Tuesday, July 31, 2012

corporate social responsibility

Isuzu Philippines adopts trees in the
Makiling Botanic Garden
Some of the people at the PA3i-LB get-together are experts in forestry conservation. They talked about the Makiling Botanic Garden, the venue of the meeting, and how the trees and the other plants are being maintained.

One of the paradigm shifts the administrators of the garden is pursuing is about tree planting activities, a popular type of environment-conscious projects to industrial companies. Now, instead of tree-planting, people are being encouraged to participate or to spearhead tree-nurturing activities; instead of just planting trees up the mountain, the companies are made to commit the first two years after tree-planting for caring for the trees as they grow.

Alternatively, the company representatives who talk with the garden administrators are instead asked to adopt a part of the Makiling National Reserve for conservation purposes. Isuzu Philippines, as shown in the photo here, is one of those companies that has donated funds to help conserve the dipterocarp arboretum (trees). Now that is long-term corporate social responsibility.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR), however, is not limited to companies' employees planting trees or to cleaning up the streets. It can also be about them making sure that children have ample resources in the classroom or that the food being sold in the market is safe to eat.

Dongmin Kong of the Huazhong University School of Economics discusses investor behavior and CSR in the article entitled "Does corporate social responsibility matter in the food industry? Evidence from a nature experiment in China". In this article the author used China's milk-melamine fiasco to study investors' trade patterns and food companies' CSRs. The study's findings indicate that when a crisis in food companies occur, such as the melamine incident, CSR activities try to soften the blow of short-term negative investor reaction to the companies in question.

To me, then, CSR functions as a public relations tool to keep the good name of the companies affected. Does it mean, when companies adopt trees or contribute toward research potentially leading to food security, it's only all about boosting the corporate image? Or are these companies really concerned with the greater good?

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To have a look at the article, please see the details below:

Kong, D. 2012. Does corporate social responsibility matter in the food industry? Evidence from a nature experiment in China. In: Food Policy 37: 323-334

Monday, July 30, 2012

Australian barbie in Los Banos

I got invited to attend the general assembly and family get-together of the Philippine Australian Alumni Association, Inc. Los Banos Chapter (PA3i-LB) last July 28 (Saturday). I've heard of the group before; it had sponsored airings of Australian films in the IRRI Havener Auditorium years ago (for free!). At the time, I was able to watch Lantana (2001), Looking for Alibrandi (1999), Australian Rules (2002), Love Serenade (1996), and Floating Life (1996).

Anyway, I didn't have the chance to enjoy one of the things the Pinoy students experience in Australia during my short stints there: the barbecue (or barbie in Aussie-speak). So when the invitation said BYO ("bring your own") to the barbie, I decided that I might as well experience what it's like... only, it's set at the Makiling Botanic Garden in UPLB, not on a picnic ground down under anymore. 

our BYO food all laid out

Attending the get-together, I eventually learned, were people relatively high up the Los Banos research community. That's when I realized that there are quite a few Australian alumni in university; back in college, most of the professors I studied under finished graduate school in the USA. This trend may no longer be true or it may depend on the subject being specialized on.

Aside from meeting the members of the PA3i-LB, I also got to chat a bit with no other than H.E. Bill Tweddell! That was a big wow moment for me. It's not everyday that I get to talk with the Australian ambassador to the Philippines. I was star-struck once again!

H.E. Bill Tweddell speaks to the members
of the PA3i-LB during the general assembly

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Review: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known. 
-- Charles Dickens (A Tale of Two Cities, 1859)

Since it's been publicized for a long time that The Dark Knight Rises is the final installment in the  story weaved by Christopher Nolan and his team, I knew that I'd be saying goodbye to this most realistic version of Gotham City as I sat through the movie; the experience, I thought, would be similar to reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows or to watching The Return of the King for the first time.

In a sense, Bruce Wayne went the way of Harry Potter and of Frodo Baggins. He also, somewhat, followed the footsteps of an even older literary hero, Sydney Carton. All three of them had to make difficult, selfless acts to save their loved ones from the chaotic world they were in. All of them, too, eventually found their piece of heaven. The decisions and actions of Carton and Baggins had made their stories classics; it is still too early to see if Potter passes the test of time.

And what about the Batman?

I think that The Dark Knight Rises is such a good way to conclude the Nolan-helmed version of the Gotham world. Batman becomes what he truly is, a legend. Bruce Wayne, himself, said it best in Batman Begins:
People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy. I can't do that as Bruce Wayne... But as a symbol, I can be incorruptible, everlasting.

passing exams

I passed the PRINCE2 Foundation exam I took last Friday!!

When I got the email announcing that I, and the rest of my classmates did well, I starting skipping all over the place. And passing was really a cause to celebrate: I emptied my calendar of any activity other than the training program, I studied hard for three consecutive nights, and I was really paying attention in class. In short, I felt like I was back in college prepping for the final exams.

No, wait. Feeling like I was back in Microbiology board exam review mode is a better description. That still means, however, that I was reviewing my course materials while watching television shows (as background noise).

The bottom line now is that I passed the test about the theory behind the PRINCE2 project management method (the output). The real test now lies before me and my classmates. The successes of our respective projects will be the realized outcomes and benefits of our passing marks.

Congratulations, classmates!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

my PRINCE2 experience

I had wished I could gain some project management skills without learning everything on the fly. My mentor, acting like a genie, granted me my wish by recommending me to attend the Projects In Controlled Environments (PRINCE2) Foundation because it's such a good course to take. According to him, PRINCE2 is like attending a graduate course in business school. That made me excited, so I signed up for the next offering as soon as I learned that there's still a slot available.

My mentor's assessment was spot on. The course, though it required quite a bit of brain rewiring, was excellent! The trainer, Mr Vincent Marsi, patiently and effectively walked the class through the complicated web of project management for three days. Imagine, I was lost the whole time during the first day of the class but by the time I was about to sit the Foundation exam, I was somewhat comfortable with PRINCE2-speak!

Of course, the most important aspect of the whole endeavor was harvesting what the course was all about. Here are some of the key points I learned:

1. The Project Manager is the center of the project universe.
Everything about the project appears to surround the Project Manager, according to the PRINCE2 model. He's there even before the project actually begins!
2. The project is like a Matryoshka doll.
Tasks in a project are like layers of an onion. At each management level, there are series of controls that the managers are supposed to implement to make sure that products agreed upon are delivered to the stakeholders. The terminology used at each level is somewhat different but the principle is similar. Thus, while a Project Manager sees the whole project as the Project, the Team Manager (who is working on delivering a component of the project) can view his set of objectives as the Project as well.
3. Leadership (in the world of PRINCE2 projects) is all about making informed decisions.
At the very beginning of the course, Mr Marsi informed us the PRINCE2 is not about developing "soft skills" (i.e., leadership skills, negotiating skills, communication skills); the course is all about what is needed, from a management perspective, to deliver a project. However, by being in a Manager role (whether at the project level or at the team level), a person is required to make certain decisions (such as to continue on or not and to report an issue or not). And that right there is how a person learns to become a leader.
In the end, it's just a matter of whether we apply the techniques we practiced during the course. That is still the best indicator of how much we have learned.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

on Adel Tamano's Final Perspective

My evening television fare for Thursday and Friday is not complete without going to ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC). I've been watching the Tamano Perspective on Thursdays for quite a while, if I find myself still awake. It's a really entertaining and educational show because it provides digests of a week's worth of news, explanations of opposing sides of current issues, and Mr Adel Tamano's own opinion about the topics tackled in his show. I was surprised that this week's episode is the final one, aptly labeled Tamano's Final Perspective.

What is Adel Tamano's final perspective as he closes his show's run?

1. Prioritize family. 
I knew him, before I watched his show, as the lawyer representing a famous dermatologist in the Philippines and as a former political candidate. It was refreshing to see him (and the episode's host, Karen Davila) open up about his perspective on taking care of a special child. As he talked a bit about the child's diet and his family life, I get the notion that he is a hands-on father; not one of the tv lawyer stereotypes who are too busy at work. He even said that his family is one of the reasons behind his move to the corporate world.
2. Focus is key to success.
Don't spread yourself thin. That's important in making sure that one's efforts are always the best one can deliver. This is basically what Adel Tamano said as he responded to Karen Davila's question: couldn't he do both his corporate tasks and his ANC assignment at the same time? He said that in the Tamano Perspective, he puts a lot of himself into the show, including behind the scenes (if the audience only knew). If he were to continue it while doing his corporate work, it wouldn't be fair to both ANC and his new employer.
3. Maintain bridges. 
Don't burn them. It's obvious that he loved his run at ANC and the people behind the camera loved working with him too. As he moves to his next big project, he expressed his gratitude to the people at ANC. That is a good example of leaving a company with bridges intact.
That episode was a great way to close the show. It truly was all about Tamano's Final (on-air) Perspective.

Friday, July 20, 2012

on really getting into the diet

It's not easy, I can say that right now.

As the implications of the calorie limit in my diet plan started to sink in, I began to realize just how much food --junk food -- I had to give up. I am reading food labels more diligently these days too. Especially when I am constantly faced with chocolates, potato chips, and hearty afternoon snacks... not to mention my normally generous helping of pasta and rice at home.

So, the diet.

The dietitian has suggested that I follow the "diet exchange program" until I get the target weight off. As far as I understand this concept, I am allowed to eat indicated portions (in the diet plan) of the different food groups at different times of the day. For example, I may eat a certain amount of fruit and an estimated amount of meat, but it's up to me to break the portions down to the different meal times: breakfast, morning snacks, lunch, afternoon snacks, dinner.

Wait, there's no midnight snack?!?

Anyway, after a few days into the diet, I think I'm starting to get a hang of things. I eat a lot of vegetables to fool my stomach that I'm not really hungry. I eat fruit during snack time to boost fiber intake (aside from all the electrolytes, vitamins, and minerals I get from them) and satiety at a relatively low calorie level. Well, low-calorie as compared, let's say, to what's normally at arm's reach during snack time: junk food.

In my attempt to monitor my food intake, I'm currently using the food database in

http://www.myfitnesspal.com/food/calorie-chart-nutrition-facts

as reference while I record my food intake. Based on the data, I'm supposed to bulk up on the fiber and the green leafy vegetables to stay within the calorie cap and to avoid feeling hungry throughout the day. That's not new news.

Note that so far, I've only reduced pasta and rice intakes and I've been putting off sweeping the chocolates in one sitting.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

on starting a diet plan

During my annual physical exam this year, the dietitian recommended that I reduce my calorie intake. No, I'm not overweight; my BMI is within the normal range. However, I committed to the calorie limit the dietitian had proposed to me because my right knee and my right foot are painful (more of that here). I figured losing the two kilos will help with the pain management, aka. physical therapy.

This change in eating habits will be an uphill battle, I think. For the next few days, I'll be monitoring my food intake and will be figuring out what proportions I need to reduce as I gradually eat less of the carbohydrates and more of the fiber.

Fingers crossed!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

who are you quoting?

Before broadcasting the latest news over Twitter, or before citing that journal article in the draft of a scientific paper, consider who you are quoting. That is the reminder being sent to us by John Gregerson in his article entitled "Truth, Lies, and Rumors in the Media: Consider the Source", published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

In the article, he cited several examples of others preempting the deaths of famous people. I am happy that the people I follow on Twitter appear to be aware of the importance of "the source". A few days ago, Rodolfo Vera Quizon, Sr, the Philippine Comedy King, passed on. Before he died, people had been spreading rumors (or misinformation) that he had died at a much earlier time. But there were those who preferred to wait for the official statement coming from one of his sons, Eric Quizon, before posting their tweet-tributes about Dolphy and their condolences.

Aside from celebrity news, scientific discoveries are sometimes being played up by media. Two examples: Ever heard about polished rice being an unhealthy food because those who eat it are more at risk of developing diabetes type 2? Or how about the news articles that say that there are rice varieties that don't contribute to diabetes type 2? How about the never ending debate about whether red wine is good or bad for the heart? And don't get me started with the monosodium glutamate issue... or the studies about artificial sweeteners. The list goes on and on...

Confused?

Yes? Good.

With so many conflicting studies out there, relying solely on these news media outfits as sources of information is risky. The media is what can be considered a secondary source; not necessarily the best reference material for scholarly work. And I emphasize the term scholarly. For other purposes, media reports are some of the best sources of information.

So, how do we decide whether to accept a news article at face value or with a grain of salt? Gregerson gives us a few pointers. I'm putting three of them here, those pointers that I also learned in Advanced English class (in high school). Consider the following:
1. Who is the news article quoting or citing?
2. Who has written the article?
3. Is there a conflict of interest?
To read more about the article, here are the details:

Gregerson, J. 2012. Truth, lies, and rumors in the media: Consider the source. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 112 (5): 602.


Saturday, July 14, 2012

Review: Inception (2010)

You know a movie is an extremely good one when two years after its release, you still have questions about the plot even after watching it more than five times.

One such film, for me, is Christopher Nolan's Inception (2010). What gets me each time I see Inception is the ambiguity of the story, particularly at the ending. Every time the screen blacks out, I feel a 'kick', as if I'm part of the dream that everyone in the movie is waking up from. Yes, I recently got jolted again, because I saw it on cable. Again.

Thanks to the sense of unease -- of suspense -- I spend hours after watching the movie just poring through discussion boards and articles on the internet just to get the closure I need to be able to move on. It's just a movie, I know. But this need for closure reflects upon how brilliantly the movie has been made.

Come to think of it, not many films have this effect on me. For most of them, I watch the film (and watch replays as well), I talk about it a bit, and then I move on to the next one. Not so for Inception; and not so for two other Nolan films, The Prestige and The Dark Knight. I haven't seen the other thought-provoking movies under Nolan's belt but something tells me that I will someday.

Next movie please!

Friday, July 13, 2012

valid ID

I attended the First Friday Mass last week. The priest, Fr Thor (St Therese of the Child Jesus Parish, Los Banos), began his homily about the Pharisees questioning Jesus' closeness to tax collectors and sinners (Matthew 9: 9-13) with a story about priests' bloopers on a trip.
Priests, from several nearby parishes, went to the airport. They were queueing at the check-in counter so one of the priests asked for the identification cards of his travel mates. One of the priests forgot his wallet, of all things; hence, he didn't have a single valid ID card on him. However, he did bring with him his SM Advantage Card.
The SM Advantage Card is a frequent shopper card at one of the biggest shopping mall chains in the Philippines, SM. It's definitely not an ID card normally presented at the airport; there, people normally show their driver's licenses or their passports.
The place they were going to did not even have an SM branch!
Since the priest had no other ID card on him at check-in, the other priest collected it anyway and placed it under the stack of IDs. He then passed the stack to the the check-in staff. This person checked the priests' IDs one by one. When it was the forgetful priest's turn, the check-in staff remarked,
"You won't earn shopping points here."
That story made the congregation laugh. It's a relief to listen to a priest who can laugh at himself and share his (or his group's) misadventures to the people from the pulpit. This behavior falls very far from the Padre Damaso stereotypes and the image of disciplinarian priests I've listened to as a child.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

do you want to swim in that?

Manila Bay's unfiltered seawater
Manila Bay's unfiltered sea water*

I certainly don't.

Some residents along the coastal area, however, do not mind the quality of the water as much as I do. They try to relieve themselves from the sweltering summer heat by taking a dive into the murky waters amid the floating debris. I just wish that before their next dive, they stop and consider that the water really is polluted and it is unhealthy to swim there.

Aside from fecal bacteria that are dumped from untreated wastewater, there are other microorganisms that make Manila Bay their home. A 2009 study by marine scientists entitled "Pollution Study in Manila Bay: Eutrophication and Its Impact on Plankton Community" associated human activity with the presence of chemical pollutants in the water. Manila Bay (at the time of the experiment) has a high concentration of nitrogenous and phosphorus-containing chemicals, with the highest levels being near the Pasig River. Microorganisms, such as phytoplankton and zooplankton, that eat these chemicals live in big populations in the bay because of the abundant food supply.

So what if these microscopic creatures live in abundance at the Manila Bay? The authors of the study highlighted that some of the species of plankton they found are associated with the recurring algal blooms in the area. One of the species with bigger populations, Noctiluca scintillans, is not toxic. However, harmful algal blooms (what we recognize as red tide), caused by other species of plankton, is the main reason why it is periodically unsafe to eat shellfish captured in the Manila Bay.

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* The photo was taken at the Manila Ocean Park. It is one of the exhibits in the Oceanarium. Seawater that is pumped into the animal enclosures have been filtered several times, according to the guide in the glass-bottom boat ride attraction.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Dr Bruce Tolentino shares insights on professional growth during the Mentoring Program lunch

As luck would have it, I was eating lunch on my birthday with my classmates in this year's Mentoring Program. The guest speaker that day was Dr V. Bruce J. Tolentino, IRRI's Deputy Director General (Communications and Partnerships).

During his talk, I took note of three points he had made; three pieces of advice that I think are important for me and my classmates as we embark on the road for professional improvement through mentoring.
1. Realize that along every stage of one's career, there are people who open doors of opportunity. However, once we're through the door, it's all about hard work.
2. Visibility is important. Performing well is just not enough. Catching people's attention (in a good way, of course) is  also needed as we grow professionally. 
3. Make sure that one's scientific work can be translated into something that a non-technical person, like policy-makers and end-users, can understand readily.
Three lessons to remember. They're not exactly low-lying fruits in the professional growth tree but they certainly are opportunities for improvement that we, as mentees, should work on.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

good Samaritans abound

I've been taught that driving a car comes with its share of conveniences. Driving one brings me faster from Point A to Point B without getting squished by fellow commuters in public vehicles, for instance. But there are hassles too. One of the downsides of driving a car (and being dependent on it) is the possibility of the car breaking down when I've got somewhere to go to.

And the timing has always been impeccable.

One of the first times I had a flat was year ago when I was Makati. Again, one of my tires got deflated when I on a Maundy Thursday pilgrimage this year. Then as my birthday weekend began, I discovered that the left front tire was deflated. I was supposed to be on my way to Dara's farewell party; instead, I was on my way, yet again, to the vulcanizing shop.

Sometimes, I could only shake my head.

roadside vulcanizing shop in Los Banos, Laguna

More importantly, though, whenever I've had a flat tire, there were people who answered my call for help. These good Samaritans have often taken the form of fellow drivers. In Makati, they were drivers in a hotel or the mall's parking lot lounge. On Maundy Thursday, they were tricycle drivers who were waiting for passengers outside the Don Bosco Church near Ayala Westgrove. And for my most recent flat, they were drivers on night duty at the IRRI transport office. These people are blessings. I will always be thankful to these strangers (and acquaintances) for helping me with the flat tires.

When the damsel is in distress and the knight-in-shining-armor is not in sight, help comes in the form of good Samaritans.

Monday, July 9, 2012

birthday food trips

I celebrated my birthday a few days ago. Unlike last year, I did not forget my birthday this year. Instead of a birthday party with friends, this year, I opted to spend my birthday with family or just eat out on my own.

birthday greeting taped on my cubicle's wall

The birthday week began and ended with rainy weather. In fact, visibility was poor on several days that I had to drive with headlights on in the morning! But did I let the wet weather rain on my imaginary parade? Of course not!

rainy view from my window

On my birthday eve, I had dinner with Tita Mely, Ate Susan, Trisha, Totoy, and Tina at a new restaurant in Sta Cruz, Laguna called Nanot's Spaghetti House. Well, "had dinner" was such an understatement. We braved a particularly heavy downpour to get to the restaurant, with me hoping that the food was worth getting really wet. The food was good. Anna, my sister, was absent this time. But she made up for it by bringing in pasta and pizza from Banapple.

while waiting for our dinner

Then there's the birthday salu-salo that was prepped for my birthday in the lab. Tita Dory brought some pancit and the others chipped in to buy chips and soda for afternoon snacks.

Kuya Junjun, my cousin, joined me for dinner at Kenny Rogers while friends joined me for lunch the next day at the Bean Hub.

The probability of me receiving a birthday cake from other people was quite low, so I decided to be proactive about it and bought myself one. Normally, I'd get a chocolate mousse from Red Ribbon (if my birthday falls on a weekend). Since my birthday fell on a weekday this year and there's no Red Ribbon cake shop close to my aunt's house, I opted for the next best thing: a Goldilocks chocolate cake. Message cakes like these normally have dedications; because I was getting myself my own cake, I thought it would be fun to greet myself with it too.

just in case nobody greeted me on my birthday, at least I did

Now, the unique thing about my birthday this year was that I had a chance to eat out before I celebrated it. That is why I was able to eat my birthday share of spaghetti and ice cream (and didn't look for these on the day anymore). The restaurant I had chosen to eat at was Gotti's Ristorante (at the Mall of Asia). It was a cozy restaurant with delicious food.

goodfella meatballs

after eight

They say that rain on one's birthday is a sign of blessings for the year. And since it's been raining all week, I think that the coming year will be filled with lots of good stuff and great adventures. Judging by the presence of family and friends, and of good food, this following year will be another bright one.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Fe's despedida

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Fe's despedida, a set on Flickr.

Fe has embarked on the next stage of her career: a PhD program in the Netherlands. But before she flew off to her next big adventure, her GQNC family gave her a farewell party at Dalcielo's in May.

The face of the Grain Quality and Nutrition Center has changed again.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Luneta on June 19th

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Luneta on June 19th, a set on Flickr.
Via Flickr:

Since it's Jose Rizal's birth anniversary and we were close by, we thought it's a good idea to pay him a visit. So we did. :)

And we got to see the Chinese garden and a concert at the park as well.