Poster of a virtual race called Fitness Dash.

Virtual Races: Boon or Scam?

There is a disturbing trend in the Philippine running community: virtual marathons.

Basically they are races that you can join anytime, anywhere. You register online and get a singlet (by courier). You run and just submit your finish time to the organizers. Finally you get a medal (by courier). They supposedly have rankings as well. I may get a few details wrong here but that’s basically the whole idea.

Since I admire the supposed virtue of allowing people to join “running events” at their convenient time and location, I will not comment on how these events’ mechanics effectively obliterate what makes real races exciting. I will also not comment on the technicalities of tracking who actually ran, much less tracking finish times and awarding winners. I’ll leave that up to you.

My issue is different: pricing. In my humble opinon, these virtual race “events” are a total ripoff. Each of these races cost 500 PHP or more. Some even 1000+.

I remember the time when races cost 150 PHP, and that paid for my singlet, bib, and hearty post-race snacks. I also got traffic marshalls who ensured I run safely, people who man water stations so I stay hydrated. Then we get these timers and pretty start/finish arcs, stages, zumba workouts, and freebies from sponsors. And hey if you do well, you’ll get cash prizes. All of these cost real races real money.

You get none of those in virtual races, except a singlet and maybe a medal. But that’s it. So explain to me why they cost as much as they do. What work is entailed, what people get paid, to justify the price?

Race registration fees and inclusions of a virtual race called Fitness Dash.

It’s a known fact that many have turned away from joining organized (real) races in the past years because of ever-rising registration fees. Expensive races are destroying running as a sport and hobby, and preventing others from discovering the joy of running.

Virtual races are just making the situation worse. I hope they don’t catch on. We can already run anytime, anywhere. We don’t need to pay to do it.

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Of Stolen Phones and a Presidential Candidate

Photo by Garry Dela Peña

Photo by Garry Dela Peña

Around 2:30 AM last night, I was awoken by a frantic call from a friend, who is on vacation here in Cebu with 8 other friends, all of whom are from Manila. We had just parted ways after spending 3 days enjoying the Moalboal beach, Oslob whale sharks and Kawasan Falls.

So on this particular night when I didn’t mute my phone or turn on airplane mode while asleep as I usually do, I got the call. It turns out, one of their companion’s phones had been stolen at the Ultra bar in Mango Square. Worse, they got into a fight with the suspected thief, and now they were being ganged up on by other people in the bar. Not understanding any of the Bisaya words thrown at them in anger, they called me for help.

They were already at the Fuente police station when I arrived. To make the long story short, we reached a settlement, and 2 of my friends would not have to be jailed. Yes, they would be jailed even though they got stolen from.

This has always been one of my fears – to have my guests get in trouble by getting robbed, among other things. I consider myself a very hospitable person. I enjoy showing non-Cebuano friends around this beautiful island. Even people who I have never met, I accept into my home, via an app called Couchsurfing, so they get free accommodation, and a peek into the culture and lifestyle of Cebuanos, Filipinos.

When taking guests around the city, I tell them to always be careful. Keep an eye on their wallet, phone and other belongings all the time. And I keep repeating this like a broken record.

And yet, the incident last night happened. What do I make of this?

I can’t help but think about the sorry state of security in this city, among other concerns. I myself have been robbed of a 3-day-old Samsung Galaxy Note phone. I have family and close friends who have been stolen from. They, too, have family and close friends who have been stolen from. It is very common. And news of people getting killed because they didn’t surrender their belongings to thieves do not shock anybody anymore.

The authorities are not effective in their work. People don’t report incidents anymore. I didn’t report my stolen phone, despite it being stolen 50 meters from the NBI office in Capitol. At another time, I reported losing 15,000 to a thief, only to be coldly told, “we can’t do anything about it.” Friends and family have likewise not reported robberies. The citizenry has no confidence in the police. The authorities, on the other hand, do little to address this. Stories of policemen accepting bribes, or themselves committing crimes, or being plain indifferent to the needs of the people they are supposed to serve, are nothing new. Last night, the policemen mediating our case told us what happened was so petty that it happens all the time. I wanted to say, if it happens so darn often, why do they keep happening? What are you guys doing about it?

This makes me think of Davao being ranked as the 5th safest city in the world. Yes, the world. I have been to, and have stayed for weeks in, Singapore, the 2nd safest. I indeed felt very safe there. Is Davao, which is only 3 notches below Singapore, nearly as safe? Say what you want about the validity of such ranking — it nevertheless makes me wonder, what it is like to live there? Are people able to take their phones or wallets out in public without fear of getting robbed? Do they not scare travelers and guests to always keep watch of their belongings? Do they expect to be taken care of by the police when they approach them? If so, I envy them. I wish that were true in Cebu.

I have always found impassioned social media posts about the presidential candidates annoying, and have started blocking some posts. I myself have never made any such posts or have made up my mind on who to vote for. I didn’t think much about Duterte and his platform for safety and security, because although admirable, I think infrastructure and efficiency of government services are more important. All of that until last night, when it hit home, again.

In the hours I was kept awake after being at the police station in the wee hours of the morning, I daydreamed — with Duterte leading in the most recent surveys for the upcoming 2016 election, with his reputed, albeit controversial, iron fist, can Cebuanos finally dream of a safer Cebu, nay the Filipinos of a safer Philippines? It will be darn difficult to pull off country-wide what has been done in Davao, but woe to us if we do not give it a chance?

Until then, life in this city goes on as it always has.

Bike Lanes in Cebu, Really?

BusayBike lanes are impractical for Cebu. There, I said it.

Don’t get me wrong – I am not against biking. I have a bike. I sometimes bike to work, and sometimes bike for pleasure. What I am against is the proposal of bike lanes in Cebu.

I was going to stay silent about the issue but then I saw the following video on my Facebook wall. Bike lane advocates have always said they “want” bike lanes in Cebu. This video is actually the first time I’ve heard them say they “demand” bike lanes, which is what irked me. Watch:

Nice video, isn’t it? Yep – it’s nicely-shot and has a feel-good background music. One can’t help but smile watching it.

But what’s “wrong” with it? Well,

  • It inaccurately portrays the state of Cebu City’s roads. Unless you have been living under a rock, you know that the city’s traffic problem has worsened, especially this past few years. The video shows shots of Osmeña Boulevard, Mango Avenue, Gorordo Avenue, among others. In the video, the roads look so wide and empty – like it was shot during a Manny Pacquaio fight. It is very far from the truth. Those are three roads you wouldn’t want to be in especially during rush hour, where traffic is heavy. It’s actually a shame they repeatedly showed the same 3 roads in many shots. While they were at it, they should have just thrown in Banilad Road too.
  • It assumes that if more people use bikes, there will be lesser traffic. This is incorrect because instead of lessening the vehicles that ply the road, it actually increases the number. If you had a bus of 50 people, and you take all of them out and give them bicycles, they will consume so much more space on the road. Not only that, adding a bike lane to an already small road (which Cebu City is abundant of) will make traffic even heavier. Not to mention, we don’t even have sidewalks in many roads.
  • It assumes that bicycle lanes are safe because drivers of other vehicles will respect the lane. No need to explain this.
  • It assumes that biking on Cebu City’s roads is good for the health. It is if they campaign for the strict implementation of the anti-smoke belching law too. Here’s a better idea, let’s push for more parks and big, open, green spaces, where people can bike around, skate, or do other healthy activities. These spaces don’t have to be in a “flat” area, but they have to be plentiful and wide. Currently, our public parks are only Plaza Independencia, Fuente Rotunda, and Senior Citizens’ Park – which are too small and too few.

There is one thing I do agree with – that biking is good for the environment. But that’s it.

One guy in the video says he bikes for social change and equality. But in my humble opinion, if we really want to democratize transportation, we push for a mass transport system. Instead of bike lanes, what we need to be pushing for (with passion) is the fast implementation of the newly-approved BRT (Bus Rapid Transit). Cebu City is booming, more people are coming to live and work here. We need an efficient mass transport system. We need to pressure the government to do it right, and finish it as soon as possible – especially because the first phase of the BRT is only from Bulacao to Talamban. That will alleviate traffic, yes, but that’s hardly enough. It’s just one “line”. We need a network of lines that cover other important areas. At the very least, we should have a line from the airport to the city. We also need to cover Mandaue, Consolacion, Liloan, and Danao to the north. And Talisay, Minglanilla and Naga to the south. Implementation of this BRT system will take a lot of time and it will be riddled with a lot of corruption. This is what we need to “demand” – the quick and efficient implementation of a mass transport system.

Cebu City will indeed benefit from bike lanes. But now is not the time.

Ayala Cinema’s Movie Tickets are a Disaster

The layout designer for Ayala Cinemas’ movie tickets should be fired. Just look at this mess:

When one of my companions asked me which cinema we were going to, it took me a good 15 to 20 seconds to give an answer, an unsure one, after deciphering the ticket. Apparently, ACC-C4D means Cinema 4, maybe? When I was asked what time, it took me another 5 seconds to say 6:45.

What is wrong with their movie tickets? Let me count the ways. See the list below as a legend to the following image.

  1. Too much unnecessary information.
  2. Some information could be shortened, simplified or transferred to the back of the ticket.
  3. Some information are redundant.
  4. Too cryptic. (WTH does “FS” mean?)

I understand that the motivation for cramming all this information onto the ticket may be that the ticket itself serves as an official receipt. But could they put all the unnecessary information at the back?

Here, then, is my proposal. Transfer everything on the current ticket to the back, and have this as the front side:

Ayala Cinemas, if you follow my advice, I’d appreciate a free movie ticket :p

Why it’s time to switch to Sun Cellular

Disclaimer: I’m not affiliated with Sun. I’m just a happy subscriber sharing some good news.

Sun Cellular has recently become part of the PLDT group and is now a sister company of Smart. They are on the process of making the Smart network available to Sun subscribers. But did you know that as Sun subscribers, you can actually use the Smart network right now?

It’s called domestic roaming, and you activate it by going to your phone’s network settings and manually choosing “Smart”. You can now enjoy Smart’s great network coverage at no extra cost! If you have unlimited calls, texts or mobile internet, they will still be unlimited.

Pretty soon, merging of the two networks will be finished and we will no longer have to roam. Sun’s network will be one and the same with Smart. This is very welcome news to Sun subscribers who constantly had put up with crappy service, especially when going to remote areas where signal is very low or nonexistent, as is the case most of the time. Now we can get full signal at the remotest of areas or browse at real 3G internet speed.

Which brings me to question, since Sun and Smart will essentially become the same service-wise, what will be Smart’s selling point besides an “elite” image? Why would anyone choose Smart over Sun and pay much more for the same service? Smart and Globe’s rates are heinously exorbitant. With Sun, you can get a postpaid line as cheap as 299 pesos.

Guys, it’s time to be smart, ditch your Smart or Globe line. To use Sun’s own words, “Ngayon ka dapat mag-Sun!” 🙂

Airlines need mobile versions of their web check-in systems (Cebu Pacific, Zest Air, Philippine Airlines… eyes here!)

So we are getting ready to leave El Nido, Palawan, which is 5 hours from the airport of departure, Puerto Princesa. El Nido is a remote area in the Philippines where some mobile carriers do not even have service yet (Sun Cellular I’m looking at you), and all others have slow mobile internet service. Since our flight is at 1pm, we need to take the first trip back to Puerto Princesa at 6am. We will probably arrive a few minutes before our flight. So we need to check-in to our flight online. We whip out our internet-capable phones to check-in to our flight, Airphil Express for most of us and Cebu Pacific for the rest.

We attempt to open the airlines’ respective websites. Waiting.. loading.. 10 minutes later, the airline homepage starts to appear. “Web check in”, we click. Waiting.. loading.. 10 minutes later, we fill out the form, submit. Loading.. 10 minutes later, Error occurred. Reload page. Waiting… 10 minutes later, page appears. Fill out the form again, Error. Reload attempt, loading… 10 minutes. Fill out form, submit, error. Repeat from top, 5 more times. Give up. Not one of us was able to check-in.

What the eff.

Cebu Pacific Airlines' website on a mobile device

Local airlines in the Philippines definitely need to:

  • Provide a mobile version of their website
  • Or at the very least, refactor their website source code to make it leaner and faster loading.
  • If they’re feeling generous, they can also provide a “responsive layout” (a recent trend in web development wherein the website shows a different, easier to navigate, vertical-only layout when viewed from a small screen such as a mobile phone). And even better, they need to get a friggin’ faster web host.

For an airline company, these things are not even remotely expensive. I would even do the website for free, given the chance, if only to make my own check-in experience better.

If they choose to create the mobile version, it would be so easy. Just take their existing site, remove all images and other texts and just leave the form input elements (where the user can input their flight details) then a “check-in” button. The backend is already programmed so no need to touch that.

If they choose to go down the “refactoring” route, a lot can be done. Let’s get technical for a bit. The source code for the Cebu Pacific website is bloated and is a mess. Just do a quick “View Source” and see outdated layouts using tables, inline CSS, invalid XHTML, unused external JavaScript files, inline JavaScript, heaps of commented out code and just plain stupid programming techniques (you have to see it to believe it) that make the code unnecessarily longer. There is even a big wall of (base64-encoded) text in a hidden input element.

All this make the site very slow because it sends all this unneccessary and could-have-been optimized code to the website visitor, making for kilobytes if not megabytes more to be downloaded. Now browse on a mobile phone using a mobile internet connection and you’ll be pulling your hair out in no time!

Cebu Pacific is not the only offender here. Zest Air’s website is equally a clusterfuck. Philippine Airlines is better code-wise, but the home page interface is just messy.

Airphil Express, on the other hand, has an excellent website, not only on the outside (clean straightforward interface), but the source code is just lovely. The best part is that Airphil Express already has a mobile version of their web check-in: airphilexpress.com/mci . The problem is that people don’t know about it. It would have been better if Airphil Express automatically detects if the user is on a mobile device and suggests their mobile version to the user.

Airphil Express' website's check-in system - mobile version

I didn’t know about Airphil Express’ mobile check-in system so we were never able to check-in online. We actually ended up getting to Puerto Princesa 1.5 hours earlier than expected because our driver drove in almost-literally rollercoaster speeds and bumpiness! (I had never worn seat belts as tight as I did that day.)

But yeah, seriously, local airlines, get your sh*t together.

Free Sign Language Classes at the Cebu City Public Library, from April 21 – May 27, 2012

As I always tell new acquaintances, my left ear is completely deaf. So given that, and the fact that I am utterly bored after exactly one year today of working from home, I had no second thoughts of signing up when I passed by the Cebu City Public Library and saw a tarpaulin for Free Sign Language Lessons. The course is 6 weeks long – at only 2 hours every Saturday from April 21 – May 27, 2012 at 2:00 – 4:00 pm. In fact, I just came home from the first class, and it was absolutely fun!

There were around 30+ learners today. The atmosphere of enthusiasm and eagerness to learn was very uplifting. Together with around 5 deaf volunteers, our instructor, Alberto, taught us to say many words and phrases in sign language, including: each letter of the alphabet, counting numbers up to billions, days of the week, months of the year, “WH” questions (Who, What, When, Where, Why, How), and common greetings such as Hi, Hello, Good Morning/Noon/Afternoon/Night, Thank You, You’re Welcome, I’m Sorry, Merry Christmas (and other holidays), and many others.

"I Love You" in sign language.

Sign Language, I realized, is not hard to learn after all. It is also very fun, especially when doing it with others in a class. I am definitely going to the next classes. If you’re interested in joining, you can still definitely catch up, since next week, there will be a review of the lessons today. If you are not able to join with the said schedule, there is also another schedule which is every Sunday, 1-3pm at the Mandaue City Complex.

The learners watching a short YouTube clip about a deaf father and his love for his daughter: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qZMX6H6YY1M

The classes are conducted by The Deaf Hear Society of the Philippines, based in Mandaue, whose motto is “Two Hands, One Heart, Speak Through Signs”. It was founded in 2005 by the now chairman Mr. Maximilo Ygot. Sir Max, as they call him, is completely deaf, but is able to speak (although he cannot hear what he says) because he used to be progressively deaf as a child. He used to teach to deaf students at the Mandaue City College. Since deaf persons usually feel neglected at home because other family members, especially parents cannot speak “sign”, Sir Max started offering sign language classes to his students’ parents. A few weeks into the classes, parent attendance waned, but were replaced by professionals who were willing to learn sign language in their free time, which gave birth to the Sign Association of Mandaue, and later to the now Deaf Hear Society of the Philippines.

Cebu City Public Library, along Osmena Boulevard, where the classes are held.

There have always been deaf people in society, who are now classified into two categories: the “pathologically deaf” who consider deafness as a handicap (and often buy hearing aids), and the “culturally Deaf” who believe otherwise and converse like everybody else but through sign language. In the same way the speaking persons express themselves not only with just words but also by changing their tone of voice and making gestures, deaf persons communicate through hand/arm/finger shapes, hand orientation and location, hand movements, and non-manual signs (such as nodding one’s head to say Yes).

The deaf, throughout history, have mostly been discriminated against, especially in the areas of academic study and employment. Socrates himself said that deaf people are incapable of language and ideas. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is against this discrimination that the American School for the Deaf was founded in the 1800s and that the American Sign Language was invented. Today, many volunteers all over the world not only teach sign language to the deaf so they get equal opportunities with hearing counterparts in the employment arena, but also educate employers so that they understand and are able to give employment to the deaf.

For more information about the ongoing classes, you may call the Cebu City Public Library at (32) 2531526.

I look forward to the upcoming classes and I’m hoping to see you there!