Programmer Comic Strips

SandwichSo funny, I just had to post it.

Click below for more:

XKCD

Airline Travel Tools

AirplaneIt’s that time of the year again for us to buy tickets for our trip back home to visit Manila. Its especially stressful because there is so much variation on what you would pay and what service you would get based on the time and the method you use in booking your tickets. So its especially important to reasearch so you can get the best deals possible.

I’ve been using these websites to help me decide on what to do when booking flights:

Flyertalk
This is the best place to get advice and figure out what’s going on with your preferred airline or with the industry in particular. People post their experiences booking, flying, dealing with agents, etc. so it really helps for you to make that informed decision. The main part of the forum is divided into the different airlines so you can just pick which one you are a frequent flier of and let that be your starting point.

The forums will also allow you to be up-to-date on the different deals and promotions going around. Most airline deals require registration prior to booking the flight, so if you did not know about the promotions, you can potentially miss out on savings or perks.

Expertflyer
This is a paid site so the usefulness and the value is dependent really on your flying needs. This site lets you search information on the availability of seats, awards, fares, etc. This is especially useful if you are trying to get that hard to find award seat on an airline. One of its best functions is the ability to create alerts based on what you are looking for. If a seat or an award opens up, Expertflyer can send you an email so you can act quickly.

Expertflyer was useful to us this time around because we were trying to use some certificates to upgrade our class of service on our flight home. We needed a certain fare class to open up which will allow us to use the upgrade certificate on a particular flight. After receiving the alert, we immediately booked the ticket and used the certificates.

Kayak
There are a lot of travel search engine sites out there but Kayak is the most reliable and the easiest to use. There are a lot of sorting functions which you can use when searching for a flight that makes it easy to pick an airline or a destination. It even allows you to search alternative airports close to your location or destination which might have cheaper airfare.

Safe travels!

Happy April Fools, fools…

TPBI have to say, the Internet is funnier on April 1. I fired up my laptop this morning and logged into Gmail, and I have to say, Google gets better at this every year. They had me thinking about CADIE until I saw the sample responses, haha.

My other favorites for this year include: Warner Bros acquires Piratebay (what a hoot!), Youtube videos are upside down if you add ‘&flip=1’ to the URL, and Slickdeals is renamed Celerydeals.net.

Here’s a link to a list of jokes all over the web.

Happy April Fools!

Random Thoughts 03-18-09

ThoughtsI have been very busy these past few days trying to get ready the web modules I’ve been working on for the internal testing slated for next week, so here are some random thoughts:

Saw this relatively new TV service from AT&T called U-verse and I got very interested on it. It features a bunch of other channels we couldn’t get from our current cable provider and something that they call Total Home DVR which basically allows you to record on just one DVR box and have the data accessible on any other U-verse enabled TV in your home. I believe they use fiber optic technology so the availability as of the moment is very limited. Here’s one guy’s review on the whole installation process. I will be looking at this and on the Verizon FIOS services in the future.

Been watching a lot of Bleach lately instead of the usual Naruto. So I have a lot of Naruto episodes waiting and I will have that pile up for a while so I can take full advantage of my free trial on Crunchyroll.

The pH on my nano-reef has been low at 7.6. I’m not sure when this started because I just noticed it when Tin and I calibrated the pH meter yesterday. I began dosing DT’s 3-part to see if it helps so I need to monitor that in the next few days.

There are some decisions to make in the next few weeks so I’m praying everything turns out well…

Chicago Weekend

ChicagoTin and I went to Chicago for the weekend so that I could go to the Philippine Consulate there and renew my passport.  It was a very eventful two days for us to say the least.

First off, we left home around 3am in the morning  so that we could arrive there early to avoid rush hour traffic going in to the city. Chicago from Cincinnati was a 5-hour drive already and I wasn’t about to extend it beyond that. On our way there, the drive was going very smoothly until I missed a lane change and ended up in the downtown Gary, IN area.

The part of Gary that we drove through, looking for the I-74W exit, was very creepy. We passed through what I assumed was the main thoroughfare in the downtown area and almost every building was boarded up. The roads were in terrible condition, riddled with very deep potholes which made me very afraid it would ruin our car or something. Passing through there was like going through a ghost town. Later on, I would search on Gary, IN and I found this link by urban explorers who visited some of the abandoned buildings in the area. I am sure this is not representative of what the whole city is, but it was scary to see that there were areas as abandoned as it was.

We arrived at the Hyatt in downtown Chicago around 8am (a bit early because we forgot about the time difference) and was pleasantly suprised that they allowed us to check-in early. We settled in and left for the consulate around 9am. It was my second time in Chicago so N Michigan Ave was a bit familiar to me. We found the consulate quite easily and proceeded to renew my passport. I was actually so shocked by the excellent level of service that they  were giving out in the consulate.  At one point it seemed that there were 3-4 people who were assisting me throughout the process and all of them were so friendly and helpful. This is a very stark contrast when you have to deal with the government back in Manila. Most employees were either underpaid or undertrained that it’s usually like pulling teeth just to get things done. I know that the environment is very different, but still kudos to the staff over at the Philippine Consulate in Chicago for making my experience very smooth and pleasant.

After a lunch of fiery, extremely-hot-it-will-make-you-vomit, peanut noodles (due to an overdose of sriracha chili sauce) and a quick nap, we went to the Chinatown area to stroll around, take pictures and grab an early dinner.

ChinatownChinatown was a bit deserted because it was an ordinary Friday. We took some pictures in the market square and after a while proceeded to the much touted Ken-Kee restaurant in that same area. The menu was very long which had a list of preparations of almost all kinds of meat that included goose intestines, pig intestines, etc. We were not feeling adventurous so we opted for a fried Tilapia in sweet and sour sauce, and calamari with garlic-chili flakes. Ken-Kee did not disappoint as everything tasted very fresh and flavorful. After dinner, we had to go back to the hotel because we brought some chinese barbecue buns which we had to store.

After that, we again went out because we had tickets to the Bulls game that night (talk about a full schedule). We were so tired of all the walking that we already did that we decided that instead of taking the cheaper bus (which was a 5-block walk) we just took a cab going to the United Center.

United CenterThe United Center was a bit drab compared to other sports stadiums we visited. The atmosphere was not as festive as we were normally accustomed to when going to games. We took some pictures and quickly found our seats in the upper section. At the third quarter mark of the game, the Bulls were leading the Bucks by about 9 points, we decided to call it a day and avoid the crowds after the game. We took a cab back to the hotel and after a few minutes we were already in dreamland.

In the morning we took our breakfast vouchers (we got our hotel room with breakfast and parking for only around $129 before tax thanks to Travelzoo) and went to the buffet downstairs. We checked out at 11am and started the long trip home. Getting out of the Chicago downtown area was not that easy for us. Even though we were armed with a GPS, as soon as we hit the underground streets, we lost the GPS signal and were completely lost. We almost went into a one-way street which would have been disastrous. After a while of driving around, we finally found the exit to the highway.

The trip back home was thankfully uneventful, and we got home around 6pm. The whole ordeal was very tiring but was laden with very good experiences for both of us.

Living on food stamps

Snow CrabHere is a blog of a CNN reporter who decided to go on an experiment to live on $176 a month as his food expense. According to him, he wanted to see what it feels like to live using food stamps that the government gives out. So he approached a state government employee who told him that $176 is the most a single person can qualify for under this program. Since, he cannot get the actual food stamps, he got a debit card, placed $176 on it and decided to use only that for his food purchases for an entire month.

I just found his experiment a little trivial because I don’t think that it is that hard to live on $176 a month for food. Now don’t get me wrong, I am in no way trying to downplay the hardships of those folks who qualify and take advantage of the food stamp program, but his experiment does not really do them any justice either. Aside from food, like most people, they also need to find the resources for housing, utilities, child care, etc.

Why do I say it’s not that hard? Me and my wife spend on average, $80 on groceries every week. That accounts for everything we buy in the grocery including non-food products (which frequently are the most expensive like shampoo, razors, etc.).  In the past month, we did probably went out to eat twice a week for an average of 15$ per meal. Almost, everyday I bring my own lunch to the office made of leftovers and my wife goes home to eat lunch too.

Doing the math, let say our ‘food only groceries’ is 75% of the $80 total which is $60 a week. So that’s $240 a month. We eat out for $30 a week, which is $120, add that to the groceries, we spend $360 a month on food. Dividing that between the two of us, that’s $180 per month per person for food, $4 more than the experiment, without even really trying.

I guess my point is, there are so many people out there who are so out of touch, and are really spending so much, that they think $176 a month is so low to spend on food (this reporter even went to a doctor before the experiment thinking what he was about to do was a health risk) when in reality this is what most middle-class people really spend without even being stingy. They fail to see that it is really not the amount, but rather the smart choices you make. Just last Sunday, with a total of $83 for groceries, we spent $13 for 1.5lbs of snow crab and ate that for dinner (I felt I was living the high life). I’m thinking it wil cost you $40-$50 at Red Lobster to eat the amount of crab we had. You can always get more for less.

Calvin, Hobbes and Susie all grown up

Calvin and HobbesI have been a big fan of Calvin and Hobbes ever since I could remember. It’s a series of comics created by Bill Watterson about the adventures of a young boy Calvin (named after the theologian John Calvin) and his imaginary pet/stuffed tiger Hobbes (named after the philosopher Thomas Hobbes).

Bill Watterson strictly believed in that comics should be kept as an art form so he vehemently resisted merchandising of any sort which is why you would not see any Calvin and Hobbes toys, shirts, etc. (aside from the occasional sightings of the infamous, unlicensed, Calvin peeing on something car sticker) even though it would have probably netted him big money.

I guess, the reach and influence of the comic strip has been phenomenal so people started creating fan art of their own. Here is an example portraying Calvin, Hobbes and Susie all grown up to be young adults which I thought was very cool.

I think I am going to start re-reading some of the comics I have in the house 🙂

No Reservations finally visits Manila

No ReservationsWe are big fans of the Travel Channel.  Our favorites shows include, Samantha Brown’s Passport Series, Andrew Zimmerns’s Bizarre Foods and of course, No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain. Last February 16, they aired the episode where the latter finally visited the Philippines after constant requests by people over the Internet and the antics of a guy named Augusto.

To tell you the truth, I was a bit disappointed in a way because the episode seemed bland. It did not show fully what the country had to offer. It seemed like all they did, was eat something, somewhere in each segment. Although cultural food is one of the focuses of the show, given that the host is a chef, there was always something unique that Tony Bourdain would point out that will somewhat define the people of the places he visits.

Food is really one of the cornerstones of Filipino culture, but it is not everything, I wish they scheduled their visit on a festival like the Panagbenga,  the Ati-atihan in Kalibo or the Sinulog. They could have also featured a unique location, such as the caves in Sagada, the Rice Terraces, Palawan or Boracay. If they did this, maybe they would have noticed the happy-go-lucky, hospitable and humorous  people which is what really makes the Philippines stand out.