Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 in a nutshell

What a year 2013 turned out to be! Who would have thought that the year that shouldn't have been, if the Mayan calendar interpreters had been correct, was exciting? History was written right in front of my eyes as I watched the news or as I found myself where the history was happening.
  • Pope Benedict XVI resigns. Yes, he has. At first, I thought that the announcements via social media was bogus until I saw the news clips on TV. And because he had given up the leadership of the biggest and what may be the oldest Christian congregation in the world, he has put the Church in a more positive light after news upon news of unbecoming behaviors of priests. Benedict XVI's last day as Pope was covered by a lot of news agencies.
  • With the resignation of the Pope, the Church is in a state of Sede Vacante ("vacant seat"). The papal conclave began on March 12th in which one Filipino cardinal, Luis Antonio Tagle was considered a papabile (among other cardinals from different parts of the globe). Just like Pope Benedict XVI's last day in office, the first day of the conclave received a lot of media coverage. Hopefully, the favorable media coverage during these turbulent times for the Church renews Roman Catholics' devotion (and that includes me).
  • The Sultan of Sulu renewed his family's claim to Sabah, which is historically the property of the sultanate. Trust the colonizers to muck things up while drawing country borders. This is as good a time as any to see the significance of a people's past to its present.
  • President Noynoy Aquino dropped by IRRI for a "surprise" visit. On an election year, his short side trip to the Institute was remarkable (for me) because his entourage included important people in the agriculture and in the educational sectors. There were no politicians seeking reelection or running for different government posts among his group of visitors.
  • The sky was falling, literally. A meteorite crash landed somewhere in Russia. The advent of widespread internet, mobile phones with cameras, dashboard cameras, and social media allowed the news to travel far and wide a few minutes (or hours?) after the event.
  • New supervisor; new directions. Let's see how this goes.
  • For the first time, the Roman Catholic Church elected a Pope who hails from the Americas, from the southern hemisphere, and from the Jesuit order. The new Pope took on the name Francis (without the ordinal number 1 as a suffix).
  • Margaret Thatcher, known as the "iron lady" during her stint as Prime Minister of Great Britain, died of a stroke.
  • Explosions occurred near the finish line at the Boston Marathon, killing at least three people and injuring more than 100 people. On the same day, a strong earthquake hit Iran; the quake was felt as far as Doha.
  • There were relatives and people who are friends to my family who departed this year.
  • ... And then there were news that took less time to travel round the world than to get verified.
  • News about scams involving legislators' pork barrel funds in the Philippines have erupted, leading to rallies and protests.
  • Strong rains brought by the southwest monsoon flooded large parts of Metro Manila (again). Last year it was "Habagat", with the assumption that it's a one-off event. This year, it's "Habagat 2013". Would it happen again next year?!?
  • A strong earthquake (magnitude 7.2) rocked Cebu and Bohol in central Philippines, destroying a lot of buildings and even the world-famous Chocolate Hills. Ten centuries-old churches have been damaged severely, including the Sto Nino Church in Cebu City.
  • The strongest typhoon to ever hit land in recorded history landed in the Philippines. Typhoon Haiyan (PAGASA: Yolanda) was said to make landfall at 195mph. Yes, miles not kilometers! Thousands of people have died and thousands more are living in unimaginable conditions in survival mode. I am happy that in my own little way, I've contributed to making the lives of those devastated a little bit more comfortable.

Monday, December 30, 2013

cute na bata daw ako. (hahaha!)

Isang araw, makalipas ang Pasko, namasyal kami ng nanay ko sa isang mall. Dahil malamig, may suot akong makapal na jacket at botang panlamig. Sa kapal ng jacket, nagmukha siguro akong nagkakalad na marshmallow. At dahil nagkataon pang pink ang pantalon ko, nagmukha akong naglalakad na cotton candy! Kaya tuloy habang naglalakad kami, tinigil kami ng isang kapwa mamimili...

"Filipino rin kayo?", tanong niya.

"Oo, Filipino kami," sagot ng nanay ko.

"Sabi na nga ba!", sabi ng mamimili sa nanay ko. Pagtingin sa akin, aniya, "Ang cute cute naman ng batang ito!" sabay pisil sa braso kong balot ng makapal na jacket.

Paglayo ng mamimili, napatawa kami ng nanay ko dahil pang-ilang beses na ito na napagkamalan akong bata. Seryoso.


Thursday, December 26, 2013

Statistics made easier by STAR

A few years back, I learned how to use R, a statistical software that requires one to write the commands (or scripts). While I enjoyed deciphering this new language and use it in numerous data analyses, other people are not big fans. They like to click on buttons and get the data analyzed without bothering with the script. Thus, statisticians in IRRI developed the Statistical Tool for Agricultural Research (STAR), a program that does exactly that: analysts just have to click on the preferred/required types of analyses and the software will churn out the values.

And did I say that the software is free? Just like R, STAR is accessible for budget-strapped individuals.

I've taken it for a spin during one of the introductory courses... The version I used in the course has a few hits and misses (particularly the color scheme of data points in graphs) but it appears to be pretty adequate for several types of multivariate analyses.

Now, understanding what the numbers that STAR churns out means is a whole different story...

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Row, row, row your boat...


Obviously, I wasn't exactly riding a boat in the picture above. This is the first time since my Subic adventure that I took up an oar and went into the water. This is also the first time I've been close to a body water (not counting swimming pools) in a long time... I can't believe that it's been more than a year since I've been to the beach!

Anyway, I was riding this bamboo raft on Labasin Lake in Villa Escudero, San Pablo City, Laguna. While the view from the middle of the lake was very nice, I didn't dare carry any electronic gadget with me on the raft because I might fall into the 30-m deep lake with them (oh no!). I left my gadgets on dry land and donned on a life vest. Then off I and my raft teammate, RK Singh's daughter, went. It took some time and muscle power to figure out how to propel and to direct the raft so that we wouldn't hit the other people in the rafts, the barge with the flags, and the banks of the lake. There were several instances when we hit dead ends and bumped onto other rafts but we finally figured out the easy way out of these situations: just turn around on one's seat. That provided instant direction change!

The view of Labasin Lake reminds me of the view of the Brisbane River from the CityCat University of Queensland quay. The banks are lush with vegetation and the shade under the trees are alive with the chorus of birds (and other animals, I'm sure).

The wildlife in Labasin Lake, however, is a lot tamer than that in the Brisbane River. When I was attending uni, some of the students warned me not to go too close to the water because there were bull sharks. Yes, there are sharks in the Brisbane River!

Monday, December 23, 2013

my reading list in 2013

On my rest days (when I am decidedly out of the lab), I take some time to read. This year (as in other years), the books I've read for leisure are quite eclectic; I didn't stick to one genre.

1. Negotiate a Kick-Ass Salary (2012) by Nelson Wang
2. Lord of the Ring: Return of the King by JRR Tolkien
3. The Coming Famine by Julian Cribb
4. Snoops in the City
5. Lord of the Ring: Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkien
6. Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds
7. Presentation Zen Design by Garr Reynolds
8. Lord of the Ring: Two Towers by JRR Tolkien
9. Culinary Foundations by Le Cordon Bleu
10. Silmarilion by JRR Tolkien*
11. Inferno by Dan Brown*

*NOTE: I haven't finished reading these books as of December 23, 2013.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

AFSTRI's 2013 Cultural Night

If Phileas Fogg went around the world in 80 days in Jules Verne's novel, the Association of Fellows, Scholars, Trainees, and Residents at IRRI (AFSTRI) took the audience around the world in three hours through song, dance, and poetry during the annual Cultural Night. I'd normally come in quietly and just watch from the comfort of one if the seats at the Havener Auditorium; however, Ando, AFSTRI's current president, assigned me as one of the masters of ceremonies that night. I was co-hosting with Man. I sighed... I wouldn't be taking photos then.

But despite being backstage most of the time, talking with participants about last-minute changes to their presentations and our impromptu spiels, Man and I did enjoy the co-hosting gig. Since the theme was "A Night Around the World", we thought it might be good to ask the audience to sit back, relax, and fasten their seat belts; this was going to be a zip through the globe.
And what a fast trip it was: Five continents. Fifteen countries. Three hours. While short, that trip allowed the audience to catch a glimpse of the vibrant cultures around the world.

For me (who only watched some presentations), my favorite bits were the dance by Vietnamese scholars (they always have the most choreographically complicated routines), the "Dinner for One" skit by the German contingent, and the traditional and the modern songs performed by a Spanish student. Here's a video (from YouTube) of the tv version of "Dinner for One":

(I'm putting it here so that I can watch it on New Year's Eve, as is tradition in Germany, according to the performers)

What made this year's Cultural Night unique is the intermission: Man and I conducted a human auction -- we "sold" the (legally allowed) services of eight members of AFSTRI to raise funds for a scholarship. In total, the generous audience donated more than P10,000! I'm looking forward to hear what food the AFSTRI members cooked and where they conducted their hikes and tours.

Til the next year's Cultural Night! :D

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Rice Survivor (Wet Season edition): We won! We won!!

Another late post...


Team Tagumpay wins the coveted rice bowl trophy and the bragging rights!

We won on a technicality though: Team Tagumpay placed second BUT the real winning team threw in the towel during their harvest phase, with the members saying that they didn't want to compete anymore. That's really sad because they never knew how close they were to winning when they quit.

The organizers of Rice Survivor proved to be very generous with the prizes. All teams in the 2013 wet season received awards for some attention-catching performance or another. For me, I take the survival of the rice plants and the resulting harvest as victory enough since plants I take care of tend to die (like the basil plants I used to have in my backyard).

Aside from the trophy and the bragging rights, I take the lessons that I learned as prizes in themselves. Being part of this season's challenge taught me part of what farmers experience during a planting season: the hardest lesson for me is the long wait. 

I was always nervous that the plants might die when the rains and the winds came along; I kept hoping that strong typhoons didn't not hit the rice paddies; I visited the plants as often as I could just to make sure that pests were not devouring them (as if I knew what to do when they're out there already). 

I felt what I thought to be the sadness of farmers in seeing rice plants bent to the ground or buried in irrigation water because their stalks have been weakened by too much application of fertilizer and the onslaught of strong winds.

I felt relief in seeing the golden grains being sucked into the harvester on my team's last day in the field... and then worry that the storage area for harvested grains was infested by bugs that make the grains stinky and not fit for human consumption.

I realize, as the season closed, that I am a risk-averse person. Farmers are truly very brave people. The uncertainty of their profession (each farmer is a businessman, or businesswoman, to some extent) is unbelievable.

Overall, this season was a roller coaster ride for me. To Dry Season 2014 Rice Survivors, good luck! You'll need every ounce of it!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Rice Survivor (Wet Season edition): Did we win yet?

Sometime in November...


After several months of hard work, nervous waiting, and harvesting, my team became focused on finding out if what we did in the field translated into projected profit. Here's how we did it:

Profit (per hectare) = Sales - Expenses
     where: sales (Php/kg) was based on data given by economists
                 we assume that 100% of the milled rice was sold
                 we actually dried the harvest to 14% moisture content and calculated the yield from that

Then we made several options on selling the grain and calculated the projected profits from the different models:
1. We would sell the milled rice based on the market price 
2. We would sell only the whole grain at premium price then throw out the broken grain
3. We would sell intact (whole/unbroken) grain and broken grain separately

It turned out that we'd make more profit (theoretically) with Option #3 so we stuck with that.

Let's see if my Team Tagumpay's business savvy would pit well against the other other teams'...