Friday, July 29, 2011

Caffeine High

Whether you are spending worthwhile time with your best friends, sitting alone in a cozy couch during a cold stormy afternoon, or scrambling a last-minute project, there’s one thing that always keeps you going, and that is a hearty cup of coffee.

There’s something about this dark, bitter and brewed beverage, optionally added with milk and sugar to enhance taste, that warms your heart, recharges your energy, and stimulates your senses. Conversations, either meaningful or frivolous, flow freely over a cup of coffee. A good day doesn’t begin without taking a sip from your favorite coffee mug. A tall tumbler won’t usually suffice in long hours of working on a deadline. A brilliant idea or an important self-realization may come up unexpectedly while stirring the whipped cream on top of your cookies and crème frappucino. Coffee helps you break free from the stress and tediousness of your daily routine; definitely it is one of the best ways to unwind.

While enjoying a venti of your favorite café mocha from Starbucks, have you ever wondered how this black-colored drink came to be discovered? More than five centuries ago, Ethiopian shepherds first observed the effects of coffee on their goats that seemed to turn lively and dance after eating coffee beans. So maybe after finishing your coffee, you might ask why you are in the mood for dancing.

There are many things we don’t know yet about coffee. Did you know that coffee, next to oil, is the second most traded commodity on earth? All coffee grows in the “bean belt” or the area between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn including the Philippines; Hawaii is the only state in the US that grows coffee. Coffee grows on trees that can reach up to 30 feet tall but are cultivated to be about 10 feet tall for easy-picking. The inventor of instant coffee was George Washington - not the first president of America but a Belgian man from Guatemala - in 1906.

The term Espresso is not a particular type of bean but a means of coffee preparation described by shooting pressurized, hot water through finely ground coffee. There are a lot of coffee varieties and some of them are as follows:

 Americano. Simply Espresso mixed with hot water to dilute the strong flavor. The word comes from America GIs during the Second World War when soldiers were seen as heavy coffee drinkers.

Café Latte. A single shot of Espresso added with three times more steamed milk and foam.

Café Mocha. A concoction of Espresso, chocolate syrup, milk and whipped cream.

Café Macchiato. Espresso mixed with four times more steamed milk.

Cappuccino. A blend of Espresso and steamed or frothed milk in equal parts, often with cinnamon, flaked chocolate, or tons of foam on top.

Which one do you prefer? Whichever type you choose, as long as you’re a coffee lover, you would always appreciate the ecstatic and intoxicating effect of a coffee drinking spree. There is also a bunch of health benefits we can get from drinking coffee and it includes reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease, Dementia, gallstone disease and Parkinson’s disease, increased cognitive performance, anticancer and antioxidant.

Needless to say, coffee is one of the things that should not be missing from your kitchen and from every single gathering. It is something we offer to our visitors to make them feel comfortable and is a way of showing hospitality. Coffee has already been around for centuries and as long as there is a cup of coffee, forming of new conversations and friendships will never end. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011


          The amusing TV commercial of Bayantel featuring an age-old woman dubbed as “Lola Techie”, who has been muttering the word “like” for what seemed like a gazillionth time whenever she finds pleasure in baking cookies, trimming her plants and, of course, literally liking her friends’ posts on Facebook (even when she’s asleep, she still dreams of the letters L-I-K-E), filled me with awe and got me pondering about the massive effects of the Internet and social networks in our daily lives. If you’d ask me if I could live without Facebook, I would unhesitatingly give an affirmative answer but that question is way too hypothetical. Besides, Google+ has been lurking around the corner for some time and Friendster has been wriggling back from extinction. I’d eventually concede; otherwise, I'd be left out of the trend.

          I started using Facebook in 2009 to help market the company and a particular software. My sister and my cousin had already been using Facebook before I did and not many of my friends had an online presence; thus, I wasn’t very much fascinated when I knew Facebook exists. Although I had a Friendster account before, I wasn’t fond of virtual socialization and I only got interested with Friendster because I wanted to learn HTML and CSS by customizing my profile page.

          When I began using Facebook, there are many things I saw that changed my views about social networks. Aside from posting your own updates, Facebook lets you “like” a friend’s post or comment on it and notifications happen in real time, in contrast to Friendster’s static testimonials that require page refresh. The “like” button is, I believe, the most remarkable feature of Facebook, not to mention the quite forgotten “poke” button which I’m still inclined to use. The “like” button has become so ubiquitous that some other websites have included a “like” link on their pages and so popular that many have included the word in their expression just as Lola goes on saying “Like Like Like”.

          Other features that made Facebook different from other social networks are its wide range of games and applications, instant messaging or chat, fan pages, notes, photo albums, neat-looking interface, among others. Later on, with the burgeoning number of Facebook users, I got to connect with more people I know - classmates, teachers, acquaintances, both old and recent - and receive updates and news from organizations, celebrities, technology and stuffs that interest me most. I realized the purpose of a social network is all about sharing a piece of yourself and other certain things that aren’t exactly significant. These things could be personal opinions, ramblings, newsbits, gossips, swearings, cliches or anything under the sun. The downside is that some people have a tendency to reveal private information to strangers, which could endanger their lives. Some people, in fact, have been murdered or molested by Facebook chatmates. Some have put the blame on the technology but, hey, who have thought about getting killed when writing the spaghetti codes of the chatbox? (Snort) Our fate still lies in our choices.

          So, how well do you like the “like” button? I hope you do because at the end of this post is a “like” button. I won’t ask you to click on it but I’m willing to teach you a simple trick if you wanted to add this pretty little embellishment. A snippet of code, which you can insert in the HTML body of your post, can be found below; just replace the href attribute or the string in boldface with the link to your blog post. Enjoy liking!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Holding the Gavel

Toastmasters International Division D, the first division to be hailed as "President's Distinguished", held its Installation of Officers and Induction of New Members last July 17 at Business Inn, formally opening another Toastmasters term headed by the new Division Governor Melinda Sisles.

Toastmasters men in their long sleeves and suits, including myself, and women in their flowing gowns, who graced the formal occasion with their elegant red-and-black fashion, came in to show their utmost willingness and blazing excitement to “hold the gavel” and to fully accept their responsibilities as new officers of their respective clubs.

Wearing a dark red long sleeves and necktie, I was inducted as the VP Education of First Farmers Toastmasters Club (a surprising promotion from VP Public Relations) and vowed to work towards the realization of my fellow members’ educational goals.

The program mainly consisted of the introduction of the past division governors, the installation of the Division and Club officers, the induction of new members, the valedictory speech given by the outgoing Division Governor Mhel Sillador, the inauguration of the new Division Governor Melinda Sisles, the inspirational speech given by the District President Vic Navales, and lastly the Giving of Toast for a successful year 2011-2012, which I did. (white teeth flashing)

Past Division Governor Mhel Sillador thanked his mentors for supporting him during his term as well as his fellow officers and co-club-members. District President Vic Navales, with his amusing speech, inspired everyone to keep the spirit of Toastmasters alive and to encourage other Filipinos to be part of the Toastmasters circle, primarily pointing out the huge difference between Malaysia and the Philippines in terms of membership number.

Toastmasters Leandro Severino and Rose Jessica Octaviano, the most funny tandem ever, were the main hosts of the program. The night was spiced up by veteran humorists who gave everyone laughter aplenty and a couple of entertaining intermission numbers from members.

Preceding the induction ceremony, the Communication and Leadership Seminar and the First Round of Officers’ Training were held last July 16 and 17 respectively at the New Government Center.

Friday, July 15, 2011

This Story Lives Forever

          That gripping scene, in which the green and the red flashes of curses emanating respectively from Voldemort’s and Harry’s wand collided, took my breath away for several seconds. Neville, drawing the Gryffindor sword up and slashing the basilisk, the last container of Voldemort’s ripped soul, became an unsung hero and helped defeat the most powerful dark wizard of all; in that glorious instance, the green flash weakened and the red one struck Tom Riddle who dissipated into a million pieces of black soot. And I was able to breathe.

          That was the end of it all. I thought I was going to cry but, hey, who doesn’t want to eradicate Lord Voldy? Some folks, with conviction, say their childhood ended with the last installation of the Harry Potter movies. But for me I can say my childhood lives forever with such epic literature. I admit I happened to be a late admirer when I’d started reading the books in the dark of the night – no, not the paperbacks nor the hardbounds but the electronic versions on my BlackBerry phone through a PDF reader application – just in November of 2010 and I’d read all seven books in about three months. And hell yeah, I couldn’t stop myself from devouring each page until four o’clock in the morning. I’ve come to realize that perhaps the reading experience would be much enjoyable when you are older and more capable of understanding the lengthy prose endowed with difficult words, some of which are actually of British origin. If you are thoroughly reading each book like me, you will find yourself grabbing a dictionary from time to time. And blimey, you won’t find a single tosh in every assiduously written chapter. Thus until now I don’t believe that the novels should be classified as children’s, not when there is an insistence of death as part of the theme and Ginny kissing boyfriends at dim corridors of Hogwarts, but they are certainly a coming-of-age story. Nonetheless, any twelve-year-old would want to grab and read a book front-covered with a vibrant, watercolored picture of a boy wearing glasses, holding a wand, and riding on a huge bird. Who wouldn’t be curious? Definitely I was when, for the first time, I saw the second, third, and fourth book in our high school library during my first year but I was more disappointed when later on I found out that the first book, The Sorcerer’s Stone, was not there. So I didn’t let myself be fooled, did I? Well I still enjoyed the read eventhough I was already in my early twenties. I can still tell my children someday that this historic novel was written during my childhood and who knows, there might be film remakes nineteen years from now.

           My most favorite part of the recent movie, which didn’t come to me as a surprise, was the revelation about one of the hated characters in the novel Severus Snape, who, despite of his affiliation with the Dark Lord, turned out to be loyal to Albus Dumbledore and carried on with the plan to protect Harry sacrificing his own life in the end all for the love of Harry’s mother Lily. The expression of his fondness for the woman was admirable. After all, can we judge him based on his means alone rather than the noble ends of his actions? Does the moral conundrum “The ends do not justify the means” apply? Well I don’t see anything else he can do with his situation considering that he was once a Death Eater and eventually regretted it out of fear for the life of Lily when he knew that Voldemort, after learning about the ambiguous prophecy, was targeting to kill Harry Potter whom he had chosen instead of Neville Longbottom. Of course James and Lily were ready to die to protect Harry and their death was never put in vain for Lily’s love produced a protective charm that enveloped Harry. Voldemort had never understood such enchantment of love that transcends any form of magic and accidentally created a horcrux in Harry which explains the connection between them. In short, Voldemort had lost his brain at the same exact moment he ripped his soul seven times. For similar reasons, Snape, the halfblood prince, as Harry told his son Albus Severus, was discerned as the bravest wizard ever known and rested with his unrequited love.

              The conclusion of the story happened when Harry decided to break the Elder Wand into two. That was the most valiant thing for me that he, as a member of the Gryffindor house, did. He knew he deserved to be the most powerful wizard by winning the Elder Wand, one of the three Deathly Hallows, and by becoming invincible but he refused to gain that prerogative and chose to live a normal life. The three Deathly Hallows – the Elder Wand for absolute strength and pomposity; the Resurrection Stone for revitalization and regeneration; and the Invisibility Cloak for evasion and elusion – are all means of defying death and are no better than Horcruxes or dark objects used for preserving a part of one's soul. The whole story teaches us about the beautiful mystery of death and why we shouldn’t fear the unknown. I learned that death is nobler when you have somebody or something to die for. We might have come to the demise of this story but this story will definitely live forever in the hearts of those who had been with “the boy who lived” from the very beginning.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sheer Luck

I was sitting in a green-painted metal armchair corroded and too big for my small body struggling to finish a composition my teacher would evaluate in preparation for an upcoming press conference, a journalism competition among students of various schools, in which I would be joining. My teacher, sitting quietly a few feet in front of me at her wooden desk, was my coach for the national contest. I was eleven years old then, short and shabby, and was not yet wearing spectacles. I was on my sixth and last year of elementary in a public school where girls come in scarlet, almost blood-like jumper uniforms and boys wear khaki trousers and everyone is allowed to wear sandals or sneakers, that is to say any kind of footwear, and those who wear proper school shoes bring extra slippers to preserve their classroom’s well-maintained, shiny, red-waxed floor. Despite of its being a public school, it is regarded by many as one of the competitive schools in the city. My most accurate memories of elementary school include PS-PS – a game in which an “it” is chasing everybody else and in order to be saved one should bellow “PS” and place his arms in a crossing position above his chest at exactly the same time the “it” touches him – regular classroom cleaning sessions, menacing-looking teachers carrying sticks used to silence rowdy pupils during classes, late afternoon strolling in downtown malls with classmates, heavy backpacks filled with pad papers, Mongol pencils, Crayolas in 8s or 16s, decade-old withering textbooks and sundries, waking up before dawn to attend the class at 6:20 a.m., extensive reviews for the inter-school Math quiz bee with my teacher and my classmate who can do mental arithmetic with the use of her hands, lurking in the city library almost everyday to peruse astronomy books, joining journalism competitions that flared my interest in writing, among others. If memories could be kept in a vial and revisited, I would definitely come back to this point in my life. Time had passed too swiftly and I could never be a kid again.

The composition I was writing was a sports story in Filipino. Filipino Sportswriting was the category my teacher decided for me. Being an active pupil in school activities, I took every challenge and opportunity to excel in school. I did not let a single chance slip away to prove myself by engaging in endeavors that interest me most and one of these is writing. Although I had not been confident in my writing skills, I managed to place in competitions out of sheer luck and that encouraged me to discover and uncover the great wonders of writing. However, the real obstacle I had when I was younger is that I was afraid of the English language. I did not attempt to join competitions in English category not until I was in high school. Everytime I tried to start a paragraph in English, nothing would come out of my mind and later on I found out that that dilemma is called writer’s block. I had never had eloquence in English before and I had never trusted myself to have such. Thus I only limited myself to writing in Filipino which is a more intuitive language having its own intricacies and grammar different from the English language. I once thought it was an easier language until I realized it can never be underestimated for it can also make your nose bleed. After finishing the composition, I gave the manuscript, more than fifty percent of which were probably scribbles and cross-outs, to my teacher for corrections and tips to improve my writing style. After a while, my teacher told me something like “this should be ang aso ay tumatahol and not tumataghol.” Being a non-native speaker of the Filipino language as I was born an Ilonggo, I committed one of the many blatant errors in writing which made me a little bit discouraged but with herculean tenacity, I somehow managed to improve my writing style over the years. Even though the language used as a medium of communication is Filipino, writing appears to be a complex task and involves a lot of hard work to organize ideas in an altogether coherent, interesting, and elegant style. Language is just a form and once you mastered a particular language a fact remains that substance is another important aspect you should carefully study and apply in writing. While watching a certain Tagalized cartoon Jody, I remembered the scruffy-haired English professor telling Jody Abbott that grammar is not the topmost priority of a novelist and if one is to succeed in this field one should work more on the substance of a story and what would make it memorable.

Undeniably, mastering the English language is indispensable to becoming a memorable, effective writer. Recently, I dusted myself off in my mastery of the English language and suprisingly, I learned some forgotten rules that even professional writers tend to violate. Well I’m not going to list down such rules here but if you have the patience to search for and download this particular e-book from the Internet which I did, you will find yourself gaping after knowing some of the tricky, often neglected grammatical rules. This e-book is entitled Collins Good Grammar by Graham King and is published in 2004. I personally consider this book a gem and it really helped me recall the basics of English.

My writing journey did not end in my elementary years. I continued getting involved in writing even during high school and college. In high school, I joined our publication Starlight and became one of the contributors and later on a Sports editor. I attended writing workshops, school press conferences and competitions to hone my skills, expose myself to the real world, and see how much I’m going to improve in the process. I learned a lot of things in journalism specifically in sportswriting such as the inverted pyramid in which the story is presented in a way that the most significant points are written in the first paragraph or the “lead” and the rest comes in an order of gradually decreasing significance. I also learned that the lead must consist of all the fundamental questions regarding the  issue that it introduces, the five Ws and 1H, and must be the attention getting part of the story. I came to know the difference between a news and a sports story. Even though both are structurally the same, the latter employs usage of vivid, lively action words necessary to drive the readers to feel the same vigor and energy as if watching a live sports match. Unlike news stories, sports stories often use a novelty lead which is more astonishing to the readers and motivates them to read further. I recalled I had only used this kind of lead once and astonishingly I placed sixth in a regional competition. Before proceeding to college, I had considered a career as a journalist apart from engineering and education but due to circumtances, I pursued a degree in Computer Science which is not one of my choices but eventually became something I learned to love. I had to deal with the only scholarship I had before to make it to college. During college, I had momentarily forgotten about writing for I was into a totally different concentration which was more on computers and programming and I had decided not to join the university publication even though I initially considered doing so. I discarded the idea that I could be a writer. It was only in my second year in college that I felt the passion going alive again. I was asked by my English teacher if I could submit a Starfish story, a make-a-difference-story, as an entry to a competition sponsored by the Ayala Foundation. I wrote the story in two days without editing or rewriting. I showed it to my English teacher for critic and she only said it was a good story and did not really give me concrete advices to improve it. Anyway I submitted the manuscript to the head of the student affairs and it was mailed to the sponsoring organization. After a couple of months, I was informed that I was one of the twenty finalists. I thought it was another sheer luck but somehow the feat awakened the sleeping monster within me. I once again started to believe that I can be a better writer and if this is not really my destined profession, why would I stop and give up writing? I realized that I can’t get over writing that is why I’m blogging to practise and fuel the fire. 

I don’t know if this is a silly thing to do but I’m contemplating to pursue a second degree in Journalism. Some people may say that Journalism is a useless degree because no one gets rich in this noble profession but all I can say is that it is never too late to do what I want in life. I know I have to work at the same time in an I.T. field to finance my studies and the whole experience may be tough but I just reassure myself that if you love doing something you won’t have second thoughts about it. I’m already in my early twenties and I feel that I’m already too old for undergraduate school. But I learned in the “Magic of Thinking Big” that age is never an excuse. So I will try next year. I hope that aside from sheer luck, things would happen to me deliberately.

Monday, July 4, 2011

4th of July

Today is the fourth of July and just one of the ordinary days we have. But formerly the date was the celebrated Independence Day in the Philippines until the late president Diosdado Macapagal issued a proclamation stating that June 12 must be regarded as the actual day of emancipation. All the same, whether we had won our freedom from the Spaniards or had been granted liberty by the Americans, we are still facing pressing issues in our present society, which threaten the freedom and sovereignty of our nation. This leaves a gaping hole in our hearts knowing that we are still bound by the rusty chains of poverty, corruption, maleducation and homelessness, which, in spite of being rusty, we couldn't seem to break due to dead tiredness and despondency.

The fourth of July as a matter of fact is the Independence Day of the United States of America - the freedom-loving superpower that has been a model and inspiration of all democratic nations in the world - and the Filipino-American Friendship Day. We cannot deny that America had woven a long lasting relationship with the Philippines ever since the first day the Americans stepped on our soil. The most revered promise had been made by General McArthur - the unforgettable line “I shall return.” Until now, Uncle Sam has been our refuge in times of trouble and has been a faithful military and economic ally. Many Filipinos have decided to chase the American dream and to find the so-called greener pasture, and have thus migrated to the States for a living. Today, the Filipino community is the second largest immigrant group in America next to the Cholas. We believe so much in the American idealism.

The American culture and influence in the Filipino society is an indispensable trace deeply etched on our lifestyle and attitude due to our frequent exposure to fashion, products, and media that are considered to be truly stateside. But beyond doubt the most important of them all is the love for education and the English language. I am not ashamed to say that apart from my mother tongue Hiligaynon, I love speaking in English more than my national language Filipino. Maybe the reason I feel I am fairly proficient in speaking Filipino is that I don't use it in everyday communication. True enough, eventhough I had learned it academically, I didn't have the chance to practise it because I am not living in a region where most people really use it. Ironically, that premise also remains true in the case of the English language if I only base my reasoning on where I live. Nevertheless, I feel I am much more determined to learn and master the English language because I think it has, as a universal language, a greater practical use. Speaking Filipino on the other hand is intuitive and the language can be incorporated into the vernacular.

I am pretty sure that the word America has been hardwired into our system whether we like it or not. We are a diverse people. We are concrete products of acculturation. We survived the trials of times and multi century-old enslavement and subordination to other races. We continue to prove we can do it on our own and we can cast our own identity as a people the whole world will admire and look up to. Keep the faith because a new dawn will be upon us. This moment will not just be remembered as the twelfth of June or the fourth of July. This time it's forever.

Today is just a cold and rainy fourth of July.