Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Juggling and gambling

I can't really remember the first time I heard about the story of the balls. However, I do remember the last two times I was reminded of it. The last time came by way of a friend posting about it on Facebook just about the time before something life-changing happened to another friend. Previous to that, I certainly remember a one-on-one I had with the immediate past Dean of the U.P. College of Engineering where towards the end of our meeting she asked me about life. She was serious when she related the story of the balls that we juggle in life. And she asked me at the end of the story how I was juggling these balls, adding that she thinks that I should take very good care of the the more important balls since she thinks I was and am working too hard.

The story of the balls have different variations but these mostly involve the number of balls involved in the story. In one variant there are five balls - family, friends, health, integrity and work. In another, there are only three balls loved ones, health and work. Family and friends are combined while integrity is not part of the equation (perhaps assumed to be part of all other balls?). In what appears to be the original version, integrity is replaced by spirit (or faith). Among these balls, work is supposed to be made of rubber. If you drop it, it will rebound or bounce back. All the other balls are made of glass. If you drop one, many or all, they may be permanently damaged or, more seriously, be shattered or lost.

I guess it is not important exactly how many balls we are juggling everyday. The message of the story is crystal clear in as far as what we should prioritize in life. We tend to justify working hard in order to earn a living, money that we intend to use to provide for our loved ones including funds to support health care. We tend to forget that in our eagerness to earn more to secure the future, we inadvertently endanger that same future as we relegate the other elements to the proverbial backseat and end up losing these "balls."

Yesterday, I was reminded of these balls when I visited a friend who had a heart attack in the morning and immediately underwent angioplasty to address a blocked artery. I looked at his wife and children and I am reminded that I too have loved ones who are much much more important and who deserves my time and my love more. Indeed life is fragile and we need to understand that this life actually consists of glass and rubber balls. Only, it is probably difficult to recognize which of the glass balls will be damaged or will shatter upon one or more impact. Thus, juggling these balls are quite similar to gambling and I dare say that we do gamble everyday with things we consider important but not necessarily recognize as priorities of others. Perhaps we can only pray and rely on our faith that by God's grace we may be able to go through life without having the glass balls fall and shatter.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


I've been on many trips, most of them to various cities around the Philippines. Many of these trips are of the official kind meaning they are associated with my line of work. Being in the field of transportation engineering requires a lot of travel and that means I have to be "on the road" more often than I want to. Typical trips last 2 to 3 days including some foreign trips where the budget is not enough to attend a conference or symposium in full. It is alright if the travel time is reasonable enough. A flight to Visayan destinations usually takes somewhere between 45 (Puerto Princesa or Roxas) to 60 (Cebu or Bohol) minutes while Mindanao destinations range from 1.5 hours (Cagayan De Oro) to 2 hours (Davao and General Santos). Regional international flights typically take 3 to 4 hours and I have taken many of these non-stop between Manila and cities like Bangkok, Singapore and Tokyo.

I have also been on many road trips, mostly on the island of Luzon where I have had the experience of once doing something like city-hopping from Manila all the way to Vigan, Ilocos Sur in the northern Philippines. Among the cities I've visited by land are Tuguegarao, Baguio, Olongapo, Tarlac, Batangas, Calamba, Lucena and Naga. In my childhood days, I remember going on trips to Sorsogon, to the hometown of my mother. Along the way, we passed by Legazpi City, Albay and I have faint memories of seeing Mayon Volcano on both clear and cloudy days. Unfortunately, I have not had the chance to visit Mayon and take some photos at the ruins of Cagsawa.

These days, it seems that I am taking a lot of quick trips, balikan as they are termed in Filipino. Strictly speaking, balikan refers to a trip to and from another city of considerable distance from one's origin (e.g., Manila-Cebu-Manila or Manila-Subic-Manila) assuming this is possible because of the availability of flights or that the travel time via road transport is not considerably long (i.e., not exceeding 4 hours). This year alone, I have been to balikan trips to Cebu, Subic, Clark/Angeles, and tomorrow, General Santos. The more common arrangements are overnight trips. These at least allow me to relax a bit after a meeting or lecture and have a good night's sleep before returning to Manila the following day. Perhaps there will be more of the former and latter types of trips ahead for me as I continue juggling my schedule so that official trips don't get in the way of precious time I reserve for family.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Gearing-up for a Decade of Action for Road Safety: 2011-2020

Today we are holding a Road Safety Conference with the theme "Gearing-up for a Decade of Action for Road Safety: 2011-2020." The theme is consistent with a worldwide campaign led by the Global Road Safety Partnership (GRSP) and its partners that aims to curb the sharp increase in the incidence of road crashes. The program was actually launched last year at the Road Safety Forum held in October in Singapore and formalized with the first Transport Ministers' conference on road safety held in Moscow the following month of November.

The Road Safety Conference in the Philippines is organized by the Automobile Association Philippines and the National Center for Transportation Studies of UP, and is mainly sponsored by Toyota Motor Philippines as a major part of the latter's advocacy for road safety. Partners include SafeKids Philippines, Pilipinas Shell and 3M Philippines. This year, we are happy to have on board the fledgling GRSP Philippines (PGRSP) that is comprised of major companies dedicated in promoting road safety in the country.

The program includes 3 panel discussions with the first one tackling road safety legislation including the status of the Road Safety Bill filed in the last congress. The second panel discussion will feature the International Road Assessment Program (i-RAP) that will be implemented in the Philippines through the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). The assessment will involve an automated audit of more than 4,000 kilometers of roads throughout the country. These include roads classified under the Asian Highway (AH) network as well as the tollways of Luzon island. The third panel discussion will be on eco-safe driving. which is a practice that aims to promote both safety and energy efficiency by encouraging more relaxed driving while putting emphasis on regulating the driver's use of the gas pedal. The latter, in effect, allows the driver to manage the engine revolution so that upon acceleration and during cruising, the engine will only reach around 2,000 r/min maximum.

These are but among the many topics that are part of the bigger picture that is road safety. They are surely among the most interesting ones that are oriented toward actions necessary if we are to succeed in cutting down the steady rise in road crashes and save lives. The topics are also a welcome departure from past conferences where many presentations showed statistics and sought to establish context for road safety initiatives. That context is already well established and if one is not aware or has a clear understanding of the state of road safety, then perhaps that person is disconnected with what is happening around him.

This year's Road Safety Conference will be held at the GT Toyota Asian Center Auditorium at the University of the Philippines Diliman. It is a whole day event that starts at 9:00 AM and concludes at 5:00 PM.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


I joined my college alma mater, the University of the Philippines, straight after completing graduate school back in 1995. I got an appointment as Assistant Professor in June that year based on my having a Master's degree and set out to teach both major and minor courses in Civil Engineering. I remember teaching Engineering Economy, Engineering Statistics and Transportation Engineering to undergraduate students during my first semester. I was also allowed to handle one graduate course during my first year and I remember this as one devoted to Traffic Flow Theory. Then as now, I was based at the National Center for Transportation Studies, where my Filipino and Japanese mentors also had their offices.

I filed for a study leave in 1996 to pursue a doctorate in Japan and got a first taste of life in Japan when I was recommended for a 35-day stint at Tokyo Institute of Technology with support from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), months before I was to begin studies at the Yokohama National University. Upon completing my studies, successfully defending my dissertation in June 1999, I returned to UP in late September 1999. I was immediately promoted a few steps but still as Assistant Professor. Months later, however, I was given tenure by the UP upon the recommendation of the Department of Civil Engineering and the College of Engineering. I was to be Assistant Professor until December 2005, steadily rising among the ranks one or two steps at a time until I got a shot at crossing ranks.

I was appointed Associate Professor in January 2006 months prior to my nomination for the Director of the National Center for Transportation Studies. In November 2006, I was appointed Director of the NCTS and set out to continue with both teaching and research often juggling time with my administrative responsibilities. I was reappointed in 2009 for another 3-year term.

It was fortunate for many of us in the University that the centennial paved the way for a new charter as well as a 3-year period of subsequent promotions. It helped greatly that the College at this time instituted a merit-based promotion system that allowed me to claim significant points that led to a rapid progression in steps as Associate Professor.

Last Wednesday, I finally received my appointment from the UP Board of Regents as full Professor, effective June 2010. It is a fulfillment of a dream that started back when I decided to join the academe. It is a blessing from a most gracious and loving God that I offer back to Him for His greater glory. It is a gift that I share with my loved ones especially my parents, siblings and cousins who have been instrumental in my decisions back in the day. It is an accomplishment that I share with the Clairvoyant who has been so supportive of what we jokingly mention as our contribution to service to this country. And it is something I share with my friends, teachers/mentors, and colleagues, especially those closest to me whom I have had the pleasure of working since the dream started.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


The sprinkler for the car wipers didn't work one day for some reason. Among the most common if not the most common reasons for sprinklers not working is that the nozzles are clogged. Clogging can be caused by dust especially the fine ones that hit the car while one is driving. Clogging can also be caused by car wax, either the liquid that eventually dries upon application or the gooey kind that's usually popular with car buffs (pun intended). Perhaps in this case it might be wax inadvertently applied to the area or the same material in its dried form as it was being rubbed from the car to produce the desired shine. I would like to believe that there was nothing wrong with the sprinkler's motor because the thing was practically new considering we had the original one replaced after it was damaged when the car went under the flood waters of Ketsana. I also did a quick check and could hear the motor running when I engaged the sprinklers. But I wasn't sure if the sound was a good one as I am admittedly not an expert on these things, especially with regards to the Clairvoyant's car. I also didn't want to try troubleshooting as the outcomes may just be that - trouble. And we all know that a mistake may lead to a more expensive bill when you finally have it fixed by qualified technicians.

I decided to call the casa to schedule a check on the sprinkler and I went to the shop last Saturday, arriving quite early (just as the gate opened) only to find out that the guy who fielded my call didn't take down my details for an appointment that morning. I ended up waiting for my turn after the staff attended to those who had appointments. After about 40 minutes of patiently waiting, a person who looked like the manager or perhaps the owner of the dealership approached me and explained that they may not be able to check the car as all those who had appointments showed up. The guy was accommodating and assisted me in making another appointment. I appreciated this and the customer relations of this dealership was one of the reasons we transferred our car here.

Nevertheless, I was a little disappointed that the sprinkler was not fixed that day. It was quite an important part of the car especially these days when it rains almost everyday. Other times, it can be quite dry and the dust can accumulate on the windshield. The combination of dust and rain is most potent as dust plus rain (and dirty rain at that) turns to what appears like muck on your windshield a while after the rains stopped. You would need a good wiper wash delivered by your sprinkler for this stuff. Otherwise, you would have to pour clean water on the windshield as the wiper is engaged for a quick wash and it is not something you'd want to do almost everyday just before driving home from work.

As I had some time this morning before taking the dorgs to the vet, I decided to tinker with the nozzles and succeeded in detaching the hose in one (it was quite easy). I then engaged the sprinklers to see if the motor was able to pump the wash through the hose. It did and this was confirmation that there was nothing wrong with the sprinkler motor. I did the same for the other hose just to make sure my conclusion was correct and also to determine if both hoses were not clogged. With this initial success, I was encouraged to further troubleshooting, this time succeeding to detach the nozzles from the hood after carefully studying the set-up. With the hypothesis that these were clogged, I proceeded blowing into the nozzle and then jabbing the exit points with the smallest pin I could find in the house. I did this several times and finally decided to re-attach the nozzles and reconnect the hoses. The moment of truth finally arrived as I turned on the sprinklers and voila! The sprinkler worked perfectly. The accomplishment definitely made my day as being able to fix things are surefire ways to boost one's confidence. It might be a male-thing but its something that proves one can definitely "do it yourself" as long as you know what your doing and put some care into the work. Next up...the cabinet hinges!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

End of an era in Philippine FM radio

I just heard from a radio jock on 99.5RT that NU107.5 will be signing off for good tomorrow. It came as a surprise and a sad one that an icon for rock music on Philippine FM radio will be concluding its broadcast after so many years of airing various forms of rock. This was the FM station that introduced me to heavy metal and hard rock when I was hooked (and still am) on new wave and jazz.

NU107 went on air when I was attending university and I remember it becoming part of my preset stations on my Walkman as I liked their mix of rock that was never heard from the other stations. That time, LS97.1 was among the leaders when it came to airing music from the rock genre but most of the material were actually of the glam rock kind. I wanted to know more about the headbanging sounds of bands like Metallica for times when my usual dose of new wave, jazz (even new age) or classical just won't do.

Even today, NU107.5 is among the presets on my old Walkman and our car stereo. I must admit its been awhile since I've tuned in to the station though; a result of having the CD player fixed and me loading up on my 80's CDs (U2, House Martins, Spandau Ballet, Billy Idol, etc.). I can only hope that perhaps NU107.5 will be resurrected one day just like how 99.5RT had returned after years when it sounded like just one of those stations that you need not "memorize."

Here's a salute and a toast to NU107.5. Great job guys and gals! The memories live on!

"Wang-wang" of another kind

Ever since the current president of the Philippines mentioned his disapproval and disdain for the abusive use of sirens by unscrupulous individuals and organizations, there has noticeably been some "silence" in our streets. It used to be that vehicles with sirens muscled through heavy traffic to get ahead of everybody else, appearing as if their business was more important than all the rest. Never mind that those comprising the frustrated among those caught in the jam might be professionals like doctors, lawyers and engineers whose times were much more valuable compared to say, a relative or a staff of a congressman using a siren on their way to the shopping mall. Never mind that among those who were wallowing in traffic were students - the very future of this country - who might already be late for their classes. Never mind, too, that other people happen to be workers or laborers whose times were critical because they might be getting their pay based on an hourly rate. Now, you only hear the sound of engines, tailpipes and the occasional horns mainly from those who are in a hurry or public transportation drivers trying to catch the attention of commuters waiting for a ride along the street.

However, I would like to talk about a "wang-wang" of another kind. And this one is of the good type. "Wang-wang ng Bayan" is a radio program that went on air 5 weeks ago. It is a talk show hosted by two good friends, Sheilah and Dayo, who graciously accepted the invitation to host the show. Following are more info about the program taken from its Facebook page:
"The title of the program is a play on the local term for the sirens used by ambulances, fire trucks and police vehicles that were abused by politicians and people who thought of themselves as being more important than the average citizen. “Wang-wang” was specifically pointed out by the current President Noynoy Aquino in his inaugural speech as it became associated with abusive behaviour especially in traffic. In truth, “wang-wang” is an instrument for catching attention. And in this case attention is needed for us to be aware of and understand the current and enduring issues on transportation and traffic.
The objectives of the program are as follows:
1) Advocate – environmentally sustainable transport (EST) including road traffic safety, social equity, clean air, and other elements of EST
2) Clarify – issues pertaining to transport and traffic, focusing on current concerns in Philippine cities particularly in but not limited to Metropolitan Manila
3) Teach – the general public by providing current, relevant information concerning transportation and traffic systems, and sharing knowledge concerning transport and traffic"
So far, the program has tackled topics like traffic rules and regulations, u-turns, the odd-even scheme, pedestrian facilities, and motorcycles. Guests included the like of former LTO Chief and LTFRB Chair Bert Suansing, Traffic Engineer and UP Professor Ric Sigua, former MMDA traffic chief Ernie Camarillo, motorcycle riding instructor and expert Jake Swann. In its upcoming 6th episode, the show will have as guest current LTFRB Board Member Julius Garcia who will talk about public transport including challenges and current programs of the government.

It is through such a program that the academe could hopefully reach out (extend) to discuss and explain, or as their objectives state - ACT - about the relevant topics on transport and traffic in our country today. Truly, these are matters many of us need to be aware of and rightfully informed rather than misinformed. "Wang-wang ng Bayan" airs on DZUP 1602 AM radio every Wednesday from 1-2 PM (Philippine time). It is also available online via livestreaming.

Friday, November 5, 2010


It's been 11 days since the Clairvoyant left for the US and Canada to participate in meetings of their firm in Chicago and visit her brother in Montreal. She was originally to fly to Chicago via Los Angeles but had to change her flight due to concerns regarding a local flag carrier's labor problems. Instead, she traveled via Incheon in Korea. It turned out to be cheaper and she was able to get a code share flight to and from Montreal. The only downside, if you can call it that, is that she won't be able to visit relatives in LA and go with them to Las Vegas. Our relatives have originally planned to vacation in Las Vegas with the Clairvoyant tagging along to finally see another city that doesn't sleep.

The Clairvoyant and I are not strangers to long distance communications. It was how we met in the first place and we know how to wield the tool that is the internet. More than 10 years ago, communications were via email, AOL Instant Messenger or internet relay chat (IRC). Then, there was also the option of snail mail although I remember I preferred using the post office's Express Mail Service (EMS) to send cards and what have you to the Clairvoyant. We didn't exchange photos as this was part of our informal, undeclared agreement on "just chatting and exchanging notes" about anything under the sun.

Our tools then were significantly and perhaps tens of times better than what people before the era of the internet had to go through in order to get in touch with loved ones. These days, the arsenal has expanded to include Skype and voice chats like the ones provided by Google and Yahoo. Even as I write, I am actually speaking with the Clairvoyant over Google's voice chat. If the Clairvoyant had a camera on her computer, we could also have a kind of video conferencing! Now that should be a great experience for loved ones separated by geography.

This experience will be what we will have to undergo and perhaps for a much longer period come January. The Clairvoyant will be based in Singapore from then as she will be transferring to their office in that country. The good news is that Singapore is wired and will surely have the communications facilities that would ensure an efficient lifeline. It helps that Manila and Singapore also share the same time zone. Maybe we'll just try to travel more with the Clairvoyant flying to Manila once a month and me doing the same. That will surely fill our passports with stamps, even if its just for Singapore and Manila. We're bracing ourselves for that eventuality.