Thursday, August 13, 2009

The River

(re-edited, re-posted)

There was a time when this river was his only friend.

He had grown up by the river Constantine, biggest and mightiest river in the land. As a child, he had never noticed how it affected his life.

But things change.

Things have changed. He now owned most of this land – both on the left and right banks of the river. He led the people, he administered to their needs and the needs of the land and so he knew one thing for a fact -- the very life of his land and people depended on this river.

As a kid, he never really cared for it that much. The Constantine was a veritable playground -- adventures waiting to happen on its banks as he and his playmates frolicked on afternoons when the chores got done early. It was a picnic place for his family on Sundays after church. It was a source of cool when the heat beat down on a crazy summer's day.

As he grew up, it was as though the river became increasingly a part of his life as well. He could still remember his first catch, a trout -- when his uncles took him fishing the first time. It was the price of manhood it seemed, and the 7-inch fish earned him the praise of these men.

He smiled as he remembered his first kiss, because you never forgot such moments. The river was witness to that, as well as the moon. He then had his heart broken soon afterward, and again the raging waters were privy to his tears.

As years were added to his life, his respect for the river grew. The old ones would talk about it almost with awe and reverence -- he understood that now. The land produced plenty or few at the will of the river, its waters carrying minerals from its source in the mountain ranges to fatten the land. Or it withheld its blessing.

Year after year the rainy season came, and the people were under its mercy. The villages along the banks knew well of the force of the floods. They took these all in stride though because it is the way of the river. You get used to it. You live and die by it.

He used to sit on his favorite rock watching the river in its flood stage -- strangely, he enjoyed the river's rage. It was irresistible - the might of Constantine's waters rushed through the land with so much force that it broke out into other small tributaries that spread out into the land, ultimately pushing its way into the coast.

And so as he stood here on the Constantine's banks today, a deep sadness enveloped his soul. He took off his shoes and waded into the water. His bodyguards were immediately at his side, but he motioned them away. A man of influence he was, but this was something he had to go through himself.

He stepped into the Constantine -- you can't even call it a river now. It was... a stream, a mere trickle of the mighty raging flood it used to be. The stream's clear water flowed over his toes as his bare feet moved among the colored pebbles. The waters seemed to recognize him, a feeling of deep calm coming over him as he walked along the water.

It has been a year now since the last raging flood was observed on the Constantine. Over the past year, the water level had steadily dropped, the river providing no reason whatsoever for its lethargy. The people voiced out their theories as to why the river's waters waned. Logically, well...

There was no explanation.

The amount of rain had been the same all throughout the year, as with the years that have past. Why should this year be any different?

He was still walking through the water, his destination now within sight, but a million thoughts still bombarded his soul. He wanted the river to come back, yes, with all his heart. It's as if his life has suddenly developed a thirst for Constantine's rage -- the rage that was no more. Of course, issues of the land still demanded his attention, but this one came back, over and over again, on nights where he would wish to hear these waters pushing forth.

His favorite rock was still there, occupied by an old man. The man, well into the last few years of his life, looked at him as if he expected him to say something. There was nothing to say except...

"You're in my spot."

The old man gave a hint of a smile, and did nothing -- he would not give up his seat, it seemed. He, on the other hand, couldn't find anything else to do or say at that moment, and so he sat there beside him. The silence was getting awkward.

"You miss it too, eh?"

"I do. Deeply." There were no other words to describe it.

"And it seems wanting it back is not enough."

He nodded. There was wisdom in that statement somewhere, it seemed, only that he didn't have the will to dig for it at the moment.

"The river has a source, you know, way up in the mountains. I've been there, once. The look on your face says you have not seen it as yet."

"No, sir, I have not."

"Satisfy your curiosity, then. Go and see it, that you can tell that story as well when you're my age. Heh heh." The old man laughed, then smiled a sad smile at the fleeting memory.

"It is a spring. A hole in the ground, would you believe? If only to see what is wrong, I suggest that you go and see it. Yes, that is my suggestion."

The young man looked up into the mountains. The old one was getting up and walking away.

"But the land has its affairs. Surely, I can't just go and leave the land to look at a hole in the ground?"

The old man was walking away, but replied, "Pssshh. The land can take care of itself for the few days that you will be gone up in the mountains. When you come back, your affairs will still be here. But you will have seen what I have seen. Then this thing you would not lack, as you lack it now."

The younger man stood up and walked away as well, but with a strange new purpose in his stride. His feet were still in the water among the pebbles, but his head was already making that trip up to the mountains.

Come down, pour out on me...
- Dan Haseltine

Monday, August 3, 2009

your grace is enough

how do you say this without any hint of doubt or fear in your head?

how do you say this when you barely get by? how do you say this when you know and you're afraid that "ït is not enough" or, "i'm hoping it will be, but i just don't see how it could be" -- enough, that is?

why did You put a heart in me that is so accustomed to doubt, that so easily magnifies the bad and forgets the good?

how do I convince myself that I am not the sum of all the crap that I do? (because yeah, that's how i feel.)

i feel like i'm setting myself up for a practical joke or something -- that at the last minute You'll swoop in for the rescue, or in hindsight, i will see that yes, it was enough. but what if you don't come? will i have the strength to say "...but know, O king, that even if He doesn't, we will not bow to your statue"?

why do You operate that way? why torture me with the wait, or have me doubt You? is that of any good to You or anyone else? already, I feel crappy about the way I can sing Your praises only when it's good for me, and then without any hesitation doubt You when it's not. forgive my heart, it does that, most of the time.

i guess it really all boils down to this -- i don't know how to trust You genuinely.

yes, after all that You have done, after all that You have proven, after all Your faith in me -- this is how my heart is -- it forgets. i realize that You have absolutely no burden on You to prove Yourself faithful to me, but You have chosen to do so numerous times -- You did it all knowing my heart will continue to be this selfish.

i can't help it. i want to trust You -- but I don't know how to.

teach me.

"So remember Your people
Remember Your children
Remember Your promise
Oh God

Your grace is enough
Your grace is enough
Your grace is enough for me"

- Chris Tomlin

Monday, June 1, 2009

i actually have a choice now, a real one

See, most self-admitted audiophiles like me have a problem: we like to be drowned by music whenever we feel like it, wherever we feel like it. This means my music needs to follow me around, hence the need for a portable audio player.

The concept of music on-the-go is by no means a new one -- Sony and its infamous Walkman audio tape player paved the way for generation of steadily evolving micro gadgets that give you what you need. In our era, digital portable audio players (I never owned a Sony Walkman; I have owned numerous digital audio players, though) are dime-a-dozen – you picks one and you enjoys it. One brand has set itself up as a cut above the rest – the iPod.

The iPod was, and probably still remains in the minds of most people, the Michael Jordan of portable digital audio players. Steve Jobs’ ticket to the big time, his legacy to this world, was a definitive culture of tech-inspired citizens, all sporting telltale white earbuds on each side of their heads.

For an audiophile like me, the pressure to get one was considerable. I used to be content with 1 to 2 gigabyte models from an ubiquitous local gadget store whose name I refuse to mention (I am not a regular patron there – I only get stuff from them when I am in desperate need). But that was if you chose to not mind the lata(tin can) sound, resulting from reprogrammed sound firmware (oooh, those Filipinos are so good at re-programming) and even crappier earphones. But what could I do? I wasn’t going to spend that much for a portable gadget. Ano ako, hilo?


I got my 60GB monster iPod video (it was a monster at that time) 2 years ago. I got one for the bebe too, at the constant pushing of Ailene. As a budding musician (ilang years na ba akong “budding”?), owning a portable player which could contain 60GB of songs (1 song=5MB; 1GB=1000MB therefore 2000 songs; 60GB was like… you get the idea) was mind blowing. But after a year of using it, you kinda start noticing the stuff that says, "oh well, so an iPod is not perfect." No customizable equalizer on the gadget itself – and I love my equalizers, so that was a bummer. Sound normalization from file to file was crappy – low bitrate files are very much noticeable when listening in shuffle mode. And yes, you needed the iTunes to do anything with it. But so what? It was the only one that was of quality out there. Better an iPod than nothing at all. Pogi points were still, undeniably, pogi points.

Enter (stage right) my good friend Ida. She invited me to Route196 at Katipunan, well-known music venue for people who like their music just that way – good or better. Phillips was putting out a new line of products in the market, a portable digital audio player. As I listened through the discussion of what the product was and what its features were – I was saying to myself, “Who are they kidding? The iPod was still the big dog in the neighborhood.” The features were, at that point in time I thought, a reach. Good sound engineering, full sound enhancement – if they could pull it off, maybe then it would be a good product. And yes, still a big MAYBE, at that point. But I wasn’t going to pass up the chance to try a new gadget, so what the heck, I gave the GoGear 4GB Spark a spin over the weekend, and gave my iPod a rest.

Ok, so yeah, it sounds good.

No actually, who are we kidding? It sounded great! Does it sound , dare we say, better than the iPod? Let’s get to that later.

It was a “no frills” gadget, small for a 4GB device (smaller than an iPod mini). Plug it to your USB port, drag and drop music, spin it up.

I put special attention to the tracks I put in. At first try, my iPod-drowned ears did notice a difference in sound quality, but I wanted to be sure. Maybe, Phillips’ pre-loaded tracks were digitally engineered, so yeah, let me try my own tracks. I put in a mix of RnB (to test for bass quality), jazz, and rock files. I also put in files with different bitrates, so that I could test how the device normalized the sound from track to track.

Over the weekend, I used all the "alone time" I had to test out the Spark. I was actually surprised at the sound quality. Those people at Phillips are actually daring you (the consumer) to test out your portable audio device and compare the sound with theirs. This I actually did, and I was surprised with the results.

First the FullSound feature, which was Phillips way of saying “Well, we put back into the file what MP3 and WMA compression takes away”, was undeniably better than raw MP3 sound. Even when equalized (through my now-offended iPod), FullSound still fared better at giving you the widest range of sound possible. There were a number of equalizer settings too. One caveat, though, you can’t use the FullSound feature with equalizer. It makes sense, I guess. FullSound is meant to recapture how the music was mixed down from the studio and how it was originally equalized. No sense spoiling that with other equalizer settings, eh?

While I liked the FullSound feature, I also tried the other EQ settings – and viola! – absolutely fell in love with the Jazz EQ setting. The trebles were mild (as they should be) but I was taken by the bass sound. Not the usual treble-ly bass mix from other Jazz presets, it was a full oomph! sound – very, very defined. It also wasn’t the invasive (read: gives you a headache) bass sound that pseudo-cool rich kids have playing from their Kenwood car audio systems, it was phat enough to make you bob your head, but suave enough to get you aroused by a true upright contrabass jazz sound.

For the hardcore in you, you can tweak the 5-band graphic EQ to your liking (don’t have this in your pod) – again, this is if you’re a total wiener and don’t trust me – just drown on the Jazz preset, dammit.

The sound normalization from track to track was amazing. Again, I am speaking as an unrepentant downloader – the main problem here is that the music I download comes in different bitrates and various formats. Usually, on the iPod, I notice a huge volume and tone difference from 128kbps mp3s to the ones at 196kbps – the tone jump from 96kbps, even in mp3PRO format to 256kbps is just horrendous. Not so with the Spark, I am happy to report. I don’t know if they consciously did something about this, but the volume and tone difference from 96kbps mp3PRO to 256kbps raw mp3 is pretty much negligible. There goes one of my other problems.

On the downside, the earphones that came with my 4GB Spark, although not totally crappy, I found them lacking for my purposes. Sorry, Phillips guys, for total satisfaction, you may need to put in a better pair of earphones here. In-ear models would be ideal. For my purposes, I used my own – a pair of Pioneer SE-CL21 in-ear monitors. They did just fine (fiiiiine). I’m not that rich, so I can’t afford them Sennheiser CX300s. But darnit, I think the GoGear line would sound heavenly with those.

Did I tell you it was drag and drop? Yes, no software interfaces in between. Isn’t that just great? And yes there is a sound recorder (4GB is a lot of space for that), an FM radio (but why?), and a JPEG image displayer.

So, you feel I’m totally sold on the GoGear? So maybe I am. For me, if it sounds better, it just made itself practically more viable. And yes, if it costs cheaper, that’s a bonus (I guess, hehe). Seriously though, if it sounds better AND costs cheaper, why is that not a better argument?

I, admittedly, set a very high standard for my portable music needs. I like my music to be detailed but not noisy, the bass should be persuasive but not invasive, the trebles bright but not scratchy. For all these, I actually like the sound of my GoGear Spark. Now if you are a certified audiophile, don’t take my word for it. Go to the GoGear street launch on June 6 at Bonifacio High Street. Bring your current portable audio player for comparison. Give the GoGear a spin, and hear it for yourself. Don’t take my word for it – that would just be stupid, right?

Now, as for the question, “Does it sound better than your iPod?” – my answer to that is, for the first time, I actually feel now that I have a choice in the matter of choosing my portable audio player. Now, something actually stepped up as good competition, and it might just give the people at Apple a good run.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

blllp! i posted.

so ang hirap talagang gumimik pag taga-probinsya ka.

well, not really... San Pedro, is just on the outskirts of the metro. Still, it's an hour bus ride to where the happenin' places usually are -- whether it be a get-together with friends, or a movie, or goin' out to watch our favorite bands, and we don't have a car yet. (note to self: get married na, so you can get a car... or three)
with last friday's case, the reason we travelled to the metro at night was a band, or... errr, a lot of them. Earth Day Jam 08 was happenin' in Morato and the bebe wanted to see her band of the moment (more on this later). so it was a quarter after 8 when we got there, and we realized that the access to Morato coming from the rotunda (if you're coming in from GMA like we did) was closed. in fact, that portion near the circle was being used as the backstage area for the show, so we had to trek all around the block, and into a tangible wall of smell coming from the usual battalion of cute emo kids (read: punkelitos and punkelitas) just to get to our friends who incidentally wanted to jam, too -- churchmates Julie, Cathy, and Belen.

so when we got to them, their pwesto was not really good for fanboys and fangirls, so we scouted and so an almost perfect position, the veranda on the other side of the street, which belongs to Yellow Cab Pizza. the bebe and I exchanged looks. that meant we had to spend for pizza and drinks. in the end it was a no brainer. pizza and drinks WITH good music was always gonna be a winner.

so when we got to the other side, the veranda area was being used for a party, and we had to wait 'til around 10pm to get up. and so we waited. a number of jazz and folk bands played, so we were entertained while waiting anyways. when we finally got up there, the veranda was fully occupied, so we had to get a table inside, and just stand up outside when we wanted to watch a band. it was a good enough compromise, so we got ourselves the barbeque chicken pizza, soda and we were ready to rock.

as I was saying, the bebe's band of the moment is Sino Sikat?. =) this jazz-funk-rock-soul band was fronted by the gorjus Kat Agarrado, and had their own unique sound. i really like them too. good music and a hot vocalist, nice combo for me. hehehe. anyways, back to the story. so we finally got a table in the veranda area around 11:45pm, and we enjoyed the bands thoroughly. the bebe was waiting for Sino Sikat? to take the stage, 'coz it was getting late and we had to get back south pa, pero sayang naman kung hindi namin sila makita. the bebe already saw Kat in the backstage area (the view that whole area was accessible to us in the veranda), so she insisted on waiting.

i think it happened while some obscure band was playing (reggae mistress yata) when who else but the gorjus Kat walked into Yellow Cab's veranda area!!! She was with some of her bandmates. i was daring for the bebe to get the autograph she so desired. as usual, she chickened out (pis bebe), and I had to get it for her. got myself digitized with her as well. in the end, i finally convinced the bebe to get herself photographed as well. viola!

all in all, pretty much a good friday night out. =)