When Free Video Streaming Abounds, Who Needs Netflix?

After being a Netflix member for 21 years, I finally terminated the service in August 2019. Did I miss it? The answer is 10% YES and 90% NO.

At least, for me, the service is no longer a necessity, so eliminating it from the monthly household bill was an easy decision.

But what were the real reasons why I decided to terminate my Netflix subscription? For one, it was not really the cost. The last monthly bill was only for $15.99 (Premium Plan).

In the U.S., Netflix started in 1998 as a DVD-by-mail service. By late 2006, it began to offer a few movies to stream online but only through the use of PCs. When standalone media streaming devices like Roku proliferated, Netflix started its streaming only subscriptions in 2010.

My official Netflix cancellation notice last Aug 2019.  Looking forward--- what's next after video on demand?
After 21 years of being a Netflix subscriber, l had never looked back since August 1, 2019. Looking forward to something new.

In 2011, Netflix split-off its DVD-by-mail service (dvd.netflix.com) and streaming-only service (Netflix.com). While both units are still active and profitable (note: the DVD-by-mail service is available only in the U.S.), its streaming-only business had been the main driver of growth as it was able to offer this service on a global scale.

Netflix through the years. This was the 2011 e-mail when they informed subscribers of the split of the DVD-by-mail and online-streaming business.

Which leads to the question –why did I terminate my Netflix (streaming-only) membership when it such a good deal?

Here are my answers:

#1. Amazon Prime. Yes, membership ($119 plus tax a year or $10.90 a month, tax inclusive) with the world’s online superstore includes unlimited viewing of Prime Video movies. Their selection had been growing by leaps and bounds despite being a latecomer in the streaming-only business.

When I had both (Netflix & Amazon Prime), I noticed that I was watching more and more movies with Prime than Netflix. Most movies that are available on DVD sometimes don’t make it in the streaming-only format in Netflix — but I happen to find them in Amazon Prime. And. if you love documentaries and other hard to find movies in the streaming-only format, nothing beats Amazon Prime.

#2. Free Streaming Sites (Ads supported or Totally-Free) . During the last three (3) years alone, the apps as well as Internet TV channels that are in my media streamers and Smart TVs had grown to a gazillion. Although some of them had come and gone, in the U.S., apps like Tubi, Roku, Popcornflix, Pluto, FilmRise, IMDb (acquired by Amazon), YouTube plus tons of others had been offering both totally free or ads-supported movies and TV shows for the last few years now.

You can even have totally-free (with no ads) streaming service by just being a member of your local library (Kanopy, in the U.S.).

The apps or websites as well as content-aggregators mentioned above may not have the latest offerings or come only in SD (standard definition) format or that it may have viewing caps (like Kanopy, at fifteen (15) movies a month), the tons of choices from all of them are more than enough for the casual viewer.

#3. Your Internet Service Provider (ISP). Most ISPs in the U.S. today have their own streaming-only portal built-in to the service. They offer both free and paid streaming videos and some – like Comcast/Xfinity- will even give you a free media streamer of their own. Comcast/Xfinity just recently renamed their video streaming portal, Peacock.

Lastly, #4. Netflix itself. A lot of movies released on DVD don’t make to the streaming-only format with Netflix — which was the main reason I joined them in 1998. During their early days, they offered the best selection of movies on DVD from the comforts of your home with free shipping and no late fees. Their concept was such a huge hit among movie buffs that it forced the big brick and mortar video rental firms like Hollywood Video and Blockbuster out of business.

Netflix’s 2007 e-mail to subscribers. Note that online-streaming was available only through the use of computers and was capped for just 14 hours a month..
Just a year later, in 2008, and with the proliferation of dedicated media streaming devices like the Roku, Netflix members were upgraded to unlimited online-streaming.

To keep their streaming-only customers beholden to the service, they had resorted to producing their own films and TV shows. And released they did – all episodes of shows are all in one big bundle that you’ll bound to waste a lot of your precious time on this planet and led to the term, binge-watching.

After 21 years, I missed Netflix only by 10% because I might go back to their DVD-by-mail service only.

But, then again, times have changed. Today, for their $7.95 a month subscription (unlimited but only one (1) DVD rented out), I can have more than one (1) DVD — as my very own.

A Deal Better Than Black Friday – $17 Linksys Router

Once in a rare while, while shopping, you will find an item that is priced so ridiculously low that you’ll have to convince yourself that a). there’s an obvious pricing mistake made by an employee, b). a mischievous person switched price tags, c). there must be something wrong with the item, or, d). you must be just plain lucky to be at the right time and place.

Exactly two weeks before Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) of this year while doing my early morning grocery shopping at the retail chain store that made someone from Oklahoma spectacularly rich and famous, two (2) sealed boxes of Linksys AC1200+ Gigabit Router sat among other gadgets atop one of the shelves in the electronics department.

This $17 Linksys router may not be top-of-the-line model, but the price tag is simply too good to pass-up on

I was there to get some eggs, milk, a few cans of Spam & some other ingredients for a seafood dinner as well as new SkinGuard razor blades. But, definitely, not shopping for any electronics that particular day.

But, for a tech-junkie, how can I pass-up and not buy a brand-new, in still-sealed-box Linksys dual-band router with 4 Gigabit Ethernet ports & a USB 3.0 port — for just $17 ????

It’s an older model alright -after I checked on the product specs on my phone- but, nonetheless grabbed a box and headed off to the nearest price scanner to verify the price. It was not a mirage. It was really $17.

Back at home, I pondered what to do with my latest score. I already have two latest model Netgear routers as well as indoor & outdoor Hawking WiFi extenders – already a bit too much for such a small area of about 5K square feet.

Three days after my purchase, I had decided just to store the still-sealed router in the attic –as a backup unit.

It was only after three weeks that I would find out that the $17 Linksys router would serve as my new indoor WiFi extender after I discovered that the Hawking was no longer functioning.

Operating as a WiFi extender, this $17 dual-band Linksys router has 4 gigabit Ethernet ports to hook up even more devices

Tying it up with my other 2 Netgear routers & making it operate as a dedicated WiFi extender -to the 2nd NG router that serves as an access point– was a bit tricky and took a bit of time.

But, the effort was well worth the $17 price tag.

Second Impressions: The Tesla Model 3

Last week, Don, my brother-in-law picked up his metallic deep-blue  Tesla Model 3 from one the company’s showrooms –they sell their cars direct and not through a dealership–  in Fremont, California.

A year ago, he had put up a US$ 1,000 deposit for the promised US$35, 000 Model 3 unit that had just gotten off Tesla’s designers drawing boards and into production mode at that time.

The Tesla Model 3  was supposed to catapult the fledgling company into the mainstream car market.

All their previous models, the Roadster, the Model S  as well as the Model X (an SUV – sports utility vehicle) are relatively expensive that only a few middle-income American consumers could to afford it.

Tesla had been in the forefront in the rebirth of the all-electric vehicle boom that had seen the release of competing models from the big Japanese and European car makers  -notably Nissan (the ‘Leaf‘) and BMW (the i3 – with the latest release, a 2-cylinder ‘range extender’ engine is now just optional )- as well as from the top 2 American car firms — General Motors (the Chevy ‘Bolt‘) and Ford (coming up with its ‘CUV‘).

Tesla Model 3 interior - driver seat perspective
The Model 3’s simple interior and almost bare dashboard is both a boon and a bane

As it turned out, Tesla’s promised consumer-friendly price tag of US$35,000 for the Model 3 ‘base model’ ballooned to almost US$57,000 after the company failed in its promise to offer one with the ‘standard batteries‘ during the consumer rollout.

Eager to drive home with his Model 3, Don was literally compelled to buy a more expensive unit with long-range (up to 310 miles) batteries + premium exterior with rear-wheel drive.  His choice of color, deep blue metallic (extra $1500), alloy sports wheels (extra $1500) set him back another $3,000 plus all the taxes and fees.

The price would have gone even so much higher had he opted for one with an all-wheel drive (extra $6,000 for the ‘basic’ all-wheel drive and extra $15,000 for the ‘performance’ all-wheel drive) & enhanced Autopilot (extra $5,000).

After all the extras, a fully loaded, top-of-the-line Model 3 goes for about $75,500 before all the taxes and fees –and that’s not a price for the average consumer.  For all that money, you could buy four (4)  brand-new (latest model) Toyota Corollas and still have a few thousands left in your pocket.

Charging the car at home via a dedicated 240V outlet.

So for the US$57K price he shelled out -before Federal & State tax incentives- Don’s Model 3 car should, at least, be impressive.  It is but not without some drawbacks.

Most electric cars have impressive torques and the rear-wheel drive Model 3 can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in about 5.1 seconds.  The car’s handling was also impressive as the 19″ wheels were big enough to mitigate some road imperfections.

You can’t say enough praise for all the tech goodies inside and outside the car with its gaggle of radars, sensors, cameras, software updates for the touchscreen control panel as well as the very impressive all-glass roof.   All of the Model 3’s glass parts including the windows were made by Saint-Gobain Sekurit which traces its roots all the way back to 1665 in France as the Royal Glass Works.

The Model 3’s all-glass, UV protective roof is very impressive. Those 2 micro LED pin lights provide just enough illumination for the passengers at the back

And, as this is an all-electric vehicle, you tend to rely less on the brakes to slow down the car —just release your foot on the accelerator and you accomplish two things: 1). slows the car down to halt and 2). you charge the batteries (regenerative braking).

Let’s get to the things that I didn’t like about the Tesla Model 3:

Firstly, the door handles.  Opening a door is a two-handed affair.  What??? You have the push the recessed handle with one hand and grab the handle’s end once it pops out with your other hand —yes, just to open a door.

If you’re quick, you can grab open Tesla’s Model 3 with one hand. For most others, opening a door is a two-handed affair.

Second, there is no manual override just to open the glovebox compartment.  To open it, you to have to turn on the touchscreen tablet (which acts as the sole instrument panel and controls everything inside the car) and push the ‘open glovebox‘ button.  Too cool but also too dumb.  Any determined thief can simply use a screwdriver and force it open.

Third, and as mentioned above, the car relied too much on the 15″ touchscreen tablet located right smack in the center of the dashboard.  I honestly believe that Tesla did it to cut cost in guise of the ‘cool factor’.

Truly functional or just for the 'cool factor'???
This 15″ touchscreen tablet is the only instrument panel inside the Tesla Model 3.

This is specially too distracting when driving around the city as you have to deal with all the functionalities of the car on a touchscreen panel.  As if texting while driving is just not bad enough.

Fourth, for the steep price tag on any premium variants of the Tesla Model 3, real leather seats should be standard.  As it is, the ‘premium interior’ model could only boast of a faux leather in black.

Lastly, except for topping-off the windshield washer fluid, there’s nothing a Tesla Model 3 owner who’s keen on maintaining the car himself can do much.  Most of the other end-user replaceable parts & fluids are either hidden underneath the car’s chassis –where the engine sits in your typical internal combustion vehicle is now a front luggage compartment-  or, not that easily accessible.

This means that if ever the car needs even the most simple maintenance, you may have to take it back to a Tesla dealership.  Bottom line: costlier upkeep. 

There are other minor flaws that needs no mentioning and can be ignored but the ones above are just simply too obvious to be overlooked.

After all, Tesla’s mass production model cars -starting with the 2012 Model S- had only been around for just a few years.  Improvements should come in their next iterations of those models.

That is, if  -with their massive debt and government subsidies in the form of tax incentives that’s ending soon-  they will remain viable and, most importantly, become profitable, as a company in the coming years.

Fun Little Drone: Ryze Tello Adventures

Old habits die hard and R/C flying is one of them.

Since I caught the aerial remote-control bug during my almost 4-year stint in Saudi Arabia in the early 80s, I had really never forgotten this sometimes expensive hobby.  They say that in the heart of hearts of adventurous people lie the extreme desire to fly like birds.

R/C flying had come a long way since the days of gas-powered COX engines and radio controllers with telescopic antennas –with small banners attached to them that denoted the radio frequencies.

In today’s world dominated by computers, software, cell phones and other Internet-connected devices, it comes as no surprise that the hobby of R/C flying had also evolved to take advantage of them.

Today, you no longer need a dedicated controller to operate an R/C device –a smartphone and the appropriate app will do it for you.  Changing crystals (to change radio frequency transmission) inside the transmitters are so passé –almost all new R/C these days have Wi-Fi built-in (mostly, at 2.4 GHz) and utilize that same wireless frequency to connect to the smartphone.   Bluetooth is also built-in for pairing with a dedicated remote controller for easier flying.

Just attach a smartphone (with the Tello app) to the controller and you're all set!
A Wi-Fi extender (shown here attached to a battery pack) and a Bluetooth controller for extra fun.

More sophisticated but expensive models incorporate a GPS, 1080p or 4K cameras propped on small but high-end gimbals as well as a gaggle of extras for easy maneuvering even at long-range distances.  Not to mention longer flight times as well as apps with sophisticated features.

Currently, a Chinese company called DJI dominates the aerial R/C market and had relegated the term ‘R/C’ into something more futuristic — ‘drone‘.

The drone market had literally exploded in the last six or so years after amateur and professional photographers alike had made them an essential part of their toolkits to take visually-stunning aerial photos and video footages.

Unedited photo taken with the DJI-Ryze Tello at 15 meters up in the air.

DJI not only makes a variety of off-the-shelf hobbyist drones that caters to everyone’s budget but also custom-made ones depending on the application — be it in military, science, agriculture, engineering, and of course, the movie industry.

To capture the lowest end of the hobbyist drone market, DJI partnered with Intel and Shenzhen, China-based Ryze Tech and brought out the Ryze Tello.

You could dress-up the Ryze Tello with skins to make your unit stand-out!!
The fun-to-fly Ryze Tello drone (shown here with a packet of some unique ‘skins’)

It’s a vision positioning system-equipped US$99 toy-hobbyist drone with a programmable Intel processor as well as a 5-megapixel 720p camera (at 30 fps) -not sure though, if some Hasselblad technologies were incorporated after DJI bought into the Swedish camera company in 2015- as well as some other tech goodies packed in 80 grams -battery included- of good-quality plastic and miniature circuit boards.

It’s basically a very, very small home computer with a nice webcam that flies.

What makes this little toy drone so fun is that it won’t hurt your pocketbook so much if ever you crash or lose it.  But, it’s so stable to fly that the only way you can lose or damage it is to fly it in very windy conditions.

In actual use, the Ryze Tello flies for a good 10 minutes -specs say 13 mins.- on a full charge with a range of about 100 meters.  But hacks like using a US$10 Wi-Fi repeater or range extender improves not only the range but also the video quality transmission.

Also, software hacks like TALS (free) and Altitude Limit for Tello (US$ 0.99) – but both are available only for iOS devices– can extend the 10 meter height limit of this little drone to 10x or 100 meters.  Be careful though as the vision positioning system of the drone gets compromised at over 10 meters.

Accessories for the Tello are also inexpensive like the US$29 GameSir T1d Bluetooth controller and about US$ 15 to $25 for a 3 to 4  battery-charging hub.  Extra original batteries -made by FullyMax– are about US$19.

These prices might be even lower if you get the Ryze Tello in ‘bundle deals‘.  I once saw a DJI stall inside a very popular shopping mall in downtown San Francisco selling the Ryze Tello with an extra battery for as low as US$ 89.

These Tello accessories, a power bank and your smartphone are all you need to master flying this fun drone!
Inexpensive Ryze Tello accessories: GameSir T1d Bluetooth controller, Wi-Fi extender (beside silver packet), extra original battery and Tello battery charging hub

All in all, for about US$ 200, you can truly enjoy the thrills of R/C flying -or, shall I say, drone flying- without the nasty additional expenses associated with the learning experience alone.

Once you had mastered -it’s so easy-flying this tiny toy drone or, simply has grown tired of it but truly enjoys aerial photography, then, you could upgrade to a DJI Spark…and then to a Mavic Air, Mavic 2 or Pro.

April 2019 update:

In late 2018, a new app -available only for Android- called Tello FPV + RTH was released by a German hobbyist called Volate!lo.  Priced at $5.49, the feature-rich app made the Ryze Tello drone much more capable particularly the return-to-home feature in spite of the unit’s lack of a GPS.

Last November 2018, Ryze sold their Tello Boost Combo at a discounted price of only $99 (plus tax) from the current/regular price of $149 (plus tax) at DJI’s website.

The package includes the Tello drone, two (2) sets of spare propellers, three (3) original FullyMax flight batteries, a 3-battery charging hub and the USB cable.

All the contents in the Boost Combo set would have easily cost between $150 to $170 if purchased individually.

It was such a steal that I couldn’t resist but to get one as a spare unit.

A new app -currently available only for Android- called Tello FPV + RTV by Volate!lo makes this beginner drone uber fun!
Ryze Tech ‘Boost Combo’ package includes the Tello aircraft, two (2) sets of spare propellers, three (3) original FullyMax aircraft batteries, a 3-battery charging hub & the USB cable — all for US$ 99 during their 2018 November sale

Also, early this year, Ryze Tech released an Iron Man Edition of their best-selling beginner drone for die-hard Marvel fans and currently sells for US$ 129 (plus tax).

It is essentially the same Tello unit except for the Iron Man-themed protective shell, colors and trims of predominantly metallic-red and gold.   This special edition Tello also comes with its very own app called Tello Hero.

Note that you can use the standard Tello app to fly the Iron Man Edition Tello aircraft but you can’t use the special Tello Hero app to fly the $99 ‘ordinary edition’ Tello.

But, of course, you can also use the much better Tello FPV +RTH app by VolaTe!lo on the Iron Man Edition unit.

A must-buy for all Marvel fans and avid Tello flyers!

Diamond Multimedia Rio 500: The Trouble With Goodbye is Hello

Sorting out my tech stuff in the attic for spring cleaning, I was surprised to discover a cache of old MP3 players.  Among them were five (5) Rio 500s made by Diamond Multimedia in the late 1990s.  They all came complete with odd-looking (smaller than a standard 5-pin Mini B) USB cables together with some old batteries.

Why I had 5 of them I had totally forgotten. Excitedly, I put on a fresh Duracell AA battery into one of them and slid the switch on. The unit’s small, rectangular (1.5″ x 0.57″) screen glowed a warm blue hue and the first track in the playlist appeared.  This thing still works!

The unit has 64MB of memory built-in and a SmartMedia card slot for more songs
The Diamond Rio 500 MP3 Player and its unusual USB cable

The Diamond Rio 500 Digital Audio Player was one of the early MP3 players that tried vainly to simplify the intricate and sometimes confusing domain of digital music transfer and rights management until Apple’s iTunes hit the jackpot in 2001.

Released in 1999 for about US$270, the sleek 3.5″ x 2.75″ x 0.6″ gizmo (just slightly thicker than a deck of playing cards) came with 64MB of memory built-in, a SmartMedia card slot for expansion, a minimalistic design, RioPort Audio Manager software and, most importantly, a USB interface.

Note that RioPort Audio Manager was a Windows-only interface when it was released.  It would take three (3) ex-Apple software engineers to port it for the Mac (worked well under Mac OS 7.x to 9.x) that same year and called it SoundJam MP

SoundJam, the company, was eventually bought out by Apple in 2000 and whose codes would eventually result in – you guessed it correctlyiTunes 1.0.

Today, there are still a slew of digital audio players that eschew iTunes yet are still so easy to use because of the USB cable plus the fact that computer OSes had become so much betterjust drag and drop your audio files!

So, the Rio 500 has a USB interface and I have the original USB cable, so transferring a few MP3s using the latest versions of Windows, Mac OS, Linux or even Chrome should be easy, right?

The trouble with goodbye is hello. Or, should that be, “hello again”?

The trouble with trying to use old technologies using modern tools are the accompanying hassles that naturally comes with them.

No, the Rio 500 won’t simply come up as just another USB device after I connected the unique USB cable on any one of my latest computers.

It only worked -transferred a few more MP3s- after I was able to get hold of an ancient Dell Latitude (with a vintage Pentium 233 MMX CPU) laptop -luckily, with a solitary USB port–  that operated under Windows ME (Millennium Edition).

Fortunately, the laptop has a single USB port for the unusual cable
An ancient Dell Latitude CPi (with a Pentium MMX processor) laptop running Windows ME

And, thanks to a software called RIOsitude (v3.12) that was provided by the open-source community, I was able to transfer a few MP3s to the vintage player via USB.  Back in 1999, an MP3 player holding about 20 songs (at 128 Kbps bit rate) in its internal memory was impressive enough.

RIOsitude 3.12 delivered the 'goodies' to the Rio 500 audio player!
The Open Source community delivered once more to make this MP3 player usable; the player runs on one (1) AA battery!

Today, most portable gadgets are designed for ‘planned obsolescence‘ and that is why it’s always nice and fun to rediscover technologies of yesteryears.

While my 6th-generation iPod nano -released 2010-had been out of service for almost 3 years now after the tiny built-in lithium ion battery inside gave up & trying to open it up required the skill set of a world-class surgeon, this 20 year old music player still works.

As long as you have the right tools, there’s a good chance that those gadgets that were made 20-30 years ago- or, even older- would still be operational today.

Besides, what MP3 or high-resolution audio player today uses an AA battery as its power source?

 

Notes: You can download the English version of RIOsitude (v 3.12) as well as the USB drivers for Diamond RIO 500 MP3 player as a zipped package here. Please note that these would work only under Windows 98, ME & Windows 2000.

Toshiba Aurex System 10: Still Playing After All Those Years

On the last week of January of this year, I was reunited with my vintage Toshiba Aurex System 10 hi-fi stereo set that I had been using in Manila since 1984.

I had purchased the micro hi-fi system back in 1982 in the commercial district of Al-Batha, Saudi Arabia.  It was the height of the oil kingdom’s industrial phase and I actually worked in the district of Al-Hair -about 20 minutes from the capital city of Riyadh- for a business conglomerate owned by a sheik.

Life was not only lonely but also very boring in a country whose religion is Sunni Islam and where Sharia laws are strictly enforced.  Moreover, I was there to make a living and not as a tourist on a short visit to explore and to enjoy the desert kingdom.

The unit was way ahead of its time with state-of-the-art electronics, aluminum chassis, metal knobs and excellent overall design.
The Toshiba Aurex System 10 as it appeared in a German hi-fi catalog layout in 1979, with dimensions shown. Top to bottom: SB-A10 amplifier, ST-T10 hi-fi AM/FM tuner and PC-D10 dual-head, stereo cassette tape deck.

During our day offs -Friday and Saturday- we usually go to the big city to window shop, meet friends or relatives of friends, hang around in a park where most expats congregate or just about anything to keep our sanity until we finish the terms of our work contracts.

Typically, after our working hours, listening to music in our stereo systems provided us some of our great joys while we watched the sun transition from a fiery ball of yellow to a magnificent mélange of orange hues as it hides behind the sand dunes.

The late 70s up to the mid-80s was the peak of hi-fidelity’s  golden years as digital music began its slow-but-sure march to take over the entire music landscape.  I could still recall that early models of CD players where priced as high as US$ 1,000 plus in the few electronics & audio shops that showcased them.

Back then, Sony had been dominating the music scene after the huge success of the Walkman.  Because of its portability & affordability, it also made the compact cassette tape the de-facto standard.

At music shops in Riyadh in the 80s, the average price of an original music cassette was about 10 riyals (about US$ 3) while the bootleg version was about 3 riyals (US$ 0.90).  Like any marketing ploy, the so-called ‘metal tapes‘ (type 4), of course, provided the best sound if you have the appropriate cassette tape deck/player.

I bought the Toshiba Aurex System 10 after I had saved enough money and had grown tired of listening to my growing collection of music cassette tapes on my portable cassette player.

I emphasized music cassette tapes since plain audio cassettes were also the very popular media expats used to record and to send messages to their loved ones back home as the Internet was still reserved for a few people in the academe and government back then.

All machined-aluminum casings!!! Toshiba used the best in electronics such as toroidal capacitors, leading-edge FETS & ICs during those days!
Via the AUX (auxiliary) jack, this vintage Toshiba Aurex System 10 can still play today’s digital devices –iPods, CDs and, yes, MiniDiscs as well as DAT (digital audio tape) players.

Prior to my purchase, I had just watched with envy as my coworkers -specially the senior ones with much fatter paychecks- unloaded and unboxed their expensive, high-end stereo systems with huge speaker sets inside their villas.

Sansui, Denon, NAD, McIntosh, Nakamichi, Tannoy, Pioneer, Marantz, Bang & Olufsen, JBL, Teac, Grundig, Kenwood and other leading Japanese, American and European hi-fi brands were the buzzwords those days.  And those systems were really manufactured in Japan, the U.S. and Europe.

I had visited several audio shops in downtown Riyadh before I decided on the micro-sized Toshiba Aurex System 10 because of its uniqueness, design and almost magical impression upon me.

I bought it discounted but complete with a pair of black Aurex (S12W) 80-watts bookshelf speakers for about US$800.  It has a more sophisticated -and expensive- sibling in the System 15 (about US$1,200 without speakers) but it was just way beyond my budget at that time.

The tropical heat and humidity of Manila is no match for the durability of the Toshiba Aurex System 10. The sound is still clean, detailed, powerful and nicely musical.
The PC-D10 cassette tape deck simply needs replacement of a few rubber belts inside. The DC motor & tape heads still function well. This unit has the manual tape controls.

Both models were spectacularly designed and housed in high-grade aluminum chassis that made them withstand the elements as well as high-quality internal electronic components.

And, as a bonus, the Aurex models that were sold in the Middle East had power supply voltage selector switches so that AC power input can be set to either 115V or 230V -depending on where you are or what country you’ll plug them in.

So what are the differences?

The System 15 has a beautiful main amplifier (SC-M15) housed in a one-piece diecast aluminum with an all-DC toroidal transformer that drives 40 watts per channel into 8 ohms (or, 100 watts in ‘BTL’ mode). The back of the amp has professional-grade connectors (screw-on and ‘banana’ plug) for 2 sets of speakers.

The separate pre-amp (SY-C15) came with 2 phono inputs, a variety of switches typically found in bigger high-end stereo systems plus gold-plated contacts for all the RCA jacks at the back.

The FM-only tuner (ST-F15) has a VFD (vacuum fluorescent) digital display with a 10-button direct/up-down push-button tuning with memory presets capability.

And, finally, a better metal-capable tape deck (PC-D15) that utilized two (2) separate DC motors to drive the reels.  A touch-key tape operation control pad perfectly complemented the elegant unit.

Today, this vintage micro-component system still command a decent price among collectors!!!
The very elegant Toshiba Aurex System 15. Including a pair of speakers, it would have cost me a month of my salary back in 1982! Top to bottom: SC-M15 main power amplifier, SY-C15 pre-amp, ST-F15 FM-only digital tuner and the PC-D15 stereo cassette deck with 2-motors plus IC-logic control.

The System 10 was a much simpler set with just 3 pieces.   An integrated amplifier (SB-A10) that’s also encased in extruded aluminum with a much smaller DC toroidal power transformer that drives 20 watts per channel into 8 ohms, an FM/AM tuner (ST-T10) with an old-school, knob & scale tuning and a tape deck (PC-D10) with a single servo motor to drive the flywheel & reels plus manual tape operation controls.

You could actually mix and match decks or components from either system and even use two (2) SC-M15 amplifiers in monaural mode via the BTL (bridge tied load/ bridged transformerless) feature to drive a massive 100 watts per channel.

There were cheaper mid-sized/micro components options during those days like Sony’s FH-7 or Technics’ Concise series but most of them used either plastic or sheet metal housing and did not look as elegant as Toshiba’s Aurex System 15 and 10.

After 36 years, I am still amazed how this vintage hi-fi system can remain to look so beautiful and elegant than some of today’s latest digital audio decks and to sound so impressively– after I hooked up either my FiiO (X2 and X3 Mark III) high-resolution audio players, the iPod Classic or, yes, a Sony DiscMan via the amp’s auxiliary input.

Some things are just way ahead of their times.

Sony Dash Resurrected

Sometime in May of this year, my six year old (purchased in January 2011) Sony Dash Personal Internet Viewer  (HID-C10) received a control panel update to inform me that service for the device would end in July.

The last firmware update (from version 1.7.1461 to 1.7.1526) was done on April 08, 2016 after the device had issues “downloading the main control panel” and rendered it useless.

Over the 6+ years that I had owned the unit, there were intermittent issues with Sony’s backend servers that kept it inactive. But, Sony was always able to come up with firmware updates to keep the service going — until July of this year.

Sony Dash
Sony Dash (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Sony Dash is a small tabletop alarm clock-radio-weather/gadget with a 7″ touchscreen that sold for $199 when initially released in April 2010.  Its functionality relied 100% on the Internet, hence, WiFi (a/g) is built-in.

Aside from the beautiful design, the main attraction of the gadget, just like a smartphone, is its capability to load additional “widgets” (or, apps) via its built-in memory.  It enabled owners to stream videos and music from content providers like Netflix, YouTube, Amazon, Pandora, Slacker, Sony Music, etc.  There are also thousands of other useful widgets that ranged from the arts to zoology.

And so, one day in July of this year, I saw the dreaded firmware update – 1.7.1604– that would turn an otherwise very useful device into a door stopper.

Don’t hit the OK button!!! The dreaded Dash firmware update -1.7.1604- that would stop all functionality to the unit

Of course, I did not do the firmware update but, instead, called Sony’s customer service (in the U.S., it’s: 1-800-222-7669) to ask them what to do with a useless unit.

To the company’s credit, it promptly replaced a product that had reached its ‘end-of-life’ (aka, planned obsolescence), with a choice of either an alarm clock/AM-FM radio (ICF-C1) or a Bluetooth speaker (XB10) after I e-mailed the image of the unit’s serial number.

When the replacement ICF-C1 clock-radio arrived a week later via FedEx (shipping also paid by Sony), I grabbed the Dash that sat atop one of my stereo speakers – still with the ‘Update available’ screen- and yanked out its power supply.

Sony sent this free ICF-C1 clock-AM-FM radio (or, the XB-10 Bluetooth speaker) as a way of recompensing owners of bricked Dash units

Meanwhile, somewhere in the coastal city of San Diego, California, a guy had been very busy writing code to port the Dash (running firmware 1.7.1526) to make it work with Chumby.com’s server(s) after Sony’s May software update alert.

Chumby (now, operated by Blue Octy, LLC) is a small company behind a line of very affordable “Internet viewers” similar to the Dash. In fact, the Dash runs on an OS that was simply modified from the Chumby OS.

Finally, in early August, Blue Octy released the software patch (but only for the Dash HID-C10 model) that resurrected some Dash units.  The patch is chumby-HIDC10-1.0.0.zip.  It could also be downloaded here.

So, if you have an HID-C10 Sony Dash, just make sure that your unit is running firmware 1.7.1526.  If  you had accidentally installed firmware 1.7.1604 and bricked the unit, simply revert back to firmware 1.7.1526 via the instructions here before applying the patch.

All set to install the patch to the Sony Dash (for model HID-C10 only) to enable it to run off Chumby.com’s server

If you applied the patch correctly, you should have restored some usefulness to your Dash such as the clock, weather and a few radio stations.  A $3 monthly subscription fee would enable one to get numerous apps as well as multiple channels on this gadget that — simply, refuses to go away.

Sony Dash back in business with new Blue Octy channel/control panel interface!!!

Between the Giant and Rationality

If one is observant enough to look at the outskirts of urban Philippines particularly Manila, one would never fail to notice the peculiarity of the scene: mothers spend countless hours sacrificing household chores just to play bingo, tong-its’ (local version of poker) or mahjong.

They are mindless of their children crying at the top of their lungs and unaware that they are burning the hard-earned money their husband had brought home from scavenging or construction work. Look around and there would always be dirty kids running and playing and not giving a damn if they have taken a bath or not. There would also be kids who, instead of being in school, have to work day in and day out to help their parents make both ends meet. Their jobs vary, from digging the muddy and heavily-polluted seabed of Manila Bay to get pieces of metals they call ‘kalakal’ (merchandise) to sell at opportunistic junk shops, to carrying heavy loads of fruits and vegetables in the early hours of the day.

In the streets, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to see able-bodied but jobless men on drinking sprees in front of ‘sari-sari’ (a small family-operated shop typically attached to the house) stores, laughing heartily at their senseless conversations, amidst the fact that they don’t even know whether they’ll have something to feed their family the next day. They flaunt their big bellies, their tattooed arms and worst of all, they brazenly display unproductiveness.

On the next block, it is also hard not to notice a group of teenagers, most of them thin as bamboo and nutritionally deficient like dying carnations. A few of them could be seen playing ‘cara y cruz’ (heads or tails), some would be smoking weed, others snorting ‘shabu‘ (crystal meth) and some would be sniffing ‘rugby (contact cement) filled plastic bags to get their highs to temporarily mask out their miseries. These youngsters are not few. Like a vicious cycle, they spawn like rabbits, and would join similar ill-fated, innocent souls in sordid existence.  But, is it all about fate?

Take a casual walk on the streets and you would notice how informal settlers have mushroomed all over the country; be it in the urban or rural areas. This is where we would realize that we have not really seen and experienced the worst in life. This is where we would see how any materials beyond use are utilized in making their shanties. This is where we would see occupants as many as fifteen trying to fit themselves in a ramshackle abode as small as a bathroom of a middle-class family. This is where we would see that the strength of the roof is based on how many dilapidated tires are placed on top of it. This is where we would see what the houses are made of – recycled plywood, flattened biscuit containers, plastic rice sacks, damaged tires, tarpaulins of stupid politicians or B-movie ads and an assortment of junks. No architectural plans, no concrete, no hollow blocks, no metal trusses, no hope.

In search for a better life had led to this...
A common sight in the urban areas of the Philippines due to overpopulation

Emotions would be mixed on seeing the vile living conditions of the increasing number of Filipinos. Some would feel sorry because of the plight the children have to live in.  A child has to compete with seven other siblings for the little amenities their parents could shower them with – toys out of rubbish, one meal per day, an educational privilege good only until the 8th-grade, a house comparable to those of pigeons and a whopping PHP 150 peso a day take home pay by the breadwinner. What a fucking way to live a short life.

To observant eyes, how some parents managed to have too many children -without any means of providing them a good foundation in childhood like regular meals, decent shelter, education, clothing, toys, play time, etc. – clearly borders on ignorance.  But, regardless of how we come up with the reasons why these people are wallowing in poverty, there is only one thing clear to everyone: the Philippines has swiftly become an overpopulated hell.

The problems that stem from overpopulation is beyond count. One frustration is that locally-produced agricultural products would always be insufficient to feed the entire population because there is a mismatch between the producer and the consumer. The population -an, consumption- simply overpowers production.  Surely and steadily, more and more Filipinos are filling their pie holes with imported products, which is a bane to the economy.

Another hassle presented by population sprawl is on job opportunities. Millions would compete against each other over a few job openings; it would be a dog eats dog situation. Newly-minted college graduates would not be prioritized as smaller companies tend to hire only the seasoned workers. College degrees would be useless, diplomas would be senseless. Only a handful with the skills (and, the right connections & recommendations) would be lucky enough to secure employment and the rest would be jobless, unable to support their families.

Overpopulation would also take its toll on the services extended by the government to the people. As the populace grows larger, fewer benefits would be shared by the proletariat. Let us take medical services as a perfect example. Already-burdened public hospitals will suffer from patient overload. A filthy bed would be shared by three or more patients, one with tuberculosis and others with dengue fever. On the ER, serious conditions that need abrupt medical attention won’t be met all at the same time.  Victims of vehicular accidents would have a very slim chance of survival because only three exhausted doctors are attending to twenty emergency cases.

Inside the maternity ward of an overcrowded hospital in the Philippines

The educational system is another government service that would suffer greatly as a result of overpopulation. How can we have quality education if one classroom holds one hundred-plus pupils? How can these students focus on learning if they are packed like a can of sardines?

Can senior high school students comprehend solid mensuration or even the basics of Algebra if their classroom is as hot as an oven toaster? Can grade ten students appreciate the epics of Homer and Ovid, the novels of Tolstoy or Dostoevsky, if they do not even have a decent chair to sit in, a hygienic restroom to relieve themselves, a comfortable library where they could read books or even write poems? What about the teachers? Can we expect them to be effective?  By holding a class in a jam-packed room, precious time allotted to teaching would be wasted calling the attention and reprimanding the foolish ones. With a ballooning population, schools would just turn into a chaotic mecca.

An elementary classroom crowded with students is typical in the Philippines

As stated earlier, overpopulation will just bring infinite aggravation and as this currently troubles us, majority of Filipinos are unaware of the inconvenience it brings to our economy and to our future.

It is also worth noting that overextended families come from the poorest sector of the population. A friend of mine told me about a friend of a friend who has nine children, with the eldest being twenty-two and unable to finish high school.  The youngest is in the first grade, barely bringing a meal to school because of abject poverty. The bold, or should I say, stupid father has no other source of income but through driving a tricycle which he does not even own. Working such a financially-rewarding job, this family head brings home PHP 150 pesos day and it is up to the readers to imagine how the family gets through with the daily expenses.

How can a financially-strapped couple summon the courage (or, have the common sense) to have such a big family? Could this be simply attributed to the Filipinos penchant for the  ‘bahala-na-ang-Diyos’ (God will provide) mentality?

What could possibly be the culprit in this vicious cycle of boundless reproduction? Is it the administration? I’m sure the government is doing all it could in educating the people about family planning. Is it the easy access of today’s youth to pornographic and lustful websites? Perhaps, it could be a factor but it is controllable. Working or not, there are countries that censor the Internet to filter the materials its people can see. Is it the people themselves? There are many factors that are hitched with the ballooning of the population. But, in the Philippines, there is one uncontrollable, very strong force that cannot be stopped when it comes to the pyramiding population: the Catholic Church.

The church is opposed to artificial contraception and this belief dates back to the first centuries of Christianity. Such acts are intrinsically disordered because of the belief that all sexual acts must be open to procreation. There was even a point in time when the church allowed birth control – but only through abstinence. The Vatican even released a document entitled “Vademecum for Confessors” which stated “the Church has always taught the intrinsic evil of contraception”.

Furthermore, the church had always pointed to the Holy Bible as it   lies in Genesis 1:28 which states “God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and the animals that scurry along the ground”. The fanatics and the Bible warriors do have a point though. Who else is to govern all the blessings this world has to give, but the people. Who else is to harvest the products of the fruit-bearing trees, and to cut the wood afterwards not minding landslides and pollution, but the people. Who else is to fish the sea in an insatiable manner using dynamite and toxic chemicals, but the people. Who else would carve the beautiful and natural shapes of mountains and hills just to get precious stones, but the people. Who else is to hunt the rare and exotic animals for money’s sake, but the people.

We, the people, are commissioned by the Creator to be the stewards of nature. And, as the logic goes, we should multiply. Even if multiplying is limitless. Even if multiplying equates to self-destruction. Isn’t it more sacrilegious to multiply when the posterity, like a virtual time bomb waiting to explode, will just damage His wonderful creation?

Who can contest the church’s uptake and exposition of inscriptions when, for a thousand years, they have been used to punish those who dare to question, to subject them to inquisitions, to tell everyone that the Creator’s grace and mercy is exclusive to those who kneel before man-made images purchased in the streets of Tayuman, and to baptize an innocent infant before he even gets a chance to choose the faith he prefers.

The Manila Cathedral in Intramuros serves as the Episcopal See of the Archbishop of Manila.

It has become our habit to follow and believe whatever the man in the white suit, whose car displays the Veritas sticker, tells us. We follow without question. We follow with the highest reverence. We follow with the fear of hell if we do not follow. It is funny that after the priest chants a Latin phrase, of which the significance or meaning is unknown to many of us, we instinctively chant ‘amen‘. It is funnier that the Filipinos, majority of whom are Catholics, abstain from eating pork during Lent to shun extravagance, only to fill their dining tables with more expensive seafood fares like lobsters, grilled blue marlin and huge prawns. These make me want to fry hotdogs using floor wax.

Church crusaders should be more realistic in taking a stand when it comes to the increasing population and traditional faith. While priests are busy preaching ‘multiplication’ and procreation, overpopulation is markedly taking its toll on the Filipinos – hospitals becoming smaller, schools becoming canned sardines, job opportunities becoming elusive, farmlands turning into subdivisions virtually overnight.  While the gross domestic product (GDP) becomes bigger our per capita income becomes smaller.  And, as always, the rich becomes richer and the poor…whatever!

Is this what the Creator planned our country to be? I doubt that He really wants us the majority of us to live in dire poverty and disorder. I also doubt that the church is accurately amplifying the Creator’s orders based on how He wants things to be. A little coherence and correction would not destroy the credibility of the church. And the correction should be made in its teachings regarding procreation.

For the country and the people that have long been under the grip of a compelling and untouchable force, the price of enlightenment is beyond purchase.

ALLFLAC and High-Definition Audio Players

If you’re a hard-core music enthusiast but still listens to your collections on your phone, then, you’re missing out a lot.

And, if you’re an Apple fan boy still buying songs through the iTunes Store and listening them through your iPhone or iPad, then, you’re simply paying a hefty premium for the brand.

Songs bought off the Apple store are encoded in Apple’s version of the venerated (specially during the Napster years) MP3 format, AAC (Apple Audio Codec). It is streamed at 128 kbps bit rate with a sample rate of 44.100 kHz.  AAC (and, MP3) is a ‘lossy’ format but is very popular due to its small file size as a result of compression.

Although you could rip all your CDs to a lossless format within iTunes using ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec), the resulting files are huge and are playable only in, of course, Apple’s devices.

FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) is an open-source musical format that will give you bit-perfect copies of CDs.  Not only that, it also supports ‘tags’ that enable you to retain artists, album covers, lyrics, etc., on the format.

With FLAC, you’re not only getting half the space occupied by a CD with no loss in quality but you’re also going to be able to get up to 24-bit at 192 kHz of music.  That’s studio-master quality.  Clearly, MP3 and AAC are no match for FLAC.

Rare is the true high-definition audio enthusiast that listens to his FLAC collection on a smartphone.  For Android phone users, even with the rock-bottom prices of microSD cards these days, its just so obvious that smartphone makers are just too focused to make the camera features  better.

And for iPhone users, it’s going to look ugly if you want to stick-in a Lightning-capable microSD card adapter to expand the memory capacity of the unit as there’s no memory expansion slot on those phones.  And, the saddest part of all, you can only transfer pictures and videos using the adapter –no music files.   Apple simply wants you to pay $970 for their top-of-the-line unit with 256 GB built-in.

Picture of a MicroSD Card with its Adapter. Fr...
Picture of a MicroSD Card with its Adapter. Frontal and Back. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But even most high-end smartphones from Samsung and Apple don’t have the top-tier, audiophile-grade chips to support FLAC at 192 kHz/24-bit nor they offer native DSD (direct stream digital) decoding which is the best way to listen to streaming music.

While high-quality audio always comes with a price, this doesn’t mean that you’ll have to break your piggy-bank.  So, what are the cheaper options?

For content, there’s nothing that will beat allflac.com.  The U.K-based music website has one of the cheapest rates around and you’ll be surprised to find some of the songs that you can’t find elsewhere including the iTunes Music Store.

ALLFLAC contends to have the world’s largest lossless music collection

What’s more, not only they have albums for as low as $1.99 but you can also download them in either FLAC, M4A and MP3 (or, all) format.  There is no membership fee and you can fund your account for as low as $10 with no balance expiration.

There are a handful of high-definition audio players available specially in Asia, Europe and the North American markets including the Kickstarter-funded, Neil Young-backed PonoPlayer as well as from well-known companies like Sony, Onkyo and Pioneer and others.

But one company stands out because of their low price without sacrificing quality: FiiO. 

Highly recommended to budding audio enthusiasts with limited budgets would be the FiiO X1 (2nd generation) model It retails for US$120 but could be had for as low as US$80 discounted if you shop around.

It’s a mid-entry model but surely not lacking in features found in their more expensive ones.  Most importantly, it supports microSD cards up to 256 GB or approximately 8,700 plus FLAC songs (at 30 MB per song).  That’s a lot of studio-master quality tunes to keep you in the groove.

The FiiO X1 (2nd generation) high-def audio player in action

The company’s catchphrase is “Born for Music and Happy” and, indeed, you’ll be more than happy once you had listened to some of your music collections – in the FLAC format.  Of course, using one of their portable high-definition players.

The difference in sound quality will astound you.

The Hostility of Colonialism

Who would not want a new car or a new SUV?  I mean, in a poverty-stricken country like the Philippines, it is very sardonic to see that while most people still complain about having inconsiderable money to make both ends meet, the majority still quench their insatiable thirst for imported cars, be it by means of installment or cash.

Go to the nearest highway and one would see a fleet of Fortuner, Montero, Impreza, Accent and many more Japanese, American or European cars passing by the ramshackle jeepney. It is pure mockery at its finest.

For the coffee lovers and those who are pretending to be such, who can resist a posh place like Gloria Jean’s or Seattle’s Best to get a tall and expensive frap, frape, prafe…well, whatever the spelling is and a small and costly blueberry cheesecake?  After all, nobody wants to miss the complicated bar counter, behind in which all the blenders and grinders are displayed as if to remind you they really do process your cappuccino. Have you noticed how foreign coffee shops have taken the place of malls, parks, fast food chains and even cockpit arenas for that matter?

Well that is just coffee, let us switch to technology. When it comes to cellular phones or other gadgets, Filipinos would never ever be the last human race to use the latest of Apple-manufactured piece of communication device, despite the fact that it really is expensive.

A phone is a necessity these days but it makes me wonder why an average Pinoy worker, despite the daily earning of minimum wage which just suits his payment for house rental, electricity and water bill and food, opts to purchase this product of the late Steve Jobs over cheaper phone. A forty-five thousand phone over three thousand worth of locally made phone? Come on, it’s no longer a matter of freedom or choice —it’s already  wanton frolic.

English: La Loma Cemetery in Manila (1900) use...
English: La Loma Cemetery in Manila (1900) used as a fort by the Filipinos, shelled by Dewey. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Apart from purchase of imported cars, brewed coffee, sophisticated phones, there are other things that really violates our sense of nationalism. A perfect example are those Filipinos who spend their lifetime savings just to set their feet in foreign countries for vacation. Filipino travelers would often blurt out “There is a promo for a one-week stay in Venetian Macau, let’s grab it” or “I will never ever get to visit Singapore again so why don’t we grab the Cebu Pacific promo”. Visiting foreign countries and cities more than touring promising places like Dingalan, Pagudpud, Puerto Princesa or even the overly abused Boracay gives everyone an idea that there is no decent place to visit in the Philippines at all. It’s no wonder why travel agencies promote scenic areas in other countries like The Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Sao Paulo Beach and others. They know how to flatter Filipinos because they can see through us.

There really is no accurate rationale as to why we are into anything external or foreign. The closest thing to support the notion of colonial mentality among Filipinos is that we have been conquered by a handful of colonizers. In Teodoro Agoncillo’s book History of the Filipino People (1960), the author stated that long before the arrival of the Spaniards in 1521, we had been in a constant trade with the Chinese people. The trade, which was then called  the “Porcelain Trade” probably started centuries before the advent of Sung Dynasty. The Chinese exchanged silk, porcelain, colored glass, beads and iron ware for hemp cloth, tortoise shells, pearls and yellow wax of the Filipinos. The exchange of goods started as early as 960 AD before the accidental arrival of the Spaniards in 1521. And so it happened.

Original caption (cropped out): Native boats a...
Original caption (cropped out): Native boats and outriggers Description: (cropped out): Boats of the upper type were used to land the U.S. troops at Manila. One of those in which the Astor Battery landed sank in the surf just before reaching shore. The natives carried the men ashore on their shoulders. The lower boat is a fisherman’s craft used by the Negritos, who shoot fish in the clear water with bows and arrows. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The arrival of the European conquistadores brought a new phase and meaning to the lives and mindset of the Filipinos. We learned to integrate Spanish language to our own even naming the Philippines in honor of the Spanish king. Provinces in the Philippines were renamed with Spanish names such as Nueva Ecija and Vizcaya, Laguna, Isabela, La Union, Antique, Marinduque, Negros Occidental and Oriental and Valle de Compostela. More than this naming of places, the greatest influence the Spaniards have left us is faith in Roman Catholicism. Filipinos at home set up altar in the Hispanic tradition, adorned with Catholic images, flowers and candles as they have internalized observation of fiestas, devotion, rosary, baptism and many more.

Along came the Americans. After the defeat of the Spaniards at the hands of the Americans led by General George Dewey in the war dubbed as the “Battle of Manila” in 1899, the Americans took the liberty of controlling and influencing the Filipinos. During the first years, there were some conflicts between the US and the Philippines but during World War I, they came together and the Filipinos fought alongside the Americans and their relationship became much friendlier. As we solidify our pact with the land of the free and the home of the brave, we became more attached to their customs and traditions. Nobody can deny that the greatest contributions of the Americans are democracy and education. To cite all the things that we inherited from Uncle Joe is impossible for they are innumerable. American influence in Filipino clothing is apparent up to these days. We are often see wearing belts, suspenders, tennis shoes, bonnets, high heels and cosmetics. For food, Filipinos are accustomed in U.S.-based staples like hamburger, sandwiches, oatmeal, ketchup, apple pie, mayonnaise, hotdogs, steak, ice cream, cornflakes and many more.

Seventy-one years have passed since the Philippines have tasted true freedom and democracy, yet its beloved citizens are still, or should I say, intentionally glued to anything that is international in concept. Our colonial mentality should no longer be attributed to the colonizers because for a long period of time, they are gone. After the Second World War ended in 1945, the US declared that we were an independent nation and that we would from that moment stand on our own, build our own nation, govern our people and make ourselves proud of what we could make of our country. Yes, we have been standing on our own. For quite some time, we have been electing our leaders, we have drafted our constitution dedicated to democracy, we have been blessed with job opportunities, we have seen the ingenuity of many of our fellow countrymen in the field of business, arts, academe and even sports. These things, when accumulated, would entail national pride and patriotism. But the “accumulation” never happened in the Philippines.

English: Depiction of the flag of the Philippi...
English: Depiction of the flag of the Philippines, as conceived by Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo. Created with Inkscape. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nationalism and patriotism are things not difficult to conceive. It is just a matter of self-worth, confidence in the citizens’ competence and pride. Just take a look at Japan, its people may be ridiculed for being awful English speakers but nobody can take away the fact that it is a land with citizens deeply attached to their flag, to their country and to their identity. For despising imported goods, Japan was able to produce products of their own in the field of automotive, heavy industries and gadgets. Everyone is definitely familiar with the brands such as Toyota, Mitsubishi, Honda, Nissan, Subaru, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Sony, Sanyo and the list goes on and on. The same principle of nationalism applies to countries like Germany, Italy, France and even China.

While more and more countries are gradually realizing the essence and beauty of selfhood, the story is different here in the Philippines. Here, the culture of bandwagon is a cliche: We have been deeply in love with anything that is Western in concept. We always want to exclude ourselves in the bondage of traditionalism and although it does not manifest verbally, we always deny our being Filipinos for we love imported goods.

Just how worst have we opposed our being Filipinos? Instead of settling for a more affordable and locally-made brand of leather shoes, a typical Filipino would hand his ever hidden credit card to the ethical staff in the counter in exchange for the expensive and imported Kickers, Hush Puppies, Timberland or Oleg Cassini. I’m sure the reason is not about issue regarding durability and longevity.

What about means of transportation, particularly cars? Try going to EDSA and anyone would notice that many billboards post inviting marketing strategies like Vios, 20K Downpayment, No Hidden Charges. Car manufacturers know that the Philippines is and will forever be a third world country, yet they still thrive in selling cars to us. And the business is so good that everywhere you turn, there would always be car casas regularly visited by an average businessman, a call center agent, a teacher and even a college student whose dad is a seafarer. The funny thing is that people purchase cars for the reason beyond practicality – that they work near their residence and they don’t need cars at all, that they know that the streets of Manila are just like a huge parking space during rush hours, that they know that sooner or later they would have their car pulled out by the bank because they could no longer afford paying for it. Pathetic as it may seem, Filipinos buy imported cars not for a reasonable cause but to delight their ego.

Gadgets are undeniably a necessity nowadays. For living in a fast-paced world, people need to have smart phones for easy access to emails, messages and important and unimportant calls. We are not Amish people whose contentment is based on how they shrug what is contemporary. But while it is clear to us Filipinos the vitality of possessing gadgets particularly cellphones, it is still an enigma as to why we settle for expensive and imported brands. Is it the speed? I bet locally made phones are equally fast in processing. Is it the being user-friendly of the phone? I’m certain it is also easy to write text messages on My Phone, Torque and Cherry Mobile. Is it the design? The size? The weight? The color? Or is it the brand?

To realize just how strong our attachment is in Apple, Samsung, Asus and other foreign brands, just look at the students, people in the BPO industry, people in the corporate world, service crew in a fast food chain, construction workers, and even the jobless and the bystanders. They all have this phone with an apple with a bite at the back. Parents would give their kikay daughters an imported phone on the latter’s birthday saying, “You deserve nothing less, anak”.  A service crew would avail an iPhone 7 even if it means paying it for the whole twelve months with a staggering thirty percent interest. Truly amazing. What is more funny is that the same things that are provided by these imported phones can also be given by locally made ones…for a cheaper and reasonable price.

Then we have our fellow kababayans who love to travel, as discussed earlier. They go to France to see that tall, metal structure in Paris. They travel to Hongkong to have a seat at the roller coaster in Disneyland and to have a picture taken with Mickey and Donald. They travel to Cambodia to see the largest religious monument in the world, to see the lovely bones of the victims of Pol Pot and to see where the film “The Killing Fields” was taken. They travel to London to ride The Eye, to have a selfie with Big Ben at the background, to walk at the Trafalgar Square, to watch the concert of Ed Sheeran at the Hyde Park and to feel the bloody English weather. They travel to Kenya to pose with the African children, to ride a Land Rover and see the animals at the Serengeti plain and to hunt and shoot poor antelopes to get their antlers. The farther they travel, the happier they become. As the number of countries they have visited increases, the more satisfied and proud they become.

Ancient Filipinos utilized terrace farming to ...
Ancient Filipinos utilized terrace farming to grow crops in the steep mountainous regions of northern Philippines. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The author does not see any problem with these explorations and escapades for travel equates to education. When one travels, he’d have a first hand experience and account of what really is going on around the world. After all, it is their money they are spending. What is bothering is that while these Filipinos crave the elegance of international tourist spots, they fail to notice the grandeur of the Philippines. What about visiting Camarines Norte for surfing, Baguio for the cold weather and for upland fruits and vegetables, Puerto Princesa for an underground river tour, Ilocos Norte for sand surfing, Quezon province for a series of pilgrimage, and even Intramuros for a look back at how our beloved Rizal spent his last few hours. It is painful to see how Filipinos would flock distant lands for a leisurely visit and neglect the scenic places of our realm. It is as atrocious as not wanting mom’s home-made adobo and preferring to eat at a swanky restaurant.

Why Filipinos are suckers of anything that is western in concept remains a riddle. Youngsters who play basketball in the streets of Manila are often seen wearing Nike. Yes, Nike, the company that employs minors in China. Ask them why such brand is chosen and not MSE or Natasha and you will be bombarded with answers like “It’s light, it’s durable, it’s classy, it unleashes the athleticism in me, blah, blah, blah”. True enough, the aspect of toughness is unquestionable. The catch is that, why do some kiddos and teenagers wear the imitation of Jordans and Kobes? I’m sure it is not a matter of the reliability of the shoes because class A’s are made with substandard materials. The painful truth is that we are only after the brand – to be noticed, to be sighted as prosperous, to be in the bandwagon, to wear what the wealthy people wear, and the worst, to be accepted.

For automotive enthusiast, it is almost a taboo to purchase a Cavite-manufactured owner-type jeep. A typical dad could never force his teenage daughter to be taken to the school riding in a filthy owner jeep because for the poor girl, it is baduy. A typical white collar guy would not want to go to Starbucks, parking his stainless owner jeep next to Foresters and Ecosports. For sure, it will be photographed by the Conyos and it will be ridiculed for being a “fly in a glass of milk”.

Nowadays, what is cool should be possession of pick up trucks ridden by the tough guys in Texas (even though pick up trucks are built for farm or ranch and not for urban areas like Manila), possession of a muscle car that is a prototype of what Vin Diesel used in his famous movies about racing, possession of Maserati, Ferrari and Lamborghini even if these cars were designed only for wide freeways, something which we do not have. Can you imagine what it is like driving a Lambo in the chaotic and narrow streets of Manila? The Philippine made owner type jeep is really the prefect toy to roam our dilapidated streets. Again, when it comes to cars, the concept of colonial mentality overpowers our sanity.

Readers might question the author’s dislike for buying imported stuff. Critics would say, “It is our hard-earned money afterall, and we have all the liberty this world has to offer when it comes to purchasing whatever we want to buy”. True enough, we are entitled to our decisions and nobody has a right to tell us to buy this and not that, to do this and not that.

But, the underlying dangers and drawback of colonial mentality is as bad as self-destruction. Naïve are people who love to sport their Jordans, Ford Everest, Fire Floss from Le Couer de France, and Sperry top sider without directly realizing its effect to our economy and our morality as Filipinos. By buying Jordans, we strip our local shoemakers off their chance to show their creativity, their brilliance and their chance to earn. By buying iPhones, and not Cherries and Torques, we are backhandedly telling our home grown electronics engineers, technicians and IT experts that their toil does not merit our applause and support.

We always degrade locally made gadgets and we often complain about them being difficult to use. But we should also have a realization that the very reason why local companies could not manufacture better versions is because they lack the support of the Filipinos. Should we buy their Cherries, the company would generate enough fund to upgrade their phones and tablets. Moreover, by buying Fortuners and Monteros, we are closing the doors to the possibility of producing our very own brand of automotive.

If you visit the Sarao Jeep Company factory in Las Pinas, you would see how grubby and sordid the place is. Workers are without sophisticated machineries, without definite buyers and worst, without hope. But just as dirty and blackened the hands of these patriotic workers are, Filipinos’ hands are also dirty. We can never wash our hands off the dirt of our distrust in the capability and competence of our local car makers. How I wish that in my lifetime, I will be able to drive a vehicle made in the Philippines and manufactured by the Filipinos.

The damage of colonial mentality does not only sprawl on the economic aspect. More than currency, colonialism deeply cuts through our sense of national pride which will leave us bleeding until the death of our morality. By buying goods from the other countries, the notion that the Philippines cannot produce anything good will boomerang to us and it will haunt even our posterity.

Colonial mentality is a vulgar display of our dislike for anything Filipino, which reflects our self-hatred. But worse than patronizing anything international, we are already longing to be what we are not. We Filipinos, for a long period of time, have done idiotic things to escape our beautiful identity. We blonde our hair, we apply skin whitening lotion, we imitate the accent of the stupid newscaster from the BBC news and we indirectly deny our being Filipinos. This reality crushes me in pieces.

We may not possess the wealth of superior countries, we may not have those Ferrari, Aprilia and Ducati factories that are regularly featured on National Geographic Channel. We may not have the tallest building on earth, the fastest train, the cable ride overlooking the snow-capped mountains like the ones in the rockies of Denver, Colorado. We may not have the pointed nose, the so-called superior white skin or the “bloody” British accent.

But Filipinos are superior in different sense. We are a beautiful people whose resiliency had defied and thrown oppressors in the past. We are a beautiful people whose soil is blessed with fertility to grow delicious fruits and vegetables. We are a beautiful people who, despite the hardships of life, flaunt contagious and genuine smile to encourage others. And since we are beautiful, it is not impossible for us to produce beautiful things in the field of science, arts, economics, technology and the like.

There is no need for colonial mentality, for self-hatred or for distrusting our potential.

We are beautiful.

(Ronald B. Polong is a frustrated writer who removes dentures before he sleeps and places it in an empty Cheezwhiz bottle, with water, of course. He currently lives in Nueva Ecija with his wife, twin boys, brood of roosters and hens, ducks and an old dog.)