about the talking fish

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Writer. Wheelman. Occasional DIY mechanic. Walking collection of hang-ups. Hopeless romantic. Old-school. Analog soul in a digital world. I am all of these things and more.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Spring cleaning

I talk about getting my own place all the time nowadays but honestly I have no idea if I already know how to actually own my own place. Owning is a given if you've paid for it of course, but by "owning" I mean the upkeep and maintenance of a house.

If I'm ever going to start somewhere, I should start with what I already have: my room.

The perennial problem with me and my room is dust. My sinuses easily get sore from the feces of dust mites, and there's just too darn much of the stuff. It doesn't help that dust mites and I share one thing in common: a liking for paper. I'm a bit of a pack rat when it comes to old magazines, especially - I cannot let go of them immediately.

So December 30 saw me spending most of the day in my room, conducting my own version of spring cleaning. Out with the dusty magazines and sinusitis-inducing dust, and in with a clean room. I was suprised how much stuff I had removed and how heavy all those old issues of Autocar ASEAN and Top Gear weighed. Even with a dust mask on, however, by the time I was almost finished my sinuses eventually gave in and released a torrent of mucus and a storm of sneezes.

My room is clean again...for now. Maybe it's also good for me to clean out all those remnants of my past, and perhaps move on to newer and better things to learn from.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Monday, December 28, 2009

2009 was a good year for...

Car modification. The mods themselves were few and far between, but their utility made a very big difference. Already I can say the Recaro SRD seats and BRIDE RO-type seat rails are the single best modification I'd ever done to Aibo, as they increased my comfort greatly and laid out a solid foundation for developing my driving technique on the racetrack. However, I am most proud of how I did a lot of these modifications myself.

Watching Formula 1 racing. 2009 will forever be remembered as the year where the traditional Ferrari vs. McLaren rivalry took to the back burner, replaced by new blood filling the podium steps in the form of Red Bull Racing and Brawn GP. While I am happy that Jenson Button is now finally the world driver's champion, I am equally impressed at how the leveled playing field has shown the talents of so many drivers who are championship material themselves, notably Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber.

Participating in racing. It's no secret that I love cars and I love driving them virtually in video games such as Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport 2. Driving on a real racetrack on a trackday, however, beats the pants out of that. 2009 was one of the most fulfilling years for me as a driver because I picked up the kind of confidence that I never would've had if I stayed driving on the streets, culminating in a personal-best 59.14-second lap time around Subic International Raceway. The pungent smell of burnt rubber while dashing at 120 km/h...ahhh.

Singing. While my participation in choirs has waned a little, due to the departure of my mentor and friend Nelson Albano, I've expanded into a new area as a wedding singer. By no means am I the best at it just yet; all my gigs have been amateur ones. I relish the chance to become better, though.

Video games. After eight years of soldiering on without one, I finally landed a hand-me-down PlayStation 2 from my cousin JB. This time I decided to do things the right way and bought all my games legitimately. In all that time however, the PS2's game library has never shown signs of slowing down. It still has lots of great games on sale and it's very reliable as a console, unlike the frustratingly fragile Xbox 360.

Relationships. Every day I spend with Mav, I seem to be breaking a record for the longest relationship I have had yet. We have our spats and arguments, but I can't see myself in love with somebody else - cheesy perhaps but it's the absolute truth.

Priorities. It's hard to say if I'm successful at this yet but I've held out on spending on myself to save for a long-term investment purchase: a condominium unit of my own. There's still a long way to go before I can call myself independent, but I think I'm on the right track.

2009 was a bad year for...

Car clubs and forums. I've basically sworn off most of the car clubs I've participated in because there are people who either cannot admit that they are wrong, or cannot see past their huge egos. My only remaining car club is HCP and I have no plans of involving myself with any more.

Exercise and fitness. For the second year running, my fitness has gotten progressively worse. While I was able to get myself involved early in the year, my changing work assignments have shot down any plans of keeping a healthy exercise routine. I'm heavier and fatter than ever, and I'm beginning to think that perhaps pumping iron isn't all that it's cracked up to be. I weighed my lightest when I was aerobically active. It doesn't help that my metabolism isn't as quick as it used to be, as well.

Work. As much as I was complaining about Barclays, my current internal assignments are all fish-out-of-water things that have dealt me quite the amount of pain and frustration trying to adjust. No matter how nice the people are, the work just doesn't suit me as well as it used to. I've lost most of my motivation for work, although I know I should be grateful that I even have a job.

Personal websites. For the most part I haven't been able to update this blog as frequently as I would have liked, nor have I paid much attention to my Multiply account. I guess I've just been too busy.

People and things that came to an end. Patrick Swayze, Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, Brittany Murphy - all of them died this year. A few other things bit the dust too, such as T3 magazine.

Calamities. Typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng dumped the equivalent of one month's rain in one September day. Enough said. Some kids are currently spending their holidays with at least a few inches of floodwater in their homes. And if that wasn't enough, Mayon Volcano is also rearing its ugly lava-spewing head as I write this.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas of exhaustion

I guess I really am getting older. Not only has Christmas lost its characteristic "spark" as a holiday, but 2009's yuletide celebrations have also seen me in my poorest state of health yet. Between consecutive parties, lots of food and not enough sleep, and even a wedding the morning after Christmas Day, I felt like I could collapse and tremble at any time had my will not kept me on my feet. Naps have quickly become my best friend to alleviate my sleep debt.

This year I can also say that I've pretty much "graduated" from gifts. They're a welcome occurrence but I didn't really expect to receive anything. That said, I got a few nice trinkets. I was perhaps much more concentrated on giving gifts rather than receiving them this year, though.
Besides I have such a huge mess in my room now because of so much stuff crammed into it.

Maybe this year's Christmas losing its "spark" has helped me grow even just a little bit. Perhaps I've come to appreciate the season more for what it truly is rather than what people say it should be. Who knows, really.

A belated but meaningful Christmas to all!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

What? It's Christmas already?

Christmas is only six days away.

I don't feel it for some reason.

The cold is there, the ridiculous amounts of food have been served, the bad traffic is present, the people doing their last-minute shopping are obvious. Yet I feel so detached from the celebrations, as if Christmas itself is still a month or two away.

Maybe I'm tired, or maybe I've just become a bit jaded.

On this new frontier...what 'bout my star?

True friends of mine know that I am a sucker for the anime "The Super Dimension Fortress Macross" from 1982. The mix of space warfare, transforming planes and robots, an engaging love story and a huge slug of J-pop music made it an instant classic.

Twenty-five years later, Shoji Kawamori and Studio Nue made a brand-new series set about 50 years forward: "Macross Frontier." And dare I say, this is even better than the original.

"Frontier" builds on trademark Macross fare and gives it its own spin with a new direction. It's undeniable that the graphics and animation have improved a lot, thanks to computer-generated footage of the VF-25 Messiah fighter planes in action against the insect-like Vajra alien force. However, the real triumph of "Frontier" over "SDF Macross" lies in its characters.

The main love triangle plays out between pilot/student and former Kabuki actor Alto Saotome, amnesiac aspiring singer Ranka Lee, and the famous pop idol, Sheryl Nome, dubbed the "Fairy of the Galaxy." Interestingly, neither of the two girls resorts to disrespect or catfights. At the core of their relationship is a deep friendship and respect for each other, most evident in how Sheryl directly inspires Ranka to pursue her dream. It just so happens their friendship has Alto as a very huge part of it - he sees through Sheryl's fame and Ranka's clumsiness.

My favorite character however has to be sniper Michael Blanc. An incorrigible flirting playboy, he is actually the most perceptive and sensitive of the feelings building up between our main characters. He challenges the conviction of Ranka's singing ambitions, proves Alto's mettle in joining the private military company SMS, and aids Sheryl when her health and fortunes deteriorate.

As great as the music in "SDF Macross" was, "Frontier" just blows it out of the water. Since there are two pop idols in the series there is a much greater spectrum of songs on tap. Sheryl's sultry, sexy yet emotional high-BPM performance, sung by May'n, is tempered by Ranka Lee's innocent, bubbly but longing pop melodies, performed by Megumi Nakajima. Almost everything is composed by now-legendary anime musician Yoko Kanno, too.

I cannot recommend this title enough. Don't be put off by the eye candy. "Macross Frontier" is a masterfully crafted show.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

When in doubt, FLAT OUT!

Finally the Team Flat Out trackday pushed through. Unlike the previous April trackday, slightly cloudy skies greeted us at the track and a steady breeze kept us all cool and comfortable.

Also unlike April where we were about 30 participants in all, this trackday saw just 10 of us hooning around Subic International Raceway's short track. That allowed for more practice in consecutive hot laps and a greater chance of improving on my previous best time of 1:04.4.

Our machines were all Hondas and Toyotas. Rommel brought his GE6, while Justin and I both drove GDs and the rest had EKs in various high states of tune. For the Toyota camp, Russell had his AE101, while Arby brought his rare supercharged brown AE82 five-door hatchback.

Edward and JP were on hand to give me lots of tips and advice. They were extremely helpful in building my confidence especially under full-commitment braking, and drove home the point that I should "show the car who's boss" as JP often mentions on the Honda Club Philippines forums.

After a bus collided with Aibo's rear end last year, I had become traumatized by full-commitment braking, but I learned that on the track it's no concern and that it was key to everything. My half-hearted heel-and-toe on public roads ruined my technique too. Perhaps I should just stick to throttle-blipping and brake normally on the daily commute.

On my first run at 9:00 am I virtually duplicated my previous best with a 1:04.21. The times kept tumbling as the day went by, however.

JP told me Aibo had good balance and a predictable nature, with its low power output making it an easy car to drive and learn. Aibo's Toyo Proxes 4 all-season tires gained and lost their grip in a nicely progressive manner, too. After driving it at full commitment for three laps with me riding shotgun, showing me all the markers and tricks, he said a 58-second lap was possible.

By 2:00 pm I had shaved three seconds. I was rounding SIR at one minute flat. While the others cheered my success, JP and Edward egged me on.

Thirty minutes later I was breaking the 59-second barrier! I was starting to believe JP's 58-second premonition.

Rommel sat at the timing desk to cheer me on. He had also improved greatly from his previous -best 1:03. By the end of the day he was bagging one-minute laps too.

Finally at 3:15 pm I logged my fastest ever series of laps. They were consistently in the 59-second range, but one lap saw me very close to JP's prediction.

My personal best is now 59.14 seconds!

That lap time took me totally by surprise. Perhaps I could have broken the 58-second barrier, but at that point my front tires were past their best and were suffering slight understeer from the heat of running. In any case it was better than my wildest dreams as my initial goal was to shave just three seconds off - I almost doubled that!

In the end though, Rommel and I thoroughly enjoyed this event and we left at 5:00 pm satisfied. It really felt like a gathering of true petrolheads, with no hidden agendas, no need to show off and no egos to protect. The track and the lap times kept us all honest. Our enemies were only ourselves and our previous best lap times.

After all the bullshit that's flown about in the car clubs I've gotten myself involved in, this was a very welcome change.

My new friend Russell (center on the photo above) was amazed with Aibo's potential. Equally amazing was how Aibo still clocked 12.769 km/L on the entire trip, all hot laps at Subic and 120 km/h NLEX/SCTEX cruising included.

I just cannot wait until the next trackday. Edward had already extended an invitation for me to join Team Flat Out on the RYWB (run what you brung) time-attack competition rounds.

We'll see. The next step for me is to become consistent as a sub-minute driver.

Friday, December 04, 2009

For the love of the track

Typhoon Ondoy wrecked our previous plans back in September, but tomorrow seems to be as good a day as ever to proceed with the Team Flat Out trackday. Since my first crack at Subic International Raceway in April, I've been itching to join another trackday, practice my skills and perhaps cut a few tenths (if not whole seconds) off my personal best time of 1:04.4.

Instead of upgrading anything mechanical on Aibo, the hip-hugging Recaro SRD seats were my answer to improvement. I wanted to increase my skill to their limits first, before becoming reliant on lowered suspension, power adders or trick tires --- or even higher-friction brake pads.

I took today off to take care of what I considered essential preparations for the trackday. Last September, Aibo already got a transfusion of Royal Purple oil, so today was dedicated to a flush and refill of coolant and brake fluid, the latter upgraded from DOT3 to DOT4. Afterward I decided to become independent with respect to headgear, so I got myself an HJC CL-14 full-face helmet in solid silver.

After spending the better portion of a day in shops and in bad Metro Manila traffic Aibo and I are probably as ready as we'll ever be. I'm just a little sad Mav won't be there with me because she has class.

Now for the not-so-little matter of waking up at 4:30 and getting to Subic at 7 am...