Sunday, September 18, 2016

Blue Man Group, Live in Manila!! (2016)

I drove up to the Solaire Theatre to watch the Blue Man Group's performance. I was excited to see the group perform because people kept saying that they're a really fun group to watch. The advertisements promised a combination of rock concert, theatre performance, comedy, and dance party in one night. Too bad everyone else I know wasn't available to go with me to watch this... It was going to be a great night, I knew it! Would have been even better if I weren't alone though.

As the house lights dimmed, instructions flashed above the stage. I thought that they were just regular courtesy reminders because they initially went along like this: 

Don't take photos and videos. 
This show has no intervals; it is not advisable to go out of the theatre once the show has started.
This performance uses strobe lights.
This performance uses recycled paper.

But then the messages became downright funny:

Don't take selfies.
Don't take a photo of the dinner you just ate. 
No downloading of apps, net-caching, plerking, flashpuddling, farbing...
Drone-piloting is right out.
Please don't be electronically annoying during the show.

These set the tone of the night's performance. They also reminded me of the funny pre-show reminders of Rak of Aegis. After the crowd was warmed up a bit, the scrolling screen continued to spew out instructions directed to the audience. This time the screen prompted the audiences to say their congratulations and their "happy birthday" greetings to various members of the audience.

And then, the lights dimmed and the show began...

I was amazed at how good the performers were! They were not talking at all. Instead, they were relying on music, on their facial expressions, and on their body language to get their message across. Of course, there were voice-overs, some of which I thought were biology lessons. I honestly got lost in some of the parts because I was expecting an overarching story but they performers were acting like they were in a variety show.

The most amazing part was when the lights grew dim and giant bouncy balls fell from the roof onto the audience. The concert had morphed into a party!! Confetti flew everywhere. There was a dancing giant robot balloon smack in the middle of the stage. Audience members were on their feet, dancing to the music. That was so cool!

The show finally drew to a close and everyone was asked to move outside the theatre. If we chose to stay, we could stop and have our photos taken with the cast. But as I was standing on the ascending escalator, I felt someone tap me on the shoulder. I was totally surprised that it was a Blue Man right behind me, trying to go forward through the crowd going up.

And then the same Blue Man stood amid the crowd as the band was having its photo opportunity with the audience. It took a few minutes before those bent on having their photos taken with the band even noticed the friendly but tight-lipped Blue Man.

And as I was leaving the theatre lobby to buy some decent food, I bumped into the same Blue Man... AGAIN!

I mean, what do you do and how do you react when you bump into a Blue Man, right? 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Sully (2016)

One of my favourite news items was the miracle airplane landing on the Hudson River. I first heard about it on CNN. My jaw dropped and I got goosebumps when I saw photos of the passengers queued on the wings of the plane while rescuers loaded them as fast as they could into boats. I was particularly happy about this news item because it came a few years after that fateful day in September 2001, when two planes crashed into the two towers of the World Trade Centre

And so when one of my classmates at the Alliance Fran├žaise de Manille said that a movie was made out of that story, I just had to watch it. Learning that Tom Hanks top-billed the film sealed the deal for me. I got determined to watch it on the big screen. He portrayed Captain Chelsey Sullenberger while Aaron Eckhart played First Officer Jeff Skiles; both of these pilots were seen as heroes for making a controlled water landing on the Hudson River that led to 155 lives rescued, after US Airways 1549's engines were killed by a flock of birds that collided with the plane.

Cool, the story that detailed this water landing was what I expected from Sully... similar to how the crew of Apollo 13 managed to return to Earth, alive, after the Apollo 13's service module exploded in outer space. Coincidentally, Tom Hanks was also the guy who commanded the space ship. So that makes two "successful failures" with him portraying the leader. And that guy, Sully, was good. I'd have him as captain in my flights anytime... if he's still flying commercial planes. I like to believe that all Philippine Airlines pilots are capable of such landings because these pilots are known to be some of the most skilled in the world... after all, the Manila airport runway is said to be one of the more difficult ones to fly in or out of (it's not nerve-wracking, like the more extreme airports).

However, the plot of Sully went beyond the epic water landing and the rescue that followed: the plot was driven by the NTSB investigation into what caused the crash. Was it pilot error? Could the plane have landed in either La Guardia or Teterboro? In such a rare instance, the pilots of a crashed commercial aircraft were there to testify about what happened in the plane as it landed. Too often, the pilot perishes along with everyone in the plane and the NTSB (in the USA; or its equivalent in another country) just has to rely its investigation on the cockpit recordings and flight data recorded by the plane's black box, and parts of the crashed aircraft that can be recovered... just like that fateful MH370 that hasn't been found yet. The pilots were able to correct certain assumptions that the NTSB did to make the computer flight simulations more accurate, similar to actual conditions in the plane during the 208-second flight. Most importantly, they put humanity back in the story; that is, they emphasised that they had to make split-second decisions after eyeballing the situation. There was no time, in that 208-second flight, to do the maths as they evaluated engine capacity, turned on the emergency functions in the plane, and talked with the radio tower. Once these factors were considered, they were able to prove that the best option, the only option, was landing on the Hudson.

What I liked was the side story about Sully's life outside the airplane. Because he and Skiles survived, the media hounded them nonstop during the investigation. They were suffering from PTSD as they seemingly haven't been debriefed or counseled after the crash... they were just thrown straight into the investigation, the interviews... and then there's family. Skile's family wasn't featured in the movie; only Sully's. His wife's reaction to the crash was epic and most relatable, made possible by Laura Linney. Mrs Sullenberger wasn't aware that the plane landed on the Hudson River when her husband called to say that he was okay. It took her several days to absorb the fact that he could have died that day because she was on the phone with him, assuring him that things would be okay and that he's a hero. She also had media sprawled on her front yard, waiting to catch a sighting or an interview with her and the family... very similar to Jim Lovell's family when he and his crew were still struggling to get Apollo 13 into the Moon's free-return trajectory.

The flight attendants in the movie showed that they are not in airplanes only to serve food. How they kept calm as they warned everyone to brace for impact was impressive. And then they got everyone to safety in that emergency situation. They performed really well. It takes a lot of years of practice and training to be in that calm and collected state. My respect for this profession is renewed. I remember the Lufthansa stewardess who told me where and how to get my own snack during my long flight to Germany in 2008. She said it was her job to ensure that we're safe which is why she was taking a break after her shift; looked like there was only one set of flight attendants or the next shift was still dealing with passenger in front of the plane.

Goosebumps. Clint Eastwood is such a good director. I'm going to get the book this movie is based on.

And from now on, I'm going to listen to those flight attendants more seriously and I'll read the safety card as they instruct. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Car registration at the LTO in under one hour

Yes, in under one hour! Four years ago, I finished renewing my car's registration in under two hours. But this year is the record breaker: I was able to finish renewing my car's registration in 45 minutes. I was amazed at the streamlined process! I just have to thank the efficient staff at the Land Transportation Office's (LTO) Calamba Satellite Office!

So here's what happened:

1515H: I arrived at the LTO and was directed by a security guard to a nearby certified car emission
             testing centre (a few metres away from the LTO). I was told to hurry up to reach the cut-off

1535H: I finished the car emission test, purchased a compulsory third-party liability insurance policy,
             and one of the emission guys finished stenciling the car's engine information.

1546H: An inspection officer assessed my car's headlights, taillights, brake lights, signal lights, and
             horn. Then I was told to proceed to the registration payment area.

1555H: I paid the registration fees and received the car's updated documents.

1600H: I attached the car's 2016 registration sticker and left the LTO parking lot.

Well, I think going to the LTO after peak hours helped a lot because there were only four people registering their vehicles that time. And it would be highly questionable why service is slow if there are only a handful of clients, right? But here's the thing: the LTO-Calamba has started recording what time I started the process and were marking the time I finished each step. The time record allows the LTO management to see the bottlenecks of the car registration system. And it makes the client feel like the LTO-Calamba is really doing its best to further improve its services.

I hope that licence renewal and other services are also this efficient.

Congratulations, LTO-Calamba! I hope that the other LTO branches are also this good.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Apple's product launch, September 2016

I have always been very excited to watch an Apple product launch because it's always a master class in public speaking and in the art of creating the slide deck for one's presentation. Back when Steve Jobs was still at the helm, he was able to capture the audience in a "reality distortion field" because he was such a charismatic storyteller. Since Tim Cook stepped in to fill the Jobs shoes, I've been waiting for him to come to his own. So far, however, he's trying to do a Steve Jobs but he something's missing from his presentation style: I don't get hooked to the story. In fact, I fell asleep during the live broadcast and again when I watched it a second time! 

Then again, I might not be in the market for new tech gadgets so the topic itself wasn't exciting for me. I'll just wait for the iOS update. However, I'm expecting that not a few people are interested in the gadgets because some of the earlier models are being made obsolete this year (because the operating system updates no longer support the older models). 

iOS 10 was introduced. Then the Apple Watch 2. And then the iPhone 7. The iOS 10, it seems to me, is supposed to make a few features of the phone more accessible even if the screen is still locked. That's nice. But the iMessage enhancements make it appear to lean towards the styles of the other social media messaging apps (with more emojis, stickers, etc). Sounds cool but not essential. Of course, that may change once I actually use iOS 10. The Apple Watch 2, on the other hand, is now swim-proof, making it potentially more attractive to athletes. In my case, however, I find the watch too app-focused. I need a watch that primarily tells time... like a regular watch. All the other features just give the watch bonus points. The iPhone 7 is also guaranteed water-proof. The presentation focused on hardware changes and on the different colours but the unit looks like the previous release.

So, I'm looking forward to iOS 10. The two other products, not so much yet. 

And there's one more thing...

The presentation did not have "one more thing" at the end.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Lunching at #Hugot Cafe

I was invited by students of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines' (PUP) BSc Food Technology seminar course as a resource person. Because I arrived early at the Hasmin Hostel, the venue of the seminar, I thought it would be a good time to eat lunch. The students who welcomed me brought me to this restaurant, run by Hotel and Restaurant Management students, called #Hugot Cafe.

How mainstream and trendy, I thought. The students probably were banking on the popularity  of the plethora of films addressing the pain and the feeling of hopelessness caused by break-ups and unrequited love. Very interesting. Once seated at my table, I was pleasantly surprised by the options in the menu. I opted to try PORksteakEBER (pork chop stewed in soy sauce and calamansi, paired with rice and buttered vegetables) as my main dish and chocOPTION LANG (brownie ala mode with ube ice cream instead of vanilla) as my dessert. I also got Third Party (iced tea... Took some time to get the play on the pronunciation) as my beverage.

While waiting for the food to arrive, I noticed the notes decorating my table. Their messages were akin to Instagram photos of quotes on moving on from the pain. Also witty. And then there's was the playlist. Nothing but songs for the broken-hearted. Not exactly appetising music fare but still in tune with the restaurant's concept.

The food, I have to say, is good! For PHP 95, I had a relatively good meal! I'd prefer a bigger serving of vegetables, of course. And the service was good. The student servers were all very professional (they're almost as good as the ones I've encountered in fine dining restaurants). I look forward to seeing them make guests feel at home in whatever lodging facility or restaurant they find themselves working in. 

"Where Do Broken Hearts Go?", asked Tita Whitney (Houston). Now I know where (for PUP students, at least): at the #Hugot Cafe.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Happy birthday, Mommy!

Photo taken by Anna.

This year, Mommy's birthday coincides with the canonisation of Mother Teresa, known for her works of charity for the poor and the suffering in Calcutta. My mom is not a saint, unlike Mother Teresa, and is not a miracle-worker either but she makes sure that we are all taken care of when we're sick. She has a lot of "lifehacks" for solving minor discomforts: use a ladle as a massager for indigestion or when the stomach feels too full; castor oil for various joint aches and pains; avocado leaf infusion for shortness of breath; sinuam for hyperacidity... and who can forget Katinko? I carry a small tub of it with me all the time! She taught me that it's helpful for a variety of painful situations; from headaches to insect bites to sprained ankles to fractured wrists (I am not kidding).

To my family's source of uncanny solutions for minor aches and pains: Happy birthday, Mommy! :)