The RubeTube

Life's a cube.  Solve it.


September 27, 2007
I'm here...

...still here, in the Philippines, at home, writing this blog entry.

I wasn't able to fly away because apparently, I didn't have exit clearance from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA). Of course, I had no idea whatsoever that every Filipino working abroad (immigrants are excluded) has to pass by the POEA office first to get cleared to leave the country. If you are a Filipino and you are going to work abroad soon, please make sure to go to the POEA office (the main branch is in Ortigas) and get your exit clearance ASAP; here's how.

There I was, having exhausted all my tearful farewells, all ready to check-in, only to be told I couldn't leave. Talk about anti-climactic. My family had to fetch me from the airport, already a balikbayan. We just laughed at the whole episode. Thanks to our contact at the POEA, I was able to secure my exit clearance in record time; 6 hours, as opposed to days! My flight has been re-booked and I'm leaving (again) tomorrow morning at 8 am.

There's a reason things like this happen. I've been able to spend another day with my family, make some last minute purchases and printouts, and even watch the Ateneo-La Salle game (hahaha, talo La Salle, 1 point!). I bet tomorrow's farewell won't be as heart-wrenching.

(P.S. I am now officially an OFW, and proud of it! Mabuhay ang mga Bagong Bayani!)

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Microsoft/Seattle/Redmond/world, here I come!

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September 21, 2007
Last August 25 (geez that was a loooong time ago), I joined the first-ever Rubik's Cube Philippines Open (RCPO 2007). It was the first Rubik's cube tournament held in the Philippines that was officially sanctioned by the World Cube Association (WCA), and I felt tremendously honored to have been part of history in the making! The event was organized by the Philippine Cubers Association (PCA), of which I am a very active member lately.

See the official RCPO 2007 results here... in a nutshell, Mat Almeida (Fil-Portuguese guy, and also the WCA delegate) and JB Canares (who flew all the way from Cebu) dominated most of the events. My results: 17th (out of 28) in the 3x3x3 event, and 8th (out of 17) in the 2x2x2 event. I also have some photos and a couple of videos from the event.


The RCPO 2007 was held at Robinsons Metro East, from 10 AM lasting into the night. I went with Akie and Allan, who unfortunately (for them?) chose not to compete in the event, but they still accompanied me and I was very glad for their company even if they both had to leave early. It's a really good thing I went with them because I didn't know anyone and I was worried about embarrassing myself with my relatively slow times, but because I had my friends with me I could just laugh and just enjoy the day no matter what.

There were a couple of events in the RCPO 2007: 3x3x3, 3x3x3 one-handed, 3x3x3 blindfolded, 4x4x4, 5x5x5, and 2x2x2. Among those events, only the 3x3x3 had a 3-round structure: only the top 20 from round 1 would make it into round 2, and only the top 8 from round 2 would compete in the final round. For every event/round, each person has 5 tries to solve the puzzle. The puzzle is scrambled (by people designated as "scramblers" who also act as timekeepers) according to a computer-generated random sequence of moves. The best and worst among the 5 times are dropped (to account for good/bad luck) and the remaining 3 middle times are averaged to comprise your official average time for that event/round, and contestants are ranked according to their averages.

I only chose to join the 2x2x2 and 3x3x3 events. The 3x3x3 was the first event of the day. I was really nervous going up to the stage in front and I didn't even have any idea how to use the Stackmat timers! Fortunately, the Stackmats were a breeze to use and I didn't encounter any problems.

In round 1, I posted an average of 44.56 seconds, which was good for 19th place and barely made it to round 2! In round 2, I fared even better: an average of 38.31 seconds (my personal best average at the time!), good for 17th place, which unfortunately was far from the cut-off for the final round. So all in all, I ranked 17th out of 28 competitors... definitely better than I expected! My "X method" (corners-first) was not a very fast method, not ideal at all for speedcubing so I think I got a bit lucky here and there. Here is a video of my first-ever official solve (first try in round 1), with a time of 45.08 seconds:


Here is a photo of the Stackmat of my best time in round 2, 30.81 seconds, which was also my personal best at the time:


The 2x2x2 event was one of the final events of the day, just before the final round of the 3x3x3. I was pondering whether to even participate in the event because I had a ticket to a film-showing in the evening of Pisay the Movie (directed by Aureus Solito), set in my high school alma mater. I'd miss the film-showing if I chose to stay for the 2x2x2 event. It was a chance to meet up with some of my high school buddies but I decided that the RCPO was more important to me at the time; it would later turn out to be a very good decision and I'm very glad that I stayed...

...I managed 8th place (out of 17), with an average time of 14.21 seconds (the photo below is my official timesheet; yes it's just an index card):


...all this despite only having bought a 2x2x2 cube earlier in the day! So I didn't have a lot of time to practice solving the 2x2x2 cube. Luckily, my corners-first method was well-suited to solving the 2x2x2 (which is only made of corners, essentially) so the learning curve was not so steep. (Later on, after a few days of practice, my average dropped down to less than 12 seconds so I could've done better had I practiced earlier.) Here's a video of my best 2x2x2 solve (10.50 seconds):


All in all, my experience at the RCPO 2007 was a very memorable one. Not only did I come in the company of friends, I also made a couple of new speedcuber acquaintances: Victor, Benjo, Jerome, Vernon, and Mat! It also rekindled my passion for speedcubing and now I'm more determined than ever to reach new heights in speedcubing (i.e., beat my personal records), and hopefully win an event or two someday.

(I have an official record page with the WCA now... woohoo! Watch out for me in the future!)

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September 18, 2007
As I mentioned in my not-so-recent update, Andreé and I went on a 3-day, 2-night vacation in Boracay. Here is a selection of photos from the trip, which some of you have already seen and commented on. Took a lot of nice shots, thanks to my new camera! It was both our first trips (in recent memory) to Boracay so we were both very, very excited to visit one of our country's premier tourist destinations.


Day 1, August 12, Sunday. Our flight departed from Manila at around 9 AM. It was Andreé's first airplane trip, and understandably she had some flight jitters. But it was no big deal (it helped that I was there with her) and soon we were on our way. After a 30-minute flight to Aklan airport, a lengthy ride by land to the port, and a boat trip to Boracay island, we were soon at our hotel, the Boracay Tropics. It wasn't a beach-front hotel (around 5 minutes walk to the beach), but the room was absolutely fantastic!


We arrived sometime past noon so we took a walk along the beachfront, looking for a place to eat. We ended up eating at Mang Inasal, which wasn't the most "Boracay-ish" of restaurants, but the food was good. Neither of us expected that there'd be so many shops! Quite sad that Boracay has become so commercialized. There were so many vendors hawking their wares and we got so many offers of "Ser, ayland-haping, parasiling, dyetski." At first it was annoying but after a while we got so many offers it became something to laugh about.


In the afternoon, we dressed up in our beach attire and went for a dip in the ocean. The sand was clean and white, and the water clear and blue, probably better than we imagined! The waves were quite strong at this time of year but nothing that we couldn't handle. In the evening, we went for a dip in the hotel pool, and just had dinner at the hotel, too tired to go looking around for a place to eat.


Day 2, August 13, Monday. August 13 was the day of our second anniversary and it indeed turned out to be a memorable day! In the morning, we had breakfast at the hotel (good enough) and we dressed up, prepared to go island-hopping. Yes, we gave in to the guy who named the lowest price. We didn't go island-hopping just the two of us (that wouldn't be much fun, really); we went with three others: Flor, Malis (Andreé's officemates), and Malis' sister (sorry, forgot her name!), who just so happened to be in Boracay at the same time. There were some dark clouds which worried us a bit but the weather turned out fine.


Our first stop was a location near the boat station where we went snorkeling. I'm proud to say that I was able to overcome my fear and jump in the water! It was the first time for Andreé and I to go snorkeling. The view of the corals underwater was breathtaking and the tiny fish eagerly jumped at the Skyflakes crackers we were feeding them. It was an amazing experience.


After snorkeling, our boat took us to an privately-owned island called "Crystal Cove". As you can guess, there were a bunch of caves where we could go swimming. The island itself had a lot of trails where you could just walk around and take a look at the fantastic scenery; there were also a bunch of weird statues and animals in captivity. The first cave (aptly named Cave 1) was quite disappointing. The water wasn't very good and the "crystal" was actually artificially transplanted in the cave. Cave 2 was much better. The water was nicer and the girls had fun dipping in the water and looking for curious rocks.


We had to pass through a dark and cramped tunnel to get to Cave 2 and I had a tiny accident in the tunnel; watch out for it at 0:24 in the video below:



After Cave 2 we walked around the island some more and then headed back to our boat. Crystal Cove was the last stop and after that we went back "home" and bade farewell to our friends. Back on Boracay island, Andreé and I stuck around at the beach for a brief photo-shoot before heading back to the hotel.


Upon Borgy's suggestion, we went for dinner at Hawaiian BBQ. It was much farther from our hotel than we expected, but it was well worth the walk! We had baby back ribs, pork barbecue, and fresh mango juice. The food was delicious and affordable! Without a doubt it has to be one of the best restaurants in Boracay; you must try it if ever you're in Boracay!


After dinner, we had a photo taken of us showing off our beach figures (this is the only photo with me in it in this blog entry):


Day 3, August 14, Tuesday. Our last day in Boracay was fairly uneventful. We had to check out of the hotel at around noon and we spent the morning shopping for shirts and trinkets to take home. After that, we headed back to the hotel, packed up our bags, and waited for our ride back to the port and the rest of our journey home.


Best. Vacation. Ever.

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September 10, 2007
I've got a new camera, a Canon PowerShot A710IS. (Picture from Amazon.com, also see an in-depth review here.) This is the first digital camera I've ever bought for myself. It was heartily recommended to me by Andreé and I bought it through Andreé's officemate JC (thanks JC!) who came from Japan, where electronics are much cheaper than here in the Philippines. It set me back "only" 12,500 pesos; in most stores here, it sells for 24,500 so I definitely got a very good deal!

So far my experience with the A710IS has been absolutely fantastic... I love it! Why? Because it just works. Most of the shots I take with it turn out great straight out of the camera. Of course, some of that is my doing (hehehe) but still, this camera gives good results much more often than not. The image stabilization works like a charm and I never thought the 6x optical zoom would come in handy in so many situations. These two features make it possible to capture some shots which other cameras wouldn't be able to, like this shot below, which was taken from inside a moving vehicle. The 6x zoom helped me capture the entire scene through a tinted window which had just a small circular untinted part. The image-stabilization helped neutralize the bumps during the ride. (And it's amazing how I was able to keep the horizon straight!)


Also, I quite appreciate the A710IS' full manual controls (ISO, white balance, aperture, shutter speed, focus) since I'm trying to learn the ropes of digital photography. As an added bonus, it's still reasonably light and compact (it'll fit in your pocket) but not too small that it becomes difficult it to grip. It also runs on 2 AA batteries, so getting extra juice is never a problem.

On the minus side, like most non-DSLRs, it doesn't work too well in low-light conditions (especially indoors) but the image-stabilization helps out a bit here. It also has some trouble with high-contrast scenes, but again, this problem isn't specific to the A710IS. I also would've liked a vari-angle LCD like the A640, which can come in handy at times. But despite these shortcomings, the A710IS is a fantastic camera which really lets you just "point and shoot". If you want to look at some shots I took with my A710IS, check out my photos from our Boracay getaway (the camera arrived just two days before the trip!).

Since this was my first camera, I was very willing to burn some cash for accessories and whatnot. So I went and got myself a Sanyo Refresh Quick Charger Max (2700 mAh maximum, comes with two Sanyo 2700 mAh batteries) which I bought from Luey via TipidPC for only 1,400 pesos (thanks Luey!). I also bought an extra pair of Sanyo 2700 batteries (175 each), plus four Sanyo Eneloop batteries (99.50 each); I'll use the 2700s is my primary batteries and keep the Eneloops charged as backups. For storage, I bought a pqi 2 GB SD card (920 pesos from CD-R King) and for a case, I bought a Case Logic TBC-3 with lots of room for batteries for 580 pesos.

So all in all, I spent 15,228 pesos for the camera and extras. Still a bargain! What's next for me? A tripod!

(Addendum: Damn, maybe I should've waited for the A650 IS? 12.1 megapixels with a larger sensor than the A710, the newer DIGIC III processor with face-detection, a vari-angle, higher-resolution LCD, 6x optical zoom with image stabilization, and even a dedicated ISO button, it seems! Well worth it despite being heavier with 4 AA batteries. Oh well, such is the world of digital camera... there's a newer model every month!)

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September 06, 2007
This past month has been the busiest and most eventful one in recent memory (for me). It's rather ironic, therefore, that I have not posted a single meaningful update about my personal life in nearly two months. (With the lone exception of my birthday post, which was even one day overdue!)

Perhaps it's because this past month has been so overwhelming that I've lost the time and energy (but not the interest) to blog. So I'm planning to make up for it since I have quite a bit of free time on my hands now. Here's a brief rundown of what's been going on in my life:
  1. I went on a Boracay vacation with Andreé. Just a 3-day, 2-night getaway, which also coincided with our second anniversary last August 13. We both had a blast! Everything was perfect!
  2. I joined the 2007 Rubik's Cube Philippines Open (RCPO 2007). This was the first-ever official Rubik's Cube competition held in the Philippines, held last August 25, and I felt tremendously honored to be part of history. I did well for myself, I think: 17th (out of 28) in the 3x3x3 category, and 8th (out of 17) in the 2x2x2 category. Not bad at all! And now I have my own personal records page with the World Cube Association. Cool, huh?
  3. I've resigned from HP. Yes, I'm no longer an HP employee. My last working day was last Friday, August 31. I lasted exactly one year at HP; quite interesting, doncha think? My last few weeks at HP were also very eventful and memorable (and busy).
  4. I'll be joining Microsoft. Some of you already know this, but for the benefit of those who don't, yes, I'm joining Microsoft. I'll be working at their headquarters in Redmond, WA as a Software Development Engineer in Test (SDET) starting October 1. I'm very busy with my preparations (with my move and all) and I'll be flying to the U.S. on September 27.
A lot of shocking and surprising developments, huh? I'll write more about those events in the next few posts. It should be much easier to write now that I've regained some of my momentum again.

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About me



Mark Punzalan
a.k.a. "Punzki"
Location: Redmond, WA
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