Friday, November 30, 2012

dinner at Buon Giorno

Look at the photos I've unearthed! (I'm still posting material that originally came from my Multiply blog)


"Buon giorno" is Italian for "good day". It is an apt name for the Italian-themed restaurant Ate Maddie, Larees, Anna, and I went to in Tagaytay City after an afternoon of taking pictures in Caleruega more than three years ago.

I want to go on a photo walk again! :)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Sunday, November 18, 2012

my first attempt at slow cooking.

I do mean S-L-O-W.

Some people say that patience is virtue; slow cooking in a crock pot certainly is certainly a test of character... and of hunger.

On Thursday night, I prepared lentil soup using my Kyowa Slow Cooker (KW-2802). I just placed the lentils, the mixture of sauteed onions, celery, tomatoes, and carrots into the crock pot and added some water. Then I added dried basil and dried oregano. Once all ingredients were in, I just placed the lid and put the slow cooker on high. Then I waited.

And waited...

And waited.

Four hours (and an extremely hungry stomach) later, I decided that the lentils must already be cooked. The lentil soup I made definitely did not look like the ones on the internet and was not as thick as the soup Anna and I had tasted in Tapella by Gaudi (Greenbelt 5). My soup was on the watery, bland side as well; I must have added too much water or skipped a step in the recipe.

But the nice thing about the bland lentil soup was that I could really taste the ingredients. I'd just add salt (or Anna, fish sauce) to the soup to get the flavor right. Better that than extremely salty soup, I think. Nevertheless, it made for a hearty meal. Eight meals, in fact.

I guess I need to change the soup's name: it's not lentil soup, really; it's minestrone with lentils. :)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

breeding rice into a lean, mean, food-producing machine

I attended the World Food Day celebration at the Asian Development Bank this year (October 15-16, 2012). The event was graced by Julian Cribb, author of the book The Coming Famine (University of California Press, 2010). In his presentation, Mr Cribb discussed the real possibility of a global food shortage in the near future brought about by scarcity of resources. To avert the food crisis, Mr Cribb recommends that people start working on and re-investing in agricultural and food R&D now (among others). Especially since technology adoption takes time. During the Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP) Asia Review, Kamala Gurung reported that it takes more than ten years for farmers to adopt current varieties in Bangladesh, India, and Nepal. 

But just in case people do think that nobody is working on this issue now, I'd like to point out that agricultural scientists have not thrown in their lab coats. They are hard at work in laboratories and in test fields, taking steps to ensure that this food crisis doesn't come to fruition... or if it does, the impact won't be as bad as Mr Cribb is predicting. 

During the recently concluded IRRI Young Scientists Conference (IYSC), I have listened to several presentations about different approaches to stop, or to minimize the impact of, this food crisis. One was by boosting photosynthesis in the rice plant. Another approach was to make the rice plant more Earth-friendly; a lean, mean, food-producing machine -- if you will -- through the Green Super Rice Project.

The Green Super Rice Project aims to develop "resilient" rice varieties that can thrive in conditions where there is less water, less pesticide, and less fertilizer AND can produce higher yields than traditional and improved varieties. These green super rice varieties sound like a potential answer to the food crisis of the future, right?

Dr Jauhar Ali, the project's regional coordinator for Asia, talked about green super rice during the IYSC. He mentioned that by using a wide selection of rice varieties as parents and an IRRI breeding strategy that involves what breeders and molecular biologists call "pyramiding" and "introgression", scientists put a lot of the resilience traits from all the different parents into several "finished goods". The nice thing about these materials is that they can tolerate more than one type of stress at a time while having higher yields than the reference (or "check") varieties.

Just how environment-friendly are the varieties being developed via the Green Super Rice Project supposed to be? Dr Ali mentioned that the goal is to reduce inputs (including fertilizer and pesticide) by 25%. Doing so helps rice become more "green" because these new varieties will be lessening rice production's carbon footprint; for instance, a reduced fertilizer requirement means that the energy required to produce the fertilizer is also reduced. Aside from this, the Green Super Rice varieties will also have reduced gelatinization temperature. This means that the rice starts to cook at a low temperature which leads to reduced cooking time and probably to reduced cooking water. All that should be enough to deem these rice varieties as super.

But wait, there's more!

Aside from their good performance in the field, they are supposedly of good grain quality too. But that's based on the routine chemical tests. I wonder if anyone has actually tasted these rice varieties yet.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Do you dare to run with the bulls?

(Photo by Keil Marinay)

I think my sister has always wanted to visit Pamplona, Spain for the festival honoring San Fermin. Looks like she dared to be run after by a bull -- or a cow, I'm not really sure -- while in UPLB.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Plan B: boost photosynthesis.

Photosynthesis is an organism's way of producing food (if it can, like plants and algae, and several bacteria types) using carbon dioxide and sunlight. Along the way, plants produce oxygen, the gas humans and other organisms need to survive. Photosynthetic organisms, then, are both source of food and natural carbon dioxide scrubber. 

Despite learning about photosynthesis in school, I never bothered to understand it with such passion as the people working in the C4 Rice Project. See, the research areas that interest me tend to be closer to the rice eater sitting at the dining table than to clouds floating in the bright blue sky. 

But I digress...

Scientists from the C4 group are attempting what previously was probably a product of science fiction: to tinker with the photosynthetic processes in the rice plant and make them more efficient. During the IRRI Young Scientists Conference (November 8-9), a lot of the early-career researchers took to the stage to bring us, non-C4 scientists, up-to-date with the research they are working on about photosynthesis. Thankfully, most of them (if not all) started with slides differentiating the photosynthetic types in rice (C3) and in maize (C4). According to these researchers, C4 photosynthesis is much more efficient than C3, which is why this ambitious team of scientists are undergoing such a project.

Before a C4 rice plant can be made, a lot of obstacles need to be overcome or requirements to satisfy; among these are anatomy changes in the leaf and the addition or activation of several enzymes that will allow photosynthesis to become more efficient in rice. And based on the young scientists' presentations, the C4 group has certainly made progress in the various fronts of research.

Why do these scientists want rice to become more efficient photosynthetic machines anyway? 

According to the C4 Rice website, by boosting photosynthetic capacity of the rice grain, scientists can find a way to increase rice production under decreasing amounts of resources (land, water, fertilizer) and an ever increasing number of consumers. This C3-C4 transformation in rice is seen as an alternate route to the traditional way of improving rice yields: yield improvement in elite rice varieties are currently facing a road block. 

The C4 project is certainly right there at the tip of cutting-edge, almost-science-fiction research. Who knows, we might see rice panicles shooting from plants with leaves that look like corn someday.

We'll see.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Roland Buresh, on mentoring

Last Tuesday, November 6, I attended the lunch organized for participants in this year's Mentoring Program at the International Rice Research Institute. The special guest during this lunch meeting was no other than Dr Roland Buresh, IRRI's nutrient management expert.

And just like while listening to Dr Bruce Tolentino in one of the earlier lunches, I took note of three points that Dr Buresh discussed over lunch:
1. Stop thinking about why something doesn't work; start thinking how to make it work. In a laboratory, young scientists who are eager to test new ideas may, at times, feel like they're butting heads with brick walls. The younger ones shouldn't take it personally, according to Dr Buresh, because the elder scientists may have had supervisors who didn't entertain their ideas either. Dr Abdelbagi Ismail, another mentor present over lunch,  also said that we also have to observe the way we present our ideas. The way we say our ideas and suggestions affects the way other people react to them. In the end, Dr Buresh advised us not to be discouraged; instead, find other people who are more open to our ideas (they provide a conducive environment for brainstorming).
2. Mentors need to know how to be the bearers of bad news. Dr Buresh shared a day in his life as a grad student and how important a mentor's way of correcting someone can influence the future of that person's career. Someday, when I'm a mentor myself, I have to remember this point.
3. Learn to see the big picture. Scientists are trained to break things and concepts down to their basic components, according to Dr Buresh. At some point, he said, scientists have to piece them back together because stakeholders look at problems as a whole, not at the details. Somehow, this is similar to what Erik Mathijs discussed with us on systems thinking during the leadership course I had attended months back.
Yet another lesson-filled lunch at the Mentoring Program! I appreciate being surrounded by people who have gone through what I am just beginning to experience AND being around people who are in the same boat as I am. I'm looking forward to the group's next lunch!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Early-career scientists: new blood, new ideas

I was lucky to be chairing the morning session on Innovations and Novel Approaches during the IRRI Young Scientists Conference on November 8 because it provided a glimpse of what new technologies are being developed or being applied by young scientists for the rice sciences.

Novel ways for observing plant characteristics
One of the challenges of phenotyping (that's technical jargon for describing or measuring observable characteristics of an organism) is that it is a slow process. For example, measuring length, width and/or height of plant parts can be tedious and slow. To save time on phenotyping, Katherine Meacham uses a technology that takes 3-D images of plants and automates the measurements. She uses this technology (among others) because she needs to develop mathematical models about plant responses to environmental conditions within the time she's required to finish her PhD.
New look at proteins involved in water transport in plants
Alexandre Grondin talked about aquaporins, proteins that regulate the flow of water  between cells from plant roots to leaves. The movement of water affects the opening and closing of guard cells, cells in the leaves that open to allow gas exchange to occur: carbon dioxide enters the leaf and oxygen exits the leaf. When carbon dioxide enters, water vapor escapes. Hence, understanding and learning how to control the movement of water through these aquaporins have implications in making the rice plant more resilient in the presence of drought and high-temperature conditions.
Mobile phones as decision-making tools
During the Global Rice Science Partnership (GRISP) Asia Review, one of the questions I had in mind was: how will farmers use the Nutrient Manager smartphone application being developed by IRRI? I got an answer during Maria Eda Apple Suplido's presentation. The app is designed to be used by extension workers or by tech-savvy farmers to get personalized information about fertilizer input at the right place and the right time. The option to get information via phone call to an automated answering system is still available. It takes 15 minutes to get through the questions though. With the current set of questions, the developers of the software observed a lot of unfinished calls and are now trying to reduce the number of questions in an effort to lessen client phone time.
Breeding by MAGIC
Nonoy Bandillo talked a bit more about MAGIC: Multi-parent Advanced Generation Inter-Cross. MAGIC allows breeders to get a lot of favorable traits from eight rice parents into one plant. Genome-wide association mapping (GWAS) is currently being used to locate the chromosomes involved in various characteristics that enhance yield and quality. Someday, the MAGIC rice populations will help overcome the yield plateau. 
Making sense of the rice genome sequence
Jeffrey Detras' presentation is one example of how information technology is used to make sense of the enormous amounts of data being generated by the high-tech genotyping tools now available. The people involved in the OryzaSNP Project decode the rice DNA sequence. In Jeff's presentation, he showed a method that measures how much of the DNA sequence of one rice sample is indica, japonica, or aus. It is interesting to find out, for example, that indica rice varieties could have DNA sequences coming from japonica and aus rice varieties.
Five interesting presentations, all from very different fields. Yet when these are seen together, they form a cohesive picture of what rice science could look like in a few years' time.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

the "Happy Birthday, Mommy" dinner

Anna and I, on one of the weekends she was off-duty, went to Makati to celebrate our mother's birthday. We ended up in California Kitchen in Glorietta 4. 

That's Anna with her pasta plate and the whipped cream-topped shake. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

I was a chair for the first time. Ever.

This time, I write snippets as I attend the IRRI Young Scientists Conference. 
No, not literally.

I was chairing this morning's session on Innovations and Novel Approaches in the first IRRI Young Scientists Conference (IYSC). Being a chairperson for the first time, I was clueless with what I was supposed to do; particularly because someone else was doing the moderator duties.

Thankfully, the moderator of the session, Shanta Karki was well prepared and organized. She had print outs of speakers' profiles (which I used to introduce the speakers), time-keeping and alerting materials, and certificates of participation on hand before we began the session. The back-end of this technical session felt like a well-oiled machine.

There were only a few people as the session start time approached. Luckily, we had Hei Leung in the audience. He was able to convince more people to listen in on the Innovations session. 

It turns out that chairing a technical session wasn't so hard after all. All I had to do was introduce the speaker before his/her presentation and then facilitate the question-and-answer portion... and keep the speaker and the discussion from going overtime. The challenge, though, was how to stop a lively exchange when time ran out and how to get the ball rolling just in case nobody had a question for the speaker. In my case, though, I didn't have to think of questions because experts sitting in the audience were asking away.

IRRI Young Scientists Conference opens today. :)

This time, I write snippets as I attend the IRRI Young Scientists Conference. 

During the Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP) Asia Review, I observed that early-career scientists are being given the exposure they need to move their careers forward. Just four weeks after, they are once again given the chance to talk about their work, to meet their peers, and to hear what their peers in other scientific fields are doing. I am talking about the two-day IRRI Young Scientists Conference (#IYSC2012) going on at the International Rice Research Institute.

According to Govinda Rizal (IYSC conference chair and current president of the Association of Fellows, Scholars, Trainees, and Residents in IRRI), the conference serves as a platform to bridge "between experienced senior scientists and those following their footsteps". Indeed, the conference did allow me to talk with more established scientists. I was able to discuss with the likes of Jauhar Ali (who used to be a post-doctoral fellow at IRRI and is now a scientist involved in the Green Super Rice project) and Randy Barker (Cornell University professor emeritus and former head of IRRI's Social Sciences Division) during the technical sessions... they're not grain quality specialists so I don't see them often. 

During the opening program, Robert Zeigler (IRRI Director General) reminded us, young ones, to enjoy the experience of being a student or a post-doctoral fellow because this time of our lives won't last. One day, we'll start getting administrative and managerial responsibilities and may not be able to be as productive, scientifically, as we are now. On the other hand, Achim Dobermann (IRRI Deputy Director General (Research)) remarked that IRRI has a growing population of young scientists. In the past three years, the numbers of PhD students and post-doctoral fellows have approximately doubled; MSc student numbers have gone up; the number of nationally recruited staff has risen too. The IYSC is a venue for these budding scientists to share their research with a wider audience. Thus, he hopes that the IYSC is not just a one-time event.

The abstract book for the IYSC shows just how vibrant our set of young scientists are. On the first day of the conference, there were six concurrent sessions with about 78 speakers! The variety of the presentations indicated that rice science is not just about being in the farm. It's also about crop improvement and protection, markets and policies, genetics and molecular biology, innovations, and environmental issues. Really, rice science is a mix of so many different scientific fields!

Despite the complexity and diversity of rice science, there are people who tend to go only to sessions that are related to their fields of study. Both Drs Zeigler and Dobermann thus urged us to go to presentations on topics we don't normally listen in on so we don't become intellectual silos. Instead, we'd get the opportunity to become well-rounded, balanced scientists. Perhaps, this is one way to follow on Dr Buresh's lesson during the Mentoring Program lunch this week: learn to see the big picture.

No doubt, the future of rice science appears to be secure. The young scientists at the IYSC are surely "sustaining excellence in rice research".

meet Ninja, the kitten.

We named this cat Ninja because it's the first tortoise shell cat with predominantly dark patches. As a kitten, she was so dark that she's almost invisible at night. That's an almost perfect camouflage and she uses it to her  advantage... and to my annoyance whenever the "prey" she's set her eyes on is my foot.

She's not shy around humans and love to use their shoulders as perches (hence the photo above) and their pants-clad legs as scratching posts. She meows to announce her presence or just to greet us when we arrive home. She sometimes also races past me through the door into the house for reasons only she knows what.

Apparently, I'm not the only one to notice this unique tortoiseshell behavior. The blogger of The Conscious Cat has written a piece of what is termed as "tortitude". I am certain that Ninja displays  that.

I'm a blood donor (again) :D

Before I went for my three-week training in the USA in September, I donated blood during the IRRI-Rotary Club of West Bay blood drive. This is the annual activity that I participate in which requires me to gain a few kilos to qualify as a blood donor.

This year, I went along with Cindy and Crystal. For the first time, because I got good results for weight and blood pressure, the doctor did not ask too many health-related questions anymore. Crystal didn't donate but Cindy qualified to be a donor.

I didn't know what was up with my arm, but it took quite a while to get enough blood from my veins into the blood bag. The nurses, the phlebotomists, and the Rotarians were certainly helpful: I was given a stress ball to squeeze at while the collection was ongoing; the phlebotomists kept playing an MP3 of Leona Lewis' "Bleeding Love" (I wanted to finish fast because I didn't want to hear it for the nth time!!); and the Rotarians provided congee and fruit juice for the donors.

At the end of the donation, I had something for show-and-tell back home: the puncture wound was visible and the skin around it had started to become bruised. Two months later, the scar is still visible.

The puncture wound, hours after I donated 500cc of blood.

Of course I was also able to bring home a more tangible souvenir: a pin from IRRI, the Rotary Club of West Bay, and the Philippine Red Cross. :)

My reward for donating :)

Here's hoping that the blood I donated will help people in need wherever in the Philippines. :)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

bitter dinner

"A wide array of bitter foods are... good for you." -- Elliott Essman
Last night, I had to eat bitter gourd for dinner. Plus a few eggshells, give or take.

Bitter gourd
Filipino name:   ampalaya
Scientific name: Momordica charantia

This hard-to-swallow veggie packs a powerful health punch; it's known to have antimicrobial, anticancer, and antidiabetes properties. Just one tiny detail: it is BITTER!

A lot of people have devised a lot of ways to remove the bitterness from the bitter gourd, from squeezing the juices out to putting a lot of salt onto the raw vegetable. Unfortunately, this kitchen novice has never cooked ampalaya before. I just blanched the bitter gourd and then scrambled five eggs to add the cooked vegetable in. The eggs certainly did the trick. The ampalaya was not as bitter as its aroma suggested! The accompanying pieces of chorizo also helped mask the bitter taste of the ampalaya.

Now, I've still got four pieces of cooked ampalaya. What should I do with them?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

I was at the LAX the day after Endeavour arrived!!

During the week that I was in training in Los Angeles, I was looking forward to see one thing: the flyover of NASA's Space Shuttle Endeavour. It was all over the morning news everyday the whole week.

On September 22nd, I was quite sad because the space ship already landed the day before and I didn't see it fly over LA because I was indoors. I wasn't even sure that I'd see it while outdoors because it might not have flown by Torrance (where I stayed) or Rancho Dominguez (where I was training). So I contented myself with watching the news coverage of the space shuttle's LAX landing.

I was wrong last year. While watching Endeavour's final flight last year, I thought that the next time I'd see this would be when it's a museum piece. It turned out that the world would see it one more time before it goes to a museum!

There's one consolation for me though: while the plane that was flying me from Los Angeles to Sacramento was going from the terminal to the runway, my fellow passengers and I got a glimpse of the NASA Boeing 747 jumbo jet just outside one of the hangars; if I remember correctly, it's the United Airlines hangar (but I'm not sure... wasn't able to take a photo while the plane I was in was taxiing).

Saturday, November 3, 2012

shoe shopping (yet again!)

Thanks to the foot pain, I've become a more picky shoe shopper. I couldn't buy shoes that don't have the right kind of support for the arch (thank you, tendonitis!); as such, I became limited to getting mostly running shoes and a pair of comfortable black pumps. 

Until I discovered Danskos last November.

Dansko is a brand of footwear catering mostly to people who have to be standing a lot like medical professionals and restaurant employees. The shoes are designed to be very comfortable and non-slip. So, I thought, why not get one for myself? I'm also on my feet most days and I'm known for slipping on the flattest of surfaces (hence the rehabilitation doctor told me to jog on a treadmill, not on the road yet).

Just in September this year, I finally got the opportunity to buy myself a pair (at The Walking Company branch in Sun Valley Mall). Initially, I wanted a pair of the red leaf patent or the funky knit patent. However, I ended up with the one that caught my eye last year: the black scribble patent. It's the prettiest too, in my opinion. 

My black scribble patent Dansko clogs

While I was breaking it in, I thought it was the heaviest pair of shoes that I owned. Yes, it was comfortable but the loose fit at the heel bothered me a lot in the beginning. In a few days' time, though, I got used to it (except for the squeaking noises as I walk in a quiet place). Imagine not feeling foot pain for the first time in several months!

My Danskos have virtually replaced my running shoes for weekday wear! My athletic shoes are now my weekend and my indoor jogging footwear. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Lolo Bats

Lolo Bats' grave, Nov 2012
I barely knew my paternal grandfather, Lolo Batangas. My only recollection of him was when he dropped by our house with a wound on his knee; he had taken a fall from his bike back in Padre Garcia, Batangas shortly before he visited us. I was, I think, almost five years old at the time.

I was drawing on the back of some piece of  cardboard using a permanent marker. It was supposed to be a sketch of a girl skating on an ice rink. When I showed it to him, he said:

Ano yan, kuwago? (What's that, an owl?)

Of course, I didn't know what a kuwago was until my parents explained that it's a bird with huge eyes (the girl I was drawing had big googly eyes :P).

Despite not really knowing him, I feel like I know of him enough based on my family's stories about him and even from people he had helped long time ago. From what I gather, he was a quiet man who always smiled. He worked really hard to keep his brood of six children in the best schools. My grandma, Lola Bats, fondly retells of their days as ice cream makers and bakers; their experiences when they stayed in the USA for a while; how pets (a dog and a horse) were very fond of Lolo Bats. My father always talks about my grandfather's high regard for education: he believed (and preached) that highly educated people live more convenient lives than people who didn't graduate from college. My aunts talk of how close they were to Lolo Bats; it gave me the impression that each daughter felt that she's my Lolo's favorite. My cousins relate of their days learning how to drive a tractor directly from him (they were preparing the land for sugarcane cultivation). People my grandpa had helped talked about his generosity in helping them with their businesses or their farms...

In short, I may not have known the man, but I know the legend. It would have been cool to know him, I think.