Da Vinci, no plot!

The showing of the Da Vinci Code movie about a fortnight ago came with the accompanying media blitz to promote the movie. There were posters, codes, clues, puzzles, trailers and full-page spreads. Catalogues distributed during that week feature Da Vinci themed advertising – books, toys, games, travel packages and whole lot of other stuff.

Gabriel and I have read the book and were excited when it was announced that it would be adapted into a movie. The excitement dampened down a bit when Tom Hanks was chosen to play main character Robert Langdon (nothing against Tom Hanks, he just wasn’t near anywhere what our mental picture of how Robert Langdon would look like). As the months wore on and the novelty of the book wore off, we realised that although the story was a thrilling page-turner, it hasn’t put forward any new ideas or concepts. Sure, Dan Brown‘s ability to stitch together a story about the holy grail, Mary Magdalene, Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and the Last Supper, plus a murder mystery is a feat in itself. I don’t think I could have written a cohesive story with all those elements in there so I still think Brown did well with this story. As my Dad says – if you can’t do it any better then whoever it is who has done it deserves credit and even admiration.

That said, I convinced hubby that we don’t really have to see the movie in the theaters as we already know how it will go. We’ve decided to just rent out the video once it comes out (complete with nifty special features and a cheaper option to boot).

As with those ads trying to ride the Da Vinci popularity, I found this one in a community paper last week which I found absolutely hilarious. The picture of the Mona Lisa, with the words “Da Vinci” on it obviously refers to the movie and underneath in big bold letters, it states that there is no plot! On closer inspection, it wasn’t commenting on the story (or lack thereof) of Brown’s work. The ad was published by a real estate firm promoting their low interest rate and claiming that they’re not plotting to con anyone.

Well, at least that one was creatively done.

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Published in: on May 30, 2006 at 1:08 pm  Comments (1)  

Chocolate enhances cognitive performance

Back in my university years, I’d eat around four Ricoa-brand Curly Tops just before taking an exam. I found that it somewhat helped me perform better in tests.

For the longest time, I thought this was just a mere self-imposed superstitious tradition on my part. But apparently, scientific studies done by a Dr Bryan Raudenbush of the Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia show that chocolate may actually improve one’s cognitive abilities!

Go here for the rest of the article: Chocolate may boost brain power.

Published in: on May 25, 2006 at 1:52 pm  Comments (2)  

For your own safety

Scissors in our house seem to have a mysterious habit of disappearing. From memory, we were suppose to have at least 3 pairs but I could only find one last weekend. That last pair of scissors has been relegated to the garage, where we have to cut weed mats and other gardening stuff from their packaging. The other two pairs of scissors seem to have simply vanished as I couldn’t find a trace of them after much searching around the house.

Which led me to buy a new pair from Big W last Saturday, hoping that this pair won’t go MIA on us when we need it most. It wasn’t until we got home that I noticed that my new purchase is safely ensconced in a plastic laminate pack. Without any other scissors in sight, I wondered how I’m going to get my new scissors out. Mildly amused, I told hubby that maybe I ought to drop a piano on it or beat it with a stick (ala cartoon character Sylvester with a can of food he can’t eat because he doesn’t have a can opener).

I can’t imagine why a pair of scissors need to be wrapped completely in a plastic laminate pack, except perhaps to make sure nobody gets injured if it’s dropped or something. What’s the deal with all this excessive packaging?

Meanwhile, I’ve been too lazy to get the old pair of scissors from the garage to free the new scissors from its packaging. It (new pair of scissors) is still in its plastic cage, where it remains unused and of no use to me.

Published in: on May 24, 2006 at 1:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

San Mig has landed

Almost two years after San Miguel Corporation bought 50 percent of Australia’s Berri and after splashing out on ads for San Miguel beer, it looks like San Miguel is bent on going mainstream here in Oz.

A local grocer’s brochure has 24 cans of SMB on specials at $29.99, boasting a savings of $32. The discounted price is pretty competitive considering that a similar pack of the popular Victoria Bitter (VB) is selling at $33.99. At the regular price of $61.99, San Miguel might struggle to get local drinkers. Sure, there would be Filipinos who’d understandably want a taste of home but I don’t know if they’d buy it regularly at that price.

On the other hand, I’m glad (for the beer drinkers, at least) that SMB has at least now reached Australian shores. Wonder how long before other products of San Miguel reaches the shelves? Maybe some Purefoods hotdogs, anyone?

Published in: on May 23, 2006 at 8:41 pm  Comments (5)  

Starting a New Life in Australia

I made a couple of blog posts last year providing tips for would-be Pinoy migrants to Australia. Well, recently, we accidentally found a more comprehensive list of tips provided for by the Australian Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMA). They’re the Beginning a life in Australia booklets. And what’s more is that the booklets are available for free online on their website in Adobe Reader PDF format.

Here is a short description of what the booklet is about according to the DIMA website:

The purpose of this web site is to provide information about life in Australia, settlement services available to migrants and the range of services at the national, state and local levels that migrants in Australia may need.

There are different specialised booklets for each of Australia’s states and territories. So, if you are interested in moving to Sydney, for example, go pick up the “Welcome to New South Wales” booklet. Now, I’m sure new migrants-to-be may not always be familiar in which state or territory your destination city is located, so here is a list of the states and the better known Aussie cities in each one:

  • New South Wales (NSW) – Sydney, Newcastle, Wollongong
  • Australian Capital Territory (ACT) – Canberra (but in the list of booklets, look for Canberra instead of ACT), Queanbeyan (although technically part of NSW, it is real close to Canberra that the Canberra booklet might be helpful, too)
  • Victoria (VIC) – Melbourne, Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo
  • Queensland (QLD) – Brisbane, Gold Coast, Cairns
  • South Australia (SA) – Adelaide
  • Western Australia (WA) – Perth
  • Tasmania (TAS) – Hobart
  • Northern Territory (NT) – Darwin, Alice Springs

And here are some of the things you’ll find in the booklet (from the booklet’s table of contents):

  • What to do soon after arrival – important things you’ll need to accomplish such as applying for a tax file number, open a bank account, and so forth
  • Emergency services
  • Where to go for help – for migrant resource centres and agencies, legal aid, consumer rights
  • Australian customs and law
  • Housing – renting, buying and tenants’ rights and responsibilities
  • Employment – looking for work, job network services and working conditions
  • Transport
  • Education and child care
  • The health system – Medicare, Private health insurance
  • Recreation and media
  • Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs – citizenship, resident visas and family visits to Australia
  • Local government and community services

Now, if you are not that proficient in English, there are booklets translated into other languages, including Tagalog! Here is the Tagalog translation of the booklet’s purpose:

Ang layunin ng website na ito ay upang magbigay ng impormasyon tungkol sa buhay sa Australya, mga serbisyong nauukol sa paninirahan ng maaaring makuha ng mga migrante at ang hanay ng mga serbisyo, mula sa pambansa, estado at lokal na antas ng kakailanganin ng mga migrante sa Australya.

So, thinking of coming over to beautiful Australia? Get the inside info on how to start your new life here right through the booklets provided for by the Australian government. You can’t get any more official than that.

Published in: on May 18, 2006 at 12:00 am  Comments (8)  

Game Console Dilemma

E3 LogoThe eleventh Electronic Entertainment Expo, also known as E3, held in Los Angeles ended just a few days ago. Here is a short description of E3 from Wikipedia:

Presented by the Entertainment Software Association, the Electronic Entertainment Expo (or Exposition), commonly known E3, is the world’s largest annual trade show for the computer and video games industry and the third largest gaming convention. The expo is open only to game industry professionals, celebrities and journalists who are over eighteen.

It’s a three day event where new computer and video game hardware and software get unveiled (for prototype and finished ones) or announced (for upcoming ones). I wish I could be there to try out the demos and prototypes first hand but it’s only really for people who are in the business already. That and I couldn’t afford to fly to LA at this point in time anyway.

Fortunately, Gamespot and PAL Gaming Network Australia (PALGN) both cover the E3 events as they happen. I found that Gamespot’s coverage more comprehensive with their detailed write-ups and video feeds but PALGN’s coverage is more Australia-centric so I read their articles, too.

From the last generation of gaming consoles, I chose to side with Sony and bought the PlayStation 2 (PS2) instead of Microsoft’s Xbox or Nintendo’s GameCube (GC). I thought the PS2 offered a lot more cool games even though it’s hardware is inferior to that of the Xbox and GC. PS2 also offered free online gaming unlike Xbox’s subscription-based Live online service.

However, I have come to realise that “free” doesn’t necessarily translate to “good.” It is difficult to find players online for games that aren’t that popular on the PS2. Whereas with Xbox Live, there is a common place to go to online first then play a game they have in common from there. That’s what I’ve heard, at least. I’m also a sucker for first person shooter (FPS) games like Half-Life, Unreal Tournament and Counterstrike. So I’m a little disappointed that the best online FPS game PS2 has to offer is Killzone and probably SOCOM II (but it’s not really an FPS game). Whereas Xbox has Doom 3, Unreal Championship 2, Half-Life 2 and, of course, the ever popular Halo 2.

It just seemed to me that Xbox would been a better console for me since I’m so into online FPS games. The thing I love PS2 though was that it had Dance Dance Revolution (DDR), cooler fighting games like Tekken 5 (I never liked Dead or Alive’s controls on the Xbox) and Soulcalibur III, and cool action games like the Onimusha 3 and God of War. The problem was that although DDR games are easily available in Asia, it isn’t so here in Australia. So now I have a DDR dance pad from our old PS1 console brought from the Philippines but I could use it as there aren’t any DDR games for sale. I like fighting games but since these games don’t have online capabilities on the PS2, I have almost no-one to play against. Although Raquel plays fighting games, too, she isn’t all that determined to be good at it so sometimes she doesn’t seem like such a challenge. When I was still in the Philippines, I have my brother, my cousins and my friends to go up against and all of them wanted to master the game in order to win. Here, fighting games don’t offer the same level of excitement anymore. I tried looking for others to play with but I haven’t much luck on that department. The only thing I really enjoyed on the PS2 was the God of War game.

So now that this generation of consoles are coming to an end, the recent E3 got me thinking of the next console I’m going to get. Ever since Sony announced the coming of their next gen console dubbed the PlayStation 3 (PS3) and showed-off its specs on last year’s E3, I have been wanting to get my hands on it as opposed to Microsoft’s Xbox 360 or Nintendo’s Revolution (now called the Wii). The PS3 is supposedly more powerful than the Xbox 360 or the Revolution and it will have games like Unreal Tournament 2007 (an FPS game from a popular FPS series on the PC). The PS3 is also supposedly going to offer an online service similar to that of Xbox Live except it’ll be for free. It would also come with their new Blu-ray disc drive which is going to be way better than the current DVD drives.

But then, the Xbox 360 was released early this year. It was expensive but the PS3 will be much more expensive when it is released on November this year. And by the time the PS3 is released, the Xbox 360 might already be cheaper yet again due to discounts. The 360 seems to be doing just fine and their Xbox Live is doing great. I’m sure it wouldn’t be long before more FPS games get released for the 360 (including the much-awaited Halo 3). So now, because of the lower price point, great online service, and a high probability of more FPS games coming, I’m now slowly veering toward getting an Xbox 360 console instead of a PS3.

And then, E3 happened. Nintendo finally showed their cards and unveiled their next generation console, the Nintendo Wii with their revolutionary Wii controller. Although the Wii is technically inferior to the 360 and the upcoming PS3, it has at least a very innovative new controller that senses motion. It will allow you to wield the Wii remote like a racket when you are playing a Tennis game or a bat when you are playing a baseball game or a conductor’s baton when you are playing an orchestra-type game. Trying to explain why the controller is innovate will take up a lot of paragraphs so why don’t you just read the Gamespot article about it.

The other thing going for the Wii is that it will be the cheapest of all the next gen consoles when it is released. Some say that the price of the Wii and the Xbox 360 combined will be equal to the price of just the PS3 by itself. So, my getting a PS3 is more and more becoming
unlikely. Although I’m sure the PS3 will still kick butt, I’m not sure I’m willing to part with that much cash for a gaming console. Although the Wii is now one of the consoles I’m considering due to its innovation, I think I’ll probably go with the 360 when the time comes. I’ll probably only decide to get the 360 though after the Wii officially comes out. By then, the 360’s price would probably have been lowered again to compete better with the Wii.

Apart from the home gaming consoles, the E3 has made me aware of another device that I mostly ignored in the past. That is, the portable gaming device called Nintendo DS. At the moment it is competing with Sony’s PlayStaion Portable (PSP). PSP is being touted as being the more powerful of the two portable devices but again, Nintendo is being the more innovative one with the DS having two screens, built-in wi-fi gaming and a touch screen. When the DS came out some time ago, the touch screen was just seen as a gimmick that wouldn’t be too useful in typical games. The problem was that the reviewers were only thinking of typical games. The value of the touch screen was only realised when Nintendo released games that utilised the DS’s strengths.

I have never thought of buying the PSP because I thought it was a bit to bulky. I also heard that it was plagued with problems when it was first released. Whereas I heard nothing but nice things about the DS (except for the early dissing of the dual screen and touch screen design which are actually the device’s main selling point nowadays). And at E3, Nintendo announced that the DS Lite (a smaller version of DS) would soon be available to the West. With that, I’m now thinking of getting the DS Lite, too!

However, the only thing that’s probably going to keep me from buying it is that it will actually cost me real money to own one. And I’m not so sure I’ll really be able to play it all that much. When am I going to play it? In the train to work? In the toilet? At home? If it’s going to be at home, then I’ll probably just play a gaming console instead. Anyway, I’m always free to dream of owning one, right?

For now, I don’t have to decide on anything. My PS2 is still okay but I’m trying to avoid buying new games for it for the time being. I don’t want to be stuck with all these games which I’ll probably stop playing as soon as I buy a new console, may it be the Wii or the Xbox 360. Unless I buy the PS3 instead anyway, then I would be able to play the old PS2 games on it because it’ll all be backward compatible. All these options are so confusing. It’s best not to think about it for now. Darn that E3.

Published in: on May 17, 2006 at 11:40 am  Comments (12)  

Going bananas

Normally, bananas would be in season right about now. However, because of the devastation caused by cyclone Larry to Queensland, where 95% of the country’s bananas are grown. The crops were destroyed and is now in short supply.

I wanted to get some bananas for several weeks now but has been deterred by the price, which has only steadily risen since the cyclone. We first went to Safeway/Woollies but they don’t even have a single banana in sight so we moved to Coles where this photo was snapped. At $9.98 per kilogram, I opted not to buy any yet again (for Pinoy readers, multiply by 39 to get the peso value).

Not wanting to go home without any fruits, I got some Imperial Mandarins (at $2.48/kg) and Fuji Apples (at $4.98/kg) instead. With the ban on imported bananas still in place and with banana supply not expected to normalise for at least 6 months, I guess I’d have to wait a little longer to get some of those sweet, golden bananas.

Published in: on May 11, 2006 at 12:02 am  Comments (2)  

When you really have to go

Anyone who has been on a long road trip to somewhere would know the discomfort of having to hold it in while the driver desperately locates the nearest toilet, which most of the time would translate to stopping at a service station. That, could take a long time especially if you are in an unfamiliar area.

If only the map shows where the rest stops (and probably the nearest public loos) are. But then again, that map could suddenly become very cluttered indeed with icons all over the place. Not a very pretty solution. Enter the National Public Toilet Map website, which lists all the public toilets in Australia. The search function in the site could search the nearest loos by areas, points of interest and even lats and longs! It also has a nifty trip planner where you could input your source and destination address and it would show you the route and all public toilets along the way. Very neat indeed!

Published in: on May 10, 2006 at 12:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

Rescue, death and taxes

Three news stories dominate the day today – the Beaconsfield miners finally seeing the light of day after 14 days 1 km buried underground, the burial of a fellow miner who wasn’t as fortunate to come out alive and the tax cuts for everyone in the federal budget.

Australia breathed a sigh of relief and joined in the jubilation of the small town in Tasmania as Todd Russell and Brant Webb walk out of the mine early this morning. Job well done indeed to the rescuers who helped the men to freedom! The media can’t seem to get enough of the freed miners (don’t get me wrong, theirs is a fascinating story and they showed remarkable resilience) but everyone seem to forget about the rescuers who worked night and day to get them out.

The Beaconsfield residents also said their final goodbye to miner Larry Knight, who died in the collapse of the mine that trapped also Todd and Brant. Our sympathies to his friends and family who need all the support they can get.

Lastly, the federal budget was announced tonight with long overdue tax cuts becoming a reality for medium to high income earners. Childcare benefits also take a slight increase, lower tax for superannuation(retirement) pay-outs, additional spending for infrastructure, technology, education, health and national security. It’s not all good news though as environmental spending did not get much in this budget. Click here for a list of the 2006-07 budget winners and losers.

Watching the news and current affairs programs certainly have certain highs and lows but today seem to be a bigger news day than most!

Published in: on May 9, 2006 at 11:41 pm  Comments (3)  

First Time Accommodations

A reader left us a note a few days back seeking advice on first time accommodations in Melbourne. Although I already tackled it in not-so-many words in a previous blog post titled Tips for Pinoy Migrants to Australia Part 1, I think it’s time I flesh out the topic a bit more.

From experience, if you are a new migrant to Australia fresh from the airport, you will find it a bit difficult to rent an apartment specially if you don’t have a job yet. And when you get a job, the landlord might ask you to produce a letter from your employer as proof of your employment.

As you can see, it could already be difficult to get an apartment even if you are already here. Getting one while still in the Philippines would be much harder. However, I remember hearing that someone was actually able to do just that. I don’t know the details though.

The popular and favoured type of accommodation for newcomers to Australia is to live with family, relatives or close friends who are already here. Living with family is good because you’re not under pressure to find a job and an apartment quickly. Well, hey, they’re family.

However, if you are living with close friends, unless you’ll be paying those friends with some kind of weekly fee for your share of the rent, I recommend that you don’t wear out your welcome and start looking for an apartment of your own as soon as possible. I’m sure your friend will tell you that you could stay as long as you like, but in my experience, living under the same roof with some friends for an extended period of time can sometimes test the strongest of friendships.

Now, how about those of you with no family or friends in Australia? Some friends of mine actually booked a hotel room in their destination city via the Internet just before leaving the Philippines. When they got here, they quickly looked for a job then another (cheaper) place to stay. As an example, a friend lived in a $100-per-day hotel room for twenty days before being able to move to his own apartment. That’s $2,000 in his first three weeks in Melbourne alone. So, before flying over, be sure you have enough money to sustain yourself here even if you can’t land a job for the first three months.

You can book hotel rooms online through websites like AccomLine. I can at least recommend this service as I have used it multiple times in the past.

There is an alternative to hotels though that could sometimes be the cheaper option. There are serviced apartments for rent that are basically like bigger furnished hotel rooms but with no room service (who needs it anyway?). They could sometimes charge you a cheaper weekly or monthly rate instead. I couldn’t really recommend any online service for weekly/monthly serviced apartments since I haven’t the need for one myself but from looking at the Internet, I found the Melbourne Serviced Apartments website. I’m sure you’ll find similar websites by using Google.

Room rates would vary depending of course on the quality of the room and the distance of the hotel or apartment from the central business district (CBD) in the city. So, consult a map of the city you’re going to and decide there if the hotel or apartment you’re aiming for is at a good location. Australian maps are available online at Whereis.com.

If you decide to go for a place that is a bit far from the city, make sure that the place is at least near a train station specially since you’d probably won’t have a car yet. You can find that out by consulting the map. The train stations should be marked there.

When I was looking for an apartment in Melbourne a few years ago, my main priority is to find one that is near a train station. So, having access to the Melbourne Train Network Map made it easier for me to choose which suburbs to look into when I was looking for apartment vacancies.

But, you say, what if I have no family or friends in Australia and I don’t have a lot of money? What then? You can join and log on to the Philippines.com.au forum. Take a chance and ask around there if anybody has an empty room that they are willing to rent out to you or something like that. Who knows? You might even get to meet someone who is willing to take you in for free for a short period of time. Don’t expect too much from the people there though. There are a lot of nice people there but not everybody may be comfortable with the idea of letting a complete stranger live in their home even if you are a fellow Filipino.

Anyway, I hope this helps any of you looking to migrate here in Australia in some way. Good luck.

Update: Thanks to reader Sasha for this additional tip (which I paraphrased a bit):

Hi GJ & Raquel, Pinoys can look for furnished apartments on 3 month leases or more on Domain.com.au or Realestate.com.au or realestateview.com.au which is good.

Published in: on May 9, 2006 at 4:02 pm  Comments (6)