership. I am NOT alone in being thankful to her. The rest of the staff of what is now called Grain Quality and Nutrition Center also appreciate all the hard work she's put in managing the different teams within the Center.

And so aside from the bouquet and the "certificate of appreciation for being our coolest boss", her staff blindsided her a second time during her farewell party last week via a video presentation. Most of the GQNC staff contributed towards the making of this video, which was directed, shot, and edited by Dara Daygon, one of the staff next in line for grad school.

Thanks again, Professor. It has been an honor working and growing professionally with you. May you continue to attract more people into the scientific career track at Uni.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Viva Las Vegas!

hello, giant kitty!walking on sunshinehome away from the home-away-from-homemelts in your mouth, not in your handinterior of New York, New Yorkby the "Brooklyn Bridge"
Sleeping Beauty? Cinderella? King Arthur?Statue of Libertyoutside LuxorPed Xing, we meet againinteresting reflectionsphoto op in the bright sunlight
view of the Monte Carlo from Ariaat the Aria entrancetime-space warp?glass flowersat the BellagioBellagio streetscape
ParisBellagio fountain showBellagio fountain showBellagio fountain show

Viva Las Vegas!, a set on Flickr.
We took a weekend trip to Las Vegas to watch Cirque du Soleil's "KA" and as the starting point of our road trip to the Grand Canyon West.

But who, in Vegas, would miss the Strip, right? We visited the different buildings that make this famous area feel like a giant theme park.

Mystified by the Mystery Spot (photos)

entranceflowerstill thinkinghigh kickcousins hikingPasaway (ulit)
while waiting for our turnwith Biboy and Mommyhello, giant doggie!Biboy with Ate Maddie and Joycelyntrees

At the Mystery Spot, a set on Flickr.
Hidden within the pine forests somewhere in Santa Cruz CA lies a spot of earth where the laws of physics are defied: water flows uphill, people lean at an absurd angle, and people easily gain 4in. in height only to lose it again ten minutes later.

Have you stopped thinking yet? :)

Monday, November 28, 2011

time to go back to [my] real world

After two weeks with my parents, brother, aunts and uncles, and cousins, it was time once again to fly out and go home. The past few days were like a dream. While approaching the queue for the security check at the San Francisco International Airport, I just had to look back at some of the highlights:
  1. I went into discount shopping boot camp.
  2. We mulled over the mysteries of defying gravity.
  3. We became Cirque du Soleil fans.
  4. We walked on the edge at the Grand Canyon west.
  5. Daddy's car went off-road for the first time, ever.
  6. I went around the world through food.

Some fog, finally!

In some ways, going home was like waking up... or driving through fog.

When the fog cleared, I was back in tropical Manila, jetlagged but raring to go back to work, back to driving through heavy and chaotic traffic, and to heat and humidity.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

my first Thanksgiving ever

I kept wondering why there were lots of displays of vegetables and fruit at the Bellagio's Conservatory at this time of year when we toured the Las Vegas Strip. The pieces of the puzzle fell only when Thanksgiving Day arrived: this holiday is the USA's version of a harvest festival! 

This was my first Thanksgiving celebration. And I celebrated it with relatives (plus a whole lot of people who I've met for the first time -- they're mainly my cousin's girlfriend's family) in Sacramento. So basically, what I witnessed was the Fil-Am version of the holiday.

As with any feast, there was an abundance of food and of beverages, just as I always see on tv shows. But instead of having a sit-down dinner, we celebrated it less formally: with the food presented buffet-style over lunch and with everyone eating where there's a spot to sit on... very much like the way parties with lots of people are done in my family back home. On tv, the turkey was the star of the feast; but in my family's celebration, it was just one of those served because there were a whole lot of other food on display. Trying to be a good guest, I brought in something I made myself, some smoked salmon and cucumber maki. My mom, on the other hand, prepared the Pinoy classic, pork sinigang. These distinctly Asian dishes didn't mix too well with the Western cuisine and so were saved for later... My cousins eventually had the sinigang with bread because there's no rice! 

The people who came before me were right. Thanksgiving in the USA was like Christmas in the Philippines... it's a special time of the year when family ties are renewed and strengthened.

Lion King, the Musical

The Lion King is one my favorite cartoons of all time. So when I saw that the musical version was being presented in Las Vegas by Disney Theatrical at Mandalay Bay, I just had to convince either (or both) of my parents and my brother to watch it with me... the other option, which was also good, was Cirque du Soleil's The Beatles LOVE at The Mirage. The Lion King eventually won because my mom opted to go shopping that afternoon and LOVE did not have a performance before my brother's flight back to San Francisco.

One thing I noticed about The Lion King musical: it was a crowd-drawer. Families came in droves to watch it! No surprise there. The puppetry and the costumes were great; the stage decorations and the lighting did not draw attention away from the characters; and the actors -- particularly those behind Timon, Rafiki, Simba (the cub and the lion), Scar, and Zazu -- were superb. Then there were the songs; aside from Timon and Pumbaa's "Hakuna Matata" and "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" duets, I liked the songs that had a strong African feel to them... it's as if I were sitting on the grass amid the giraffes, zebras, antelope, rhinos of Pride Rock.

At the heart of all these creative inputs, what make The Lion King the success that it is is its beautiful story: a child had run away from his problems but he eventually returned to face them and to take his rightful place in the Circle of Life.

With that being said, I still couldn't get over the elephants walking down the aisles of the theater.

Great show. Catch it on its final stretch in Las Vegas! Curtains close a final time on December 30th, 2011.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Midnight snack: Mitchell's ice cream

I love watching travel shows on tv, "The Lonely Planet". A few years ago, I was watching a feature on San Francisco (with Justine Shapiro, if I remember it correctly) and an ice cream shop was featured in that episode. I eventually forgot the name, of course, but what struck me was that this particular shop served ice cream where some of the flavors are of Philippine fruits.

While planning my California vacation this year, my mom supplied the name: Mitchell's Ice Cream. Yes, that's the one! I was curious because it's also in the to-do list for San Francisco tourists and residents alike.  It must be so good. Luckily, on this third visit, I was able to drop by the quiet corner of 29th Street and San Jose Avenue on that cold evening after I ate at Asmara with Biboy and his friends.

Even at the late hour we arrived, people were still lined up and others still were on their way! I was becoming more convinced that the ice cream must really be yummy: people on midnight runs were snacking on Mitchell's ice cream even when it's freezing outside...

With a lot of flavors to choose from, I opted for something that's not from the Philippines (because I was flying out soon): GRASSHOPPER PIE.

Grasshopper pie
Intriguing name, right? I've never heard of it before. But it's really delicious! Grasshoppers were in their minds, most likely, when the ice cream makers combined mint and chocolate together into this swirly mix. It is one of my favorite flavor combinations; in fact, I used to frequent Baskin Robbins for cookies-and-mint ice cream. I love the contrast between the sweet and syrupy chocolate and the cool and refreshing mint.

My cupful of Mitchell's ice cream also brought back good old winter memories of tubs of Peters ice cream that I used to buy in Newtown and of scoops of Royal Copenhagen ice cream in waffle cones at the Broadway Shopping Centre. 

Yum yum. What a way to end a food trip!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

dinner at the Asmara Restaurant

I've tried African food at Le Kilimanjaro in Newtown, NSW as a student at the University of Sydney a few years back. But I could not remember if the items in the menu were identified based on the regional divisions of such a big continent. And so when Biboy told me that we were eating Ethiopian food, I did not know what I was in for. I just guessed that coconuts would somehow be involved.

Diego and Lisa, Biboy's friends, went with us. The first restaurant was closed when we stopped by so we drove on to Asmara Restaurant in Oakland, CA. The first thing I noticed was its Central Asian feel (or at least what I think is a Central Asian feel): dim yellow lights, dark wood tables and chairs, and the strong smell of spices. The vivid colors of the paintings, however, reminded me that we're supposed to be in Africa... to be in Ethiopia and Eritrea, in fact.

Ethiopian food

The food was as colorful as the paintings. We got an appetizing platter of a number of items covering the different food groups. In the dim light (and with my handy camera phone), the photo above does not give justice to the lively colors of the carrots and the potatoes contrasting to the greens of the vegetables and the browns of the meat. Topping all these was a generous serving of goat's (I think) cheese.

My question was: how do I eat all this food? It turned out that we were supposed to scoop the meats and the veggies using a sourdough flatbread called "injera". No utensils came with the bread so we just dug into the platter. With no rice anywhere near the platter, I thought that I would need to eat something else to consider myself full... but as we were finishing up, I realized that this meal was very heavy.

Aside from liking the meal, I enjoyed eating at Asmara because the staff and the manager were friendly. The manager even took the time to explain what the ingredients were for the injera. And as we were leaving, he even waited at the door to say good bye. What a nice chap, he was.

I don't think that coconuts were used as an ingredient in cooking the meats we ordered.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

at the Grand Canyon West

me at Guano PointBiboy shadowJoshua trees in shadowme!view from Guano Pointwith Mommy and Daddy
huli ka!Eagle PointPasawayCactusSquirrelMaya?
Biboy at the Eagle Pointfamily picMommy and DaddyKuya Nat's photo opBiboy, Skagen modelEagle point
Mojave desert terrain

The Hualapai Indians have ring side seats to some of the breathtaking views of the Grand Canyon! I'm happy that they are sharing these to tourists.

One of the highlights of my 2011 visit to the US... definitely.