Oct 21 2015

Happy BTTF Day!

Adel Gabot

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2:35AM

It’s that wonderful, marvelous day we Back To The Future fans have been waiting for for 30 years!

To commemorate, allow me to reprint my Control Panel column for this month’s Explore Philippines magazine. I’m sure they won’t mind:

 

Back To The Present: The prescience of the Back To The Future movies

by Adel Gabot

 

It’s damned odd for a movie trilogy to be called Back To The Future when two-thirds of it actually occur in the past, but that’s Hollywood for you. As the movie series celebrates its 30th anniversary this year (30 years? Really?) we think it’s about time to check on the gadgets in the “future” part of the movies, particularly BTTF Part Two, where some of the action actually happens in the future—which for them was, appropriately enough, 2015.

Have Doc Brown and Marty McFly accurately predicted the current state of technology, 30 years hence? Do the gadgets the producers and screenwriters thought up for the old movie actually exist now? Are there flying cars, hoverboards, self-drying jackets and power-lace shoes today? This issue we take a quick look at how good Hollywood is at predicting the future.

1) THE HOVERBOARD

Mattel has gotten tons of inquiries over the years about where to buy that nice hoverboard they used in the movie. Unfortunately, it’s one gadget that doesn’t really exist yet—or does it? Recently, Lexus came out with an actual “hoverboard”, although their version requires superconducting magnets, a dedicated metal track and lots of liquid nitrogen to cool it down. It’s just a proof of concept at this point. Another company named Hendo has a similar board that you can pre-order now for $10K, although like the one from Lexus, you can’t really use it on the street and need specially made tracks to hover over. But keep trying, guys. We can wait.

2) THE B&D MASTERCOOK HYDRATOR

In a kitchen scene in BTTF2 they had a Black & Decker gadget that rehydrates cookie-sized pizzas into humongous hot ones that can feed a family of six. Well, we sorta have something similar today. Microwave ovens can defrost chickens and cook meals in a fraction of the time and there are prepackaged dehydrated food items that you just add a little liquid to and put in the microwave and you can have an instant hot meal in minutes. So I guess this one’s more or less confirmed.

3) POWER LACES, SELF-DRYING AND -ADJUSTING WEARABLES

In 2011, Nike released limited edition Power Lace MAGs with LED lighting based on Marty McFly’s self-lacing rubber shoes, but these were just facsimiles that didn’t really tighten up on their own. The sought-after collectibles raised $6M for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research back then. But in February of this year Nike announced that they’ve patented the technology for real shoes that lace themselves up, and it will be launched sometime later this year. No prices have been released yet, though. Also, no real word on self-drying jackets with sleeves that adjust their length to fit your arms. Well, you can’t win them all.

4) MULTIPURPOSE SMART EYEGLASSES

Google Glass. ‘Nuff said.

5) TV VIDEO CALLS

Videochatting seemed pretty remote back in the late 80’s. Seeing Marty videochat with his future boss seemed wondrous back in BTTF2’s 2015. But in the real 2015 it’s everywhere—you can videochat on your interconnected Smart TVs through Skype, through Kinect on your Xbox, through FaceTime on your Mac or on any number of videochat apps on the little cellphone in your pocket. It’s so ubiquitous these days we don’t even really think about it.

6) TABLETS

Everyone had tablets back in BTTF2’s 2015, although I don’t think they called it tablets then, but anyone who’s anyone carried these small, portable computer devices. Well, that’s how it is here in real-life 2015. When Apple unveiled the iPad back in 2010, some of us laughed at the device, which was halfway between a laptop and a cellphone—who needed a dumb device like that? Apparently, everyone. The tablet was a runaway hit, particularly among those of us who didn’t want the heft of a laptop but felt limited by the cellphone’s real estate. Who would’ve thought?

7) FLYING CARS

Still a pipe dream for the most part. Cars that fly have been on futurists’s Most Predicted lists for a long time, and they’ve been awaiting the cars’ arrival for at least a hundred years. Although there really are flying cars in our world now, rare they may be—a company named Terrafugia sells them for $200k, for example— but with the unpredictability of air currents, the relative difficulty of learning how to fly and keeping them all sorted out, we don’t think flying cars will hit the mainstream just yet, if they ever will. But we can hope, can’t we?

8) THUMBPRINT BIOMETRICS AND REMOTE PAYMENTS

A man walks up to Marty McFly, says “Save the clock tower” and holds up a device for Marty to affix his thumb and make a donation. That’s actually a reality now—Apple’s Touch ID and Apple Pay are the best examples of this today. To have a device that unlocks with just your thumbprint is a great innovation. Add to that door locks and home security devices that open if you simply press your finger to them, or make payments with just your thumb and you have an emerging, burgeoning new payment scheme for the 21st century.

9) 3D AND HOLOGRAPHIC MOVIES

BTTF2 thought endless sequels were the future of Hollywood—they had Jaws Part 19, for Pete’s sake. But at least they got one thing right: 3D. While 3D cinema has been around since the 50s (it was a fad back then that quickly petered out), it hasn’t reached the insane levels it has today. Revived and reengineered, iMAX and digital theaters that show 3D movies are all the rage these days, and all the big-budget blockbusters are coming out in glorious three dimensions. Holographic films though are another matter entirely—they’re still working on that.

10) TRASH AS FUEL

Apparently all the Mr. Fusion-equipped DeLorean needs as fuel is a banana peel and an empty can of beer, as Doc Brown wants us to believe. While we haven’t reached the recycling efficiency of BTTF2’s technology, we’re slowly getting there. Garbage is a huge problem for us these days, but scientists are busy finding ways to repurpose and recycle all that trash. Companies are working on formulating bio-fuel from organic rubbish, and we are creating bio-diesel from cooking oil waste. So we’re guessing it won’t be long before we can finally install Mr. Fusion in our cars and just zoom away.

There are a lot of other gadgets and technologies that BTTF2 tackled that haven’t really come to pass yet in the past 30 years since Back To The Future first came out, like augmented reality binoculars, instant facelifts, TV waiters, alpha-rhythm generators that put you to sleep, hover conversions for cars, robotic gas stations and free-floating signs, but all we can say is, all good things come to those who wait. And wait we shall. Patiently.


Oct 7 2015

Listening to radio again

Adel Gabot

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3:03PM

So I’m working on my computer this morning, all the while idly listening to the radio finishing Daryl Hall’s Wildfire when the announcer goes “It’s half past ten in the evening and you’re listening to Chicago’s 103.5 KissFM.”

I was jolted out of my writing. Evening? Chicago? Oh, yeah, I forgot.

I was listening to a talky female evening jock with a relaxed, sultry voice on the radio, live, half a world away in Chicago, and not from one of the local Metro Manila stations. You see, I was able to download a new app (for the console, anyway) on the PS4 called iHeartRADIO early this morning, and as a result I can listen again to a whole host of international radio stations live, in real time, on the audio system.

I had the app on the Xbox 360 when I still had the old console and made a habit of listening to some American FM stations all the time, but I sold the 360 some time ago (because I wasn’t using it much anymore) and had to quit listening. Now, this week, Sony introduced a version of the old app on the PS4, so I downloaded it, revived my old account and began listening again. (Although, in retrospect, I’m sure there is a way to listen online to iHeartRADIO on my iMac, but I never really bothered to check. So sue me.)

Of course, I can listen to Spotify or even iTunes in a pinch (and I sometimes do), but real radio has been a old addiction—especially since I spent over two decades of my life working at, and managing, local FM radio stations, and old habits die hard.

Listening on my sound system via the PS4 is a nice, comforting experience, recalling my 96.3 WRock, Magic 89.9 or 103.5 K-Lite days when I’d work the mic for four-hour shifts and then still listen to the stations all day even when I wasn’t on the air. It was the soundtrack of my life, as an old radio promo for another station said all those years ago. Today, FM radio quietly plays in the background again while I write, and keeps me company.

The “international” part of iHeartRADIO is the attraction for me. It’s like I’m in another world, another environment. FM radio in the Philippines has devolved into cheap, talk-centric, personality-driven programs and the industry is infested with pretty-boy-or-girl announcers hired for their youthful, telegenic looks and a passable twang rather than their announcing talents, not like in my day when we were all, uh, better heard than seen. But boy we gave good radio back then.

These days I listen to mostly American classic rock, top 40, pop, jazz and R&B old-style radio stations, and a few British, Canadian and Aussie ones, mostly because of the language. Some of the Asian and European stations are nice, musically speaking, but I balk when the announcers come on and spout Mandarin, Korean, Malay, French, Italian, or German spiels. I’ve gravitated to KOST Los Angeles, V103 Chicago and 106.7 Lite FM New York because they’re basically old-fashioned and sound like the late 80s and 90s of my radio heyday.

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The PS4’s implementation of the app is elegant and simple: the program opens with the iHeartRADIO logo and a simple four-item menu on the top of the screen, a graphical bar in the middle of the screen featuring all your favorite stations, and then a simple logo of the currently playing station and the playing track on the bottom. Then after a bit, it morphs into a full-screen faded background graphic of the artist, the app logo on the upper right, the album cover on the center of the screen, and then logo, track title and artist on the bottom left.

The Xbox 360 implementation was a bit more confusing and complicated back then, and it had a damn sight more buffering and playback problems than the PS4’s. Of course, it’s next gen technology with the PS4, so I guess that accounts for the improvements. In fact, the PS4 doesn’t even pause or buffer at all, doesn’t skip or jump, and has a consistent, steady playback, even if my home network is otherwise heavily loaded.

It’s great. I’m thankful for iHeartRADIO, and will have immense fun listening again.


Sep 7 2015

Finding Apple Store Ginza

Adel Gabot

facade

5:09PM

I saw Alex Gibney’s new, controversial documentary Steve Jobs: The Man In The Machine the other day, found it eye-opening and enlighening, and saw how Apple certainly wouldn’t get behind the film, and wouldn’t find it flattering at all. It was sometimes nasty, actually. It shows the raw side of Jobs, and it certainly doesn’t paint the company in the best light, much less its fabled, legendary founder. At the beginning of the film, it showed Apple Stores around the world and how people flocked to them after Jobs’ untimely, but not entirely unexpected, death in 2011, setting up veritable shrines to the man in the street, piled high with flowers.

tributes-to-steve-jobs

One of the scenes showed the Apple Store in the Ginza area in Tokyo. It seemed pretty familiar to me, and I realized I was actually there at one time in my life!

I went to Tokyo on a press junket in 2007 in connection with one of my jobs as Editor-in-Chief of Pinoy Rider Extreme, sponsored by the magazine’s main (and unspoken) benefactor, Honda Philippines (let’s not fool ourselves—it was a glorified advertising campaign for Honda, disguised as a magazine for motorcycle enthusiasts). We were there to attend the Tokyo Motor Show, to take a tour of Honda’s factory and facilities and to see the sights. I did my duty and went to all the exhibits (it took me three whole days to cover everything), and even went on a trip to the countryside to go visit the Twin Ring Motegi racetrack.

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I remember I took some of the off-time to go seek out the large, five-story Apple building there. It was my chance to see an actual, honest-to-goodness Apple Store. It so happened the day that I went was the international launch day of OS X 10.5 Leopard too, so it was a big deal for the Apple folk.

We had the entire day to ourselves, and in the morning some of my companions and I went to Akihabara, that gadget, tech and otaku haven I had read about on the net. It was glorious, but I couldn’t really buy anything, because funds. But I enjoyed going around the many shops and stores and had a great time windowshopping. We had lunch at a KFC before going back to the hotel.

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In the afternoon it started raining, and when I asked my friends if they wanted to go to the Apple Store in Ginza, wherever that was, they all declined. Not only because it was raining hard and they didn’t know where Ginza was, but also because I was, apparently, the only Apple nut in the group. Which was not very encouraging, as I didn’t know where the hell to go, and it was very intimidating to find a building in the vast but orderly chaos of Tokyo. But I persevered, and went out on my lonesome.

I can’t imagine doing that nowadays, after my stroke. But I was a different person back then. It was a formidable task, but I was younger, and more impulsive and adventurous. I set about scouring for the address on the net, and when I got it, I went to the nearby commuter train station to find out how to get to Ginza. I spent a long time trying to decipher the inscrutable maps, but the natives turned out to be very helpful to a lost tourist. A couple of them took the time with their halting English to try and help me.

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Pretty soon I had the basic instructions on how to get to Ginza. Ginza Block 3, actually—it was located in a busy commercial district on Chuo-Dori, across from the Matsuya Department Store. It was a long, arduous trip from our hotel, with many train transfers, but I was game—how often do you get a chance to go to an actual Apple Store on such an eventful day? I got to the general area, but checking the map on my laptop, I found out there weren’t any rides to the place from the nearest train station other than a cab, and it was a long walk in the rain. Cabs in Tokyo were expensive. I chose to walk. At least I brought my trusty old raincoat with me.

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So I went, and when I finally got there I found a large crowd in front of the Apple Store. The store opens from 9AM to 9PM, everyday. It was around 3:30 in the afternoon, but apparently it was closed from 3 to 6PM to prepare for the Leopard launch, after which it would open again to loud fanfare, fuss and french horns. Swell.

waiting

I went and took pictures of the building and checked out the surrounding shops before joining the long line to get in. It must have wound around at least three or four blocks when I finally got to line up in the pouring rain. Japanese people were so orderly and polite, and you didn’t need to ask them to line up properly; they just did so by themselves. I was amazed. The Apple staff was very nice, and they gave us free drinks and complimentary umbrellas and plastic raincoats and generally tried to keep our spirits up while we waited.

It was kind of a nasty couple of hours, but I didn’t really mind. I made friends with the people in line with me— or at least I tried to; it was hard with my limited Nippongo and their limited English. But there was something about being Apple zealots that transcended nationalities, and we got along swimmingly. But it was getting dark, and I was alone in a strange, unfamiliar place populated with people that didn’t speak my language. I was determined not to worry.

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Finally, 6PM rolled around, and they started letting people in. The line went in fast (it was a big place) and I got to enter the store shortly after 6:30. In honor of the Leopard launch, they were giving away complimentary black t-shirts emblazoned with Apple and Leopard things. I snapped one up right away. I tried to get two, another for a “friend” who was also coming—heh— and using the language thing as an excuse to be largely unintelligible, but they wouldn’t budge. I proceeded into the store.

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The Apple Store at Ginza 3 was certainly a humongous place, four floors of product space and a “presentation” floor on the fifth, but it still got pretty crowded. It was a big party. There was a DJ setup on the second floor, playing loud, riotous, happy music, and the entire place was decorated to the nines with Leopard merchanding. I went up the glass stairs to the upper floors and explored to my heart’s content, looking at all the new Apple stuff, but I couldn’t buy anything, because, you know, funds.

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I went around and around in a daze moving from floor to floor. I saw MacBooks and iMacs and iPods and all the stuff Apple was selling. But it was getting late; I got my fill of the Apple Store, and finally headed for the long walk in the rain and the many train rides back to the hotel. I bungled the transfers on the way back, so I had to take the long away around, and it was almost 10PM when I got back to my area.

A-customer-samples-ramen

It was too late to catch dinner with the guys, so I did something I’d always wanted to do since watching Tampopo all those years ago: getting a quick bowl of ramen at a shop in the train station. It was difficult to order as I didn’t speak the language, so I just pointed to get my order—a large pork ramen with miso, which I devoured quickly standing up, as apparently this was how it was done at a busy train station. Then I walked back to my hotel, exhausted, but happy and satisfied.

Needless to say, I slept very well that night.


Aug 28 2015

Ramen! A quick review of Tampopo

Adel Gabot

tampopo

10:26AM

I first came across the word Tampopo in the old Virra Mall, before the gentrification of the Greenhills Commercial Center, back in the late 80s.

It was a Japanese ramen shop on the first floor on the side facing UniMart. It’s long since gone, of course, but I would come across the name again some time later in the video store on a corner of the second floor of Virra owned by screenwriter Ricky Lee. I discovered it was the also the title of a 1985 film directed by Juzo Itami—which of course I immediately rented.

Tampopo means “dandelion” in Nipponggo, which was the name of the main character, a widow who operated a small (and unsuccessful) ramen shop in Japan (in Tokyo I think, although it was never really identified in the movie).

Basically, it’s the story of how Tampopo (played by Nobuko Miyamoto, Itami’s wife) tries to make her ramen shop work with the help of two itinerant truck drivers (played by Tsutomo Yamasaki and Ken Watanabe) who, along with several other (minor) characters, guide her to eventual success.

It’s a comedy about food, love, sex, relationships and Japan, and it’s a wonderful, funny, giddy little film. It works with the wild abandon of its crazy ideas and concepts about Japan’s love affair with food and how it’s enjoyed in its many ways, shapes and forms there.

The movie is actually more of a crazy quilt of different stories tied together with Itami’s unique flow and direction. There’s the main running storyline of Tampopo, the two truck drivers and the ramen shop, but the movie’s shot through with many other odd stories and events, like a white-suited gangster and his food/love experiments with his mistress, the crazy old woman who loves squeezing products to ruin at a grocery, the bumbling business intern who’s secretly a fine-dining expert or the gang of homeless beggars who are, amazingly, closet food and wine connoisseurs.

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One notable sequence was all about ramen and the proper way of eating it. Seeing Gun (Watanabe) being schooled in the art of eating noodles by a wise old man was eye-opening and hilarious, and has stayed with me through the years and comes to mind every time I have a bowl of ramen in front of me. I mean, where can you find ramen makers pay so much attention to kneading the noodles and fussing about the lime content, or preparing the broth with such meticulous care and love. The old man even tells Gun to first gently prod the pork slices in the ramen “to show affection.” More scenes show this care: that scene where a hobo cooks a rice omelet for Tampopo’s son by sneaking into a restaurant’s closed kitchen, for instance, speaks of the intense love the Japanese have for cooking.

In fact, the juxtaposition of food, love and sex in Tampopo is wonderfully done, particularly with the gangster and his girlfriend as they pass a raw egg yolk between their mouths, or using live shrimp in a bowl with sake upended on the naked girl’s belly to tickle her mercilessly. You’re simultaneously shocked and enthralled by all the weirdness going on, and somehow that seems quite all right.

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Itami makes the disparate stories blend together somehow and make them all work. You sit watching for an hour and half and you’re not quite sure what you’re really watching, but the film grabs you with its weird, odd moments of pure beauty that your eyes well with tears while simultaneously laughing at the absurdity of some of the scenes. I suppose it’s more fun if you’re actually Japanese, but I think I got most of the in-jokes anyway.

I once owned an original DVD of the film, which has long been lost in the mad scramble of life (like Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now), but I currently have a wonderful subtitled digital copy of the movie, something that I rewatch and rediscover every few months.

It’s sad to note that Juzo Itami eventually would commit suicide in the late 90s after being accused of adultery, but his amazing work lives on.


Aug 16 2015

Reminiscing on my old life

Adel Gabot

5:02AM

We were on the way home from the wake and cremation services for my beloved cousin Jim Macalalad yesterday. Jim passed away last Monday, God rest his soul—and nope, I won’t blog about it; had a bad experience with his mother when I wrote about a hospital visit before, so no thanks.

My brother Burt and I were talking about that blog entry (search for it if you like—it was a late April post), and my brother said he was unaware that I had a “new” blog. I joked that Jim’s mother was more aware of my blog than my own brother was. He countered that he had been reading my old one, but wasn’t aware of the new blog (this one).

Cripes, this blog’s been up for going on six years now!

Anyway, all that talk about the old blog made me go to it last night and this morning, and idly read through it again.

I’m a bit taken aback by the younger me that wrote it. It’s like a different person entirely. He had an ease with the language, an easy facility, style and verve, and he apparently led an interesting, colorful life. But that’s the old Adel.

I, on the other hand, have a simple one now, and I’m still struggling with the mind-numbing effects of the stroke I had five years ago, the one that changed my life drastically.

I found an old entry on my old blog that made me smile and chuckle at the memories it evoked of my previous life, and thought I’d repost it here, just for the hell of it.

And I think, as I read through the blog, of reposting old, notable (to me, anyway) entries from it every now and then, and save you, casual reader, from going there yourself and having to pour through that junk.

So here’s the first repost from The Electric Journal of Adel Gabot:

 

“March 1st, 2008

Close encounters with the rich and famous

Been an atrociously crummy couple of weeks after my birthday, and I’ve been feeling pretty down.
To cheer myself up and conjure up a bit of fleeting esteem-by-association, I tried to remember brief and strange encounters with famous people I’ve had over the course of my life, while staring at the ceiling at 4 in the morning.You might notice I’m not explaining who’s who. If you don’t recognize some names (like, do you know who Ben Burtt is? Shame on you!), google them; I’m not elaborating. Some of these were so brief I sometimes wonder if they really happened; I think they did – I’m not yet that far gone. And yes, I admit it. I’m mababaw and kilig with these things. So sue me.
I’ve had more, but only these come to mind now. Over the course of the next few months, I’ll expound in more detail on some of the following incidents in the occasional post, and the others I can eventually remember. (A lot of them was when I was an FM radio DJ; I don’t go around harrassing celebs visiting the country. They come visit me.)
If there are any you’d like me to make kuwento first, just holler; otherwise I’ll just pick at random.

– trying hard to explain the tragi-comedy that is Philippine politics to a curious Neil Gaiman.
– Andrea Corr putting her arm around my waist and me putting mine around her shoulders.
– David Pack explaining to me why he’s got diarrhea (he had some ‘bag-ong’ for lunch).
– Noel Pointer destroying a chair in my booth during a radio interview by sitting on it.
– asking Lea Salonga who this newbie Christina Aguilera was co-opting her Mulan song.
– saving Earth, Wind & Fire’s ass by explaining onstage to 20,000 angry people why their concert was starting 2 hours late – and getting hell for it.
– telling Shaquille O’Neal to duck his head coming through my office door.
– shooting the breeze over the phone with Tina Arena long-distance for almost an hour.
– Jewel being exceedingly rude to me in a Taipei hotel room.
– Sir Ben Kingsley brushing off my attempt to get an autograph by saying he had to pee.
– getting Ben Burtt’s autograph.
– chatting with Patrick Stewart for ten minutes in a mall corridor in Hong Kong.
– asking Mark McGrath if the breakfast buffet was good at our Kuala Lumpur hotel.
– running into Quentin Tarantino on the escalator in Gateway in Cubao.
– asking Sir Richard Attenborough a stupid question at a press conference.
– pissing off Gloria Estefan with a rude question at a press conference.
– when forced to make small talk with Brooke Shields, asking how she found the weather.
– asking Lisa Loeb what she looked like without the glasses – and Lisa obliging by taking them off.
– seeing Stephen Bishop do something unspeakable in a soda glass in Megamall.
– Corinne Drewery holding my arm during their entire interview at my radio show.
– asking Basia how the hell one pronounces her surname.
– telling Peter O’Toole we don’t normally roll up the sleeves of a barong tagalog.
– having half a beer with Oliver Platt in a bar in Malate.
– asking Bobby Brown to have his muscle please leave the booth during our interview.
– almost choking on Russell Hitchcock’s BO and trying not to show it.
– almost choking on Beck’s BO and trying not to show it.
– shaking David Coulthard’s hand.
– Angela Chow co-hosting an entire episode of my radio program.”