Friday, May 31, 2013

Top 10 road signs/billboards/posters that caught my attention

I tend to notice weird posters, billboards, and road signs while I'm stuck in traffic or in a long queue while waiting for public transportation. Here's my top 10 signs/ posters/ billboards (so far), in no particular order (and what I was thinking when I saw them):

1. "Accident-prone tunnel up ahead."
I was driving back to Laguna along C-5 Road when I saw this sign at the approach to the C-5/ Col. Boni Serrano underpass in Quezon City. As I passed the sign in slow traffic, I thought, "Poor tunnel. It must have gone through a lot of injuries because it's accident-prone."
2. "Slow down race ahead." 
As vehicles were being signaled to stop right in front of a grade school along the national highway in Brgy Lalakay, Los Banos, Laguna, I thought that there was a real race going on along this stretch of road. Weird; nobody in his or her right mind would run in that heat on a national highway at that hour. But as the words of the sign sunk in, I grew worried: I might be stuck in non-moving traffic for a long time because the race was a slow one.
3. "e-PASS lane/ Absolutely no change lane." 
Ah, the Canlubang Toll Plaza, the gateway to the rest of Southern Luzon, is found in Calamba, Laguna. Vehicles slow down to a crawl as they approach this area because the drivers need to pay the toll fee before traveling by national highway... And by crawl, I mean that the queue could easily be more than two km long on any given day. And with that kind of traffic, it's easy to notice so many things... particularly the signs  above the toll booths (which are clear to read when one gets closer to the booths). Many years ago, when my dad used to be the only driver in the family, I kept asking him this question: "If you've chosen the booth where you'd pay and have started to join the queue, why in the world would you want to suddenly decide to change lanes so close to the booth?"
4. "No flood, free flowing water."
Brgy Bucal in Calamba, Laguna has had its share of floods and heavy traffic during the rainy season. A subdivision was developed and its marketing people promise that there would be no floods there despite the property being along the water's path from the mountains to Laguna de Bay. Come to think of it, there really won't be floods... the water will flow freely. Right.
5. "Annie Loading Station" 
Going to Los Banos from the Southern Luzon Expressway can be a pain due to heavy traffic in Calamba. So to keep my travel time as short as possible, I divert to the small barangay road in Real, Calamba, Laguna. True, the drive is a little slower here on good days but at least traffic is still moving when the national highway is gridlocked. One slow day, I noticed this sari-sari store which I initially thought was a tricycle stop for commuters going into the inner parts of the barangay. When I passed by it, though, I learned that it's a shop that sells prepaid phone credit (probably of all the network carriers).
6. "wall climbing inside -->" 
Still in Calamba, Laguna, but this time in Brgy Pansol. That's where the tightest bottleneck is every summer (thanks to the tourists flocking the hot springs and the resorts dotting the barangay). One highway-side resort is trying to attract potential clients by advertising its facilities. But a wall climbing on its own?!? That's pretty scary.
7. "Save and protect Laguna Lake" 
Long before the 2013 mid-term elections, an environmentally friendly councilor of Calamba, Laguna decided to encourage people to save Laguna de Bay through a poster right before the railroad crossing. He had very good intentions: his photo was superimposed on a photo of water with a fluke high in the air. Whoever made the poster and approved its design made several boo-boos: (1) the proper name of the lake is 'Laguna de Bay' (Laguna Lake is like pizza pie) and (2) there are absolutely no whales in Laguna de Bay. Just a few days prior to the elections, the poster was taken down and replaced with campaign posters. Now, the electric post just before the railroad crossing is just another plain post.
8. "Pre-owned cars accept trade-in" 
That's the claim of a car shop in Brgy Real, Calamba, Laguna. When I saw this while waiting for the queue of cars that I was in to move (the same day I saw Annie's Loading Station), my brain just had to react: "But I beg to disagree. Pre-owned cars have no mind of their own." 
9. "This opening is for emergency only." 
I had a double take on this, one rainy morning as I was driving northwards. The Quirino Memorial Medical Center is located on the southbound side of C-5/ Katipunan Avenue in Quezon City. This dual carriageway has a gap that is closed for all except one. Only emergency can take a left on that gap. Emergency is a driver now, it seems.
10. "No entry beyond this point." 
One day, I decided to take the train from northern Metro Manila (for a change). At the MRT station located at the Ayala Center in Makati City, someone barricaded the white cement wall with black queue divider rope (probably) for safety purposes. But to make sure that absolutely nobody collides with wall, he still added a written warning: you're not allowed to enter the wall. I was convinced.
What a way to entertain myself while waiting for traffic, huh? I bet people who drive cars for longer distances or those who get stuck in longer traffic jams have more to add. :)

Monday, May 20, 2013

back in the road race: the 2013 Nat Geo Run!!

After several years of waiting until my foot was in any shape for running, I was finally ready for my first road race after physiotherapy: National Geographic's 2013 Earth Day Run (April 28). This came a week after my first off-road race post-therapy (IFSA's Harvest Run). I was so excited! I was a bit nervous too because this was the first time I'd run without a friend in the same run category (Man was running 10k, I was going for 5k).

The route for this year's Earth Day run was a bit tougher than the last 5k I did at the venue: the Bonifacio Global City. Or, perhaps, there were a lot more buildings now so the terrain must have changed a lot... and I didn't recognize the area anymore.


Given that this was my first road run after a long time, I was just happy that I was able to finish it without getting overheated and without getting chills. My cousin, Kuya Rico, had sent over several shirts designed for running in hot conditions while I was still in therapy. The Nat Geo 2013 run was the first opportunity for me to wear one of them and it worked like a charm! 

Days after the event, I got some good news. My run time (chip time) was 42 minutes and 44 seconds for 5k. That may be slow for some people but that's one of the fastest runs I've had (especially because I finished strong). In fact, my Nat Geo 2013 time was way faster than my Milo 5k time in 2010.

Happy! I'm now looking for my next race. :)

pitstop at IFEX Philippines

Late afternoon yesterday, I found myself walking in the cavernous exhibition hall of the SMX Convention Center as a visitor at the 2013 International Food Exhibition Philippines. It was an opportunity for local producers to be exposed to the international market. At the same time, it was a chance for other countries to showcase their food products to current and potential Filipino audiences.

The ~9000 sq.m. hall hosted quite a number of booths, with native ingredients from different regions of the Philippines on display. While browsing through the products, I realized that many of the booths were selling organic colored rice, chocolate tablets, coconut products, seafood, cured meats, and coffee products.

I was particularly curious about the rice grains. I haven't heard of many of the trade names... Among the labels I've encountered were Jasmine Gold, Sampaguita Gold, Black Rice, Heirloom Rice, and (the most intriguing name of all, for me) Rambo Rice. Then there were portmanteaus as well: I came across Jasponica and Miponica rice products (Dona Maria brand) in one booth... I regularly buy the Jasponica rice for home use so I've heard of it. In contrast, it's my first encounter with Miponica.

For people wanting to eat food from other countries without leaving the Philippines, the good news is that Filipino products were not the only ones for sale. There were booths that offered items coming from Malaysia (ginger-honey candy), Japan, Korea, and the United States (fried potato cubes). I remember also passing by an exhibit of different grains from Argentina.

There were just so many booths to visit, I didn't notice that I had already spent more than an hour in the SMX Convention Center! In fact, the exhibit was about to close when I reached the chefs' corner. I wasn't able to watch them work their magic on the ingredients available in the hall; I wasn't able to watch the baristas' acrobatics either. Nevertheless, I had a good time exploring the exhibit area.

I just have to thank Ige Ramos, editor-in-chief of sansRival, for telling me about IFEX Philippines.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

birds of different feathers flock together

... in IRRI's rice fields.

I have a limited awareness about birds. I am familiar with those that are pets, those that are grown for human consumption, those that hunt for other animals, and those that I see normally on electric posts. A very limited list compared to what's out there in the wild. Plus, I'd like to know what the bird that I met up close in a rice paddy is called.

A lot of reasons for me to catch the "Feathers in the Fields: The Birds of IRRI" photo exhibit at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

I was amazed to see that a rice field can host a diverse set of birds. There were some species that consume rice grains (hence the scarecrow was invented and why birdboys earn their keep). But there were a lot more that ate the snails, the frogs, the snakes, and other animals that call the rice paddy their home. With these animals forming part of the food web, the biologist in me started looking for at least a photo of a bird of prey... more specifically, I was hoping that the photographers had captured a photo of an eagle (and that's because the Center for Philippine Raptors used to have a facility in Mount Makiling).

After looking at the photo exhibit, I found only one; the photographers had only photographed one raptor: the peregrine falcon. But the other birds were amazing all the same: I keep wondering how could some birds perch on the rice stalk; are the birds that light or are the stalks that strong?

I am thinking of grabbing my camera and try my hand at bird photography because of this, if only it wasn't so expensive a hobby!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Ambassadors' Day, marketplace-style

Five minutes. That's all the time we were given to show each group of visitors at IRRI's Ambassadors' Day the highlights of our research...

There were eight exhibits and if people stayed too long in one, they might miss out on other research highlights. So, to make sure that everyone got to see everything, the visitors were grouped into eight and "tour guides" stopped them at each of the eight stations... somewhat akin to the "move-system" exam that I used to take back in high school and in college. 

The different exhibit stations at the Ambassador's day.
(Photo taken after the exhibit closed.)

Given the time limit and the rice quality exhibits that we had to show, the team I was in (including Ana, Lenie, Irene, Cindy, and Crystal) was forced to keep our discussions and rice tasting at five minutes. Dr Bruce Tolentino acted as time keeper; he rang a bell when it was time for the visitors to move to the next exhibit. To stay within the time limit required knowing the story we were telling forwards and backwards and only saying the essentials. No hesitations; no filler syllables; no beating around the bush. Some were caught by surprise by the brevity of the discussion but recovered by the time the next group arrived. After all, we're all used to having the audience all to ourselves for at least 30 minutes in lab tours. Shortening a 30-minute technical spiel to a five-minute layman presentation needed quite a few adjustments.

Thanks to the Ambassadors' Day, I met ambassadors and consuls (or their representatives) from different countries. My foreign language ability was tested again. That Lonely Planet European phrasebook (which I bought in 2002) was a real help as I prepared for encounters with non-Filipinos. I was able to greet the Ambassador from Italy buongiorno (even though it's 3pm) and the Ambassador from Cuba buenos tardes. I am once more convinced that I have to continue in my quest of becoming a proper polyglot when the Ambassador of Cuba continued in Spanish: ¿Habla usted Espanol? I could only respond Muy poquito, which got him laughing and switching back to English. The Ambassador of Angola is a Portuguese speaker and it's a language I couldn't say anything in yet (but Anna and Biboy are learning Portuguese, thanks to capoeira). Aside from these ambassadors, I was able to converse with representatives of Thailand, Lao PDR, Vietnam, Pakistan, the European Union...

But members of the diplomatic corps were not the only tourists. I had the opportunity to talk quite a bit with the Laguna State Polytechnic University's president, Dr Nestor de Vera. There were a lot more people too but I wasn't able to note who they were... there were just so many people in such a short time.

What an event! This is the first Ambassadors' Day I've participated in. I think it was a good exposure for the young scientists (like me and my group, the Nutrient Manager team and the post-harvest team). I hope that we'll be part of it again next time! :)

Dr Bob Zeigler showed us how to communicate with non-scientists

On May 3, IRRI welcomed ambassadors and consuls (or their representatives), members of the Los Banos community and of government offices during the Ambassadors' Day. Aside from the indoor exhibits (which included my group), the visitors were also shown the farm where the field experiments were being conducted.

Dr Bob Zeigler, IRRI's Director General, set the tone on how we, the exhibitors, should communicate to these visitors by opening the event with a presentation. Despite talking science, he largely avoided the use of technical jargon. And he talked with the gravitas of a person who leads one of the most important scientific endeavors in the world.

During Dr Zeigler's presentation, he said that the environment is changing (as shown by rising seawater levels, increasingly warmer temperatures, and more occurrences of extreme weather), the fields used to produce rice is shrinking, AND the rice-consuming population is growing. IRRI is contributing science and technology to ensure food security for this growing population of rice eaters. IRRI uses tools from modern biology to develop rice varieties that could thrive in drought, flood, and salty conditions (for example) without relying on increased fertilizer and pesticide inputs and still have increased yields. More importantly (for me at least), the grains harvested from these hardy and high-yielding varieties, should have acceptable taste and flavor to consumers because if people won't eat the rice, the impact of the improved variety couldn't be maximized.

To demonstrate the impact of IRRI's varieties, Dr Zeigler showed time-stamped photos of a farmer who, in 2008, planted submergence (flood)-tolerant rice seeds developed by IRRI. Despite other farmers' advice, he continued growing the crop despite the floods. When the floods subsided, he discovered that the plants did not die and he was able to harvest from this crop eventually. Now, millions of rice farmers facing similar flooding problems, are planting the same variety or newly developed varieties with the same tolerance to flooded conditions. The second Asian Green Revolution then, Dr Zeigler declared, began that fateful day -- July 31, 2008 -- when the lone farmer decided to keep his submerged crop in place.

As Dr Zeigler wrapped up his brief presentation, I thought that this was a perfect introduction to the exhibits. It was then our turn to show our visitors research highlights in a non-technical way and in five minutes per exhibit.

Timer starts now.

And the countdown begins...

There are days when scientists work like bees in the laboratory and there are times when they show off the fruits of their work to visitors of the International Rice Research Institute. I've never been behind the scenes of the preparations stages so for one such event, this year's Ambassadors' Day, I was really stoked to be part of the exhibit team. Activities like this keep my creative juices flowing specially when faced with the challenge of explaining science to non-scientists.

During the prep stage, I noticed that there wasn't a lot of documentation. So I thought it might be a good idea to take photos as we went along. Here we go...

Friday, April 12
T - 21:05:30
This was a day of firsts (for me). The exhibitors met for the first time to learn the details about the event that were going to participate in and to start thinking about what we were supposed to present, and how.

I didn't find out how to switch this on until a week later.

As embarrassing as it may sound, this also was the first time that I've been inside the Board Room! Oh, and it's also my first time to encounter, in person, the microphone in the photo.

Friday, April 19
T - 14:03:30
This meeting was when the visual aids my group would use slowly started to take shape in my head. I had discussed this exhibit with my supervisor, of course; this time, I was thinking more about how to present the ideas in posters and hands-on exhibits. Ria and Paul gave us the preliminary floor layout in the exhibit hall and dimensions for posters that would fit into our display cases. Now armed with exhibit area dimensions and poster templates, it was time to go back to my team so that we could put ideas onto paper and onto exhibits.

Wednesday, April 24
T - 09:00:30
The atmosphere in the Board Room was one of excitement. I liken this meeting to a NASA launch status check. Everyone involved in the Ambassadors' Day was there, not just the exhibitors. Dr Bruce Tolentino was our Launch Director and the meeting participants were giving updates as if we were giving the final go/no-go statuses. True enough, this was the last meeting before the exhibits took "flight".

Monday, April 29
T -  04:00:00
The exhibit areas were all blank. It was the first time that the exhibitors had seen the space assigned to each group. This was nice because I always have difficulty imagining just how big a space is if only floor areas are given.

Ria discussing with exhibitors on additional requirements.
The GQNC exhibit area sans posters.
Clean slates ready for posters.

Armed with meter sticks and tape measures, we exhibitors visited the venue to see how we could physically fit our exhibit ideas onto the area given. The nice thing about this day was that we were all working with clean slates... we could personalize our respective nooks.

Tuesday, April 30
T - 03:00:00
The GQNC area finally started looking like an exhibit! Posters were being propped up onto poster boards, NimLocks, and MarcBrics. We've had help from Jimboy and the guys from the Physical Plant Services in putting posters into the MarcBric and in repositioning tables.

A PPS staff and Jimboy setting up the posters.
The wooden board's part of the exhibit?

Wednesday, May 1
T - 02:00:00
Despite the holiday, I dropped by the exhibit area with Ate Lucy and Cindy to set up the hands-on exhibits. Our mission: to position the cups, the samples, the post-its, and the labels. We needed to make sure that we got the cup blocking correct.

Ate Lucy and Cindy preparing labels for the exhibits.

A third poster was pulled out at the last minute and so we had to think about what we could do with such a good spot. My original label idea didn't work well on the black table so we had to rethink the approach several times.

Thursday, May 2
T - 01:04:00
By this time, my group had learned what works and what doesn't in terms of visual aids. The exhibit was pretty much ready except for that one missing poster. We also decided that our idea for sample labels were not working. Time to implement Plan C...

Just one more poster!!

We prepared a third poster on the fly (a simple one) and had it edited,  printed, and displayed much faster than the other two posters. For the sample labels, we changed the font and the background colors to better blend with the table. Truly, many people brainstorming is better than one person working on the concept. The poster was the product of what I had wanted to do and Jimboy's suggestions mixed together. The sample labels were a refinement of ideas coming from Cindy, me, and Ate Lucy.

Aside from prepping the exhibit area, the GQNC team had to make sure that the rice we were serving on Ambassadors' Day would be cooked properly. Ate Lucy practiced cooking the variety we were to use the following day, with the rest of us tasting the cooked rice and deciding the best rice:water proportion.

Friday, May 3
T - 00:00:30
(Photos taken after everyone had left the exhibit. Before the event, there was just so many people that I couldn't get a clean photo.)

Ambassadors' Day finally arrived. The exhibit was finally ready for viewing. I arrived early, coming a bit ahead of the GQNC exhibitors, for final touches: removing cup covers, placing paper under the table assigned to rice tasting, and prepping the materials for rice tasting.

GQNC exhibit

The other groups also did a splendid job in showing off their work. I was blown away by the complexity and the artistry of the Genetic Resources Center's (GRC) display. The goldfish swimming in a transparent box containing IRRI's submergence-tolerant rice (PBGB) was a nice touch because of the color contrast and presence of motion. The Seed Health Unit's (SHU) crowd-drawer, the winnowing area, allowed visitors to try their hand at removing the chaff from the grain.

GRC exhibit

PBGB exhibit

SHU exhibit

10... 9... 8... 7... 6... 5... 4... 3... 2... 1...

Let the games begin!