Sunday, December 26, 2010

SSA L2765 C1 - Social Security fake letter? Identity theft scam?

Recently we received a letter in the mail asking for additional information about a real name and a social security number (SSN). Any time I get a request for any SSN numbers, I'm instantly suspicious. After all, your SSN is the source of your credit identity in the United States. The form is called "SSA-L2765-C1". It has a blue return envelope addressed to SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, WILKES BARRE DATA OPERATIONS CENTER, PO BOX 39, WILKES BARRE, PA 18767-0039.

After a few Google searches, I verified that the return address does belong to the Social Security agency. So this letter is legit, but you need to make sure if you receive something similar to this letter, to always verify.

This particular form is apparently attempting to correct discrepancies. Your employer may have submitted the incorrect name for your social security credits. If it's not corrected, you would not receive the proper amount in your SSN account.

Here's the official description from

Request for Self-Employment - SSA needs the information collected on Forms SSA-L2765, SSA-L3365, and SSA-L4002 in order to credit the reported earnings to the proper earnings record. When W-2 wage data for an individual cannot be identified, the data are placed in the earnings suspense file, and SSA sends decentralized correspondence (D?COR) to the employee (and in certain instances to the employer) in an attempt to obtain his/her correct name and SSN. If the respondent furnishes the name and SSN information which agrees with SSA's records, or provides information which resolves the discrepancy, the reported earnings are added to his or her Social Security record.

While this particular inquiry letter proved to be real for me, that may not be the case for you. Always, always, always, verify if it is a scam. People are always attempting to get your identity in one way, shape or form. refuses to let me buy more Kinect units - limited purchase quantity?

I bought Kinect for a gift and after seeing how much fun it was, I wanted to purchase it for my house.  I wanted to buy it again from Amazon since they give me free two day shipping.  Unfortunately, my second attempt was a total failure.  They wouldn't let me buy it again since I was over my purchase limit.  Say what?

Here's the message I got: "We are sorry. This item has limited purchase quantity. Because you have purchased the maximum allowable quantity in the past you cannot buy any more units of this item."

I mean seriously? I can't buy more than one?  Even if the first one wasn't for my own?  That's insane.  Okay Best Buy, looks like you are getting my money.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Globe WiMax - Bacolod, Negros Performance

I moved to a new area that didn't have DSL from either PLDT or Globe.

I temporarily used pre-paid wireless Internet that gave me unreliable speeds and quality of service (QOS) problems. When I heard that Globe had WiMax capabilities in my area, I went to their SM Mall office and filled out an application form for their 1mbps plan ($25 USD/month or 995 pesos/month).

Within two days of paying their P500 setup fee, they were able to install an antenna, a HUAWEI Echolife BM622 WiMax-certified "modem" (more like a router), and a 15 meter cable that connects the antenna to the modem.

The setup was fast. I was on the Internet the moment the modem was turned on. At first, the connection speeds recorded by ranged somewhere in the vicinity of 500kbps. After sending text messages to the technician to make sure I'm provisioned at 1mbps, it was resolved and I was able to record 1mbps speeds consistently about 36 hours later.

(I also did some modifications to the QoS settings inside the modem and made sure it was maximized. You need to "borrow" the admin password by looking at the HTML source code of the login screen and logging in as "admin" and using the borrowed password.)

DSL vs. WiMax

In my previous residence I was using Globe DSL and I have to say, Globe's WiMax offering seems to be more reliable. Globe DSL always had quality of service issues, consistent lag or packet loss where as the WiMax seems to be more reliable in that regard. This is "my case" and you may experience something different in your area, especially if you live in an urban city like Metro Manila that may not have clear line of sight signals from your nearest Globe tower and you would probably fare better with fixed wired connections.

Can you use a wireless router with Globe's BM622?

The short answer is yes.

I didn't have to do anything special, I connected my D-Link wireless router and viola, it was managing and auto assigning the DHCP connections without having to change the IP range in the router. (If that sounds too geeky, I just said I plugged it in and it worked.)

In fact, I turned on my XBox's wireless adapter add-on and I was able to logon to XBox Live (after almost 1.5 years of inactivity).


I like it, I'm a fan, and I encourage others who want stable Internet at home to try this out.

I have always been a skeptic of wireless Internet delivered via cell towers, especially after my earlier experiments with AT&T's wireless data services in the U.S. almost five years ago. But when you are desperate for a stable Internet connection, you'll try anything -- even wireless Internet again. I'm pleasantly surprised that the much advertised technology upgrades of wireless Internet via 4G is actually true for my case.

The new WiMax service outperforms SmartBro's 3G USB modems and even Globe's own 3G USB modem. That's the nature of the beast, they are just different technologies and you have better signal strength with physical antennas being screwed on top of your roof.

XBox billing glitches hamper renewals

Incorrect information may stop XBox users from renewing

If you are attempting to renew your XBox Live Gold membership or sign up for the new family pack deals, you may experience a strange error when you attempt to renew. When I attempted to sign up a few minutes ago, it gave me this error code: "Uh oh... that shouldn't have happened. It appears you've found a glitch in the system." The console version of this is a status code error.

The worst part of this whole problem is that it did not offer me a solution or an alternative. It did not even offer a telephone number to call.

This is a revenue generating action and the console and the online site stops customers from executing and renewing. That's not good!

What does this error code mean?

For most users, it means you need to update your credit card and contact information in Microsoft's billing system.

A quick Google search of this error code shows thousands of dissatisfied users complaining about the problem and yet there's no "official" solution. The "advanced" users know there's a toll-free number to call (800-4MY-XBOX) and that they can get it fixed through a customer service representative. But this is also a problem -- every call a customer makes incurs a cost.

There's also some horror stories as well of double billing and credit card issues because anytime you add the human element to a broken automated process, there's increased chances of human error.

Microsoft engineers needs to post an online solution that can fix this problem.

As an XBox user concerned about future fees, I don't want the support cost of this product to go up, nor do I want anymore fee hikes. As a Microsoft shareholder, I also don't want the company to lose profits or customers due to this bad experience.

How'd I fix it without calling support?

I have experienced similar issues with XBox before and I found that you can update your Microsoft billing information online without having to call. The links below helped me get pass these errors and I finally was able to renew my membership WITHOUT calling billing support. Update your contact information, email address, etc. Update your credit card information. Login to the online XBox/Windows Live community first.

I'm posting this hoping that Microsoft will implement a permanent fix and users have an alternative to fixing this problem without having to call.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Large Flying Fox (Pteropus vampyrus)-1476

Large Flying Fox (Pteropus vampyrus)-1476
Originally uploaded by Don Sausa

Location: Mt. Kanlaon National Park, Philippines

I'm not a fan of bats, but for me to not photograph them while I'm in Negros would be a crime. So I'm paying respects to these endangered animals.

They roost along with other species of bats like the Giant golden-crowned flying fox (Acerodon jubatus) which I also photographed. If someone wants to really see them, let me know, otherwise, it will just remain in my storage drives.

My mountain guide showed me a spot above the Mambukal Mountain Resort and I had the bats at eye level.

Despite the funky "vampyrus" name to it, these bats are fruit bats. I believe they are the main reason why I found santol fruit trees (Sandoricum koetjape) at the primary forest in Mt. Kanlaon. There's no farming or human activity up there.

Fixing my 1TB USB drive: Seagate FreeAgent Go 1 TB USB 2.0 Review

I wanted to do a quick write up of Seagate's FreeAgent Go 1TB USB drive. I bought it in May 2010 and it stopped working for me over the weekend (October 2010).

I'm very careful with my drives as I have a significant amount of photographs and wildlife videos in them. I plugged it in this weekend and I was shocked that it wouldn't read my drive.  The power light turned on but I didn't see Windows recognizing the drive.  I tried to hear if there was any physical damage and wasn't able to detect the usual audible "clicks" that sometimes occur when your drives crash.

I had two choices: attempt to open it myself and fix something, or send it in for repair under Seagate's five year warranty.  The problem with the latter choice is that potentially, Seagate would just ship me a new drive and wipe out my old data.   That would be a disaster.  My hard drive was worth $100 or so, but the data that's in it is priceless.

Choice 1: Fix it!

1. I opened up the top container of the drive with a small screwdriver.  It needs to be a small screwdriver, like the ones used for eye glasses.  The yellow arrows in the image below shows where the glue is placed so the container would stick.  Aside from the glue and a small LED cable, there's nothing else holding the container panel together.

2. The red arrow shows the LED power cable.  Even if you damage it, it won't hurt your data or your hard drive.  I originally thought this was something important but all it does is power up the LED lights so that you know the hard drive is turned on when you plug it in.

3. The green arrow shows where the problem was.   The power connector / data connector was loose.  Every time I plugged it in, the contacts weren't connecting properly.  Once I pushed it back in and held it steady a piece of paper folded several times (or you can use foam), the hard drive was readable again.

Success!  I didn't lose 700 GB of data on my 1TB drive.

I have no doubt that by opening this I may have voided my warranty.  So be warned if you are thinking about fixing your own hard drive.  You have to understand which is more important to you.

Will I buy this hard drive again?

There's some reviews online from Amazon and other sites that their hard drives of the same models crashed. Some talked about hardware issues like faulty sectors, but I believe some also were affected by this "loose connector" issue.

At any rate, now that I know it's a relatively easy fix if this happens to me again, I will continue to buy this model. Overall it is reliable except for that one loose part that can be remedied with one quick fix.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Intermediate Egret (Ardea intermedia)

Intermediate Egret (Ardea intermedia)-1977
Originally uploaded by Don Sausa

Location: Bgy. Sum-ag, Bacolod City, Negros Island, Philippines

A Scottish birder, Gerry Brett, who resides in Thailand stopped by in Bacolod and did some sorties with me. He told me of a great spot he found in Barangay Sum-ag. When we got there, the tide was still pretty high. As we managed our way through, a fisherman told us (in Ilonggo) that there were birds coming in at 5:30pm.

Roughly around that time, literally hundreds of Intermediate Egrets (Ardea intermedia) flooded the sky. This was the largest colony I have ever personally seen in the Philippines. What a miracle! It was a testament to the egrets' ability to survive despite destruction of their original habitats.

The Intermediate Egret (Ardea intermediam) is a medium-sized heron. It is a resident breeder from east Africa across tropical southern Asia to Australia. This species, as its scientific name implies, is intermediate in size between the Great Egret and smaller white egrets like the Little Egret and Cattle Egret, though nearer to Little than Great. It has all-white plumage, generally dark legs and a thickish yellow bill. The sexes are similar.

Friday, September 24, 2010

China's secret weapon: rare earth materials

How China forced Japan to bow

China showed its hand this month on how powerful it has become in using its economic power to influence foreign governments. While nuclear weapons and military capabilities no doubt still is the ultimate deterrent and measurement of a superpower, it is nothing in comparison to the economic weapons that can be used in times of peace.

On September 8th, the Japanese coast guard captured a Chinese fishing vessel in the disputed territory of Senkaku Islands and arrested it's captain. Japanese prosecutors were attempting to put him through an official court hearing. However, China demanded his immediate release arguing that the arrest was illegal.

Japanese prosecutors initially resisted releasing the Chinese national, but eventually bowed to pressure in less than a week after Chinese customs officials stopped rare earth shipments to Japan.

The unofficial export ban (an official ban would violate WTO rules) of these important raw materials would critically endanger Japan's economy in the long term. The materials are needed for manufacturing sophisticated electronic components that are used in batteries, aircraft parts, cars, cameras, cell phones, and military equipment.

Japan also has no choice but to buy from China. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, out of the 124,000 tons of rare earth materials that are sold annually worldwide, China ships 97% of it.

An April 2010 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) also highlights America's weaknesses to China's monopoly and could find itself in a situation similar to Japan. The report states it will take nearly 15 years before the United States can wean itself off from foreign supply chains.

How China almost took control of Mountain Pass, California

The largest rare earth mine that's not in China or under Chinese control can be found in Mountain Pass, California. It was nearly purchased by a Chinese company when the U.S. oil company, Unocal, was up for bid in 2005. Thankfully, there was a lot of domestic opposition to the sale.

While Congress and the media was focused on the negative consequences of foreign influence on our energy supply (as if there's not enough), many did not notice that Unocal owned the Mountain Pass mine. In fact, I would argue that the only reason why China was interested in Unocal at all was because of the mine. With it, they could solidify their total control of rare earth materials and could leverage that into political power against the United States and other countries, as we have witnessed in Japan.

What can you do?

Educate yourself and write a letter to your congressman. Support alternatives to China's monopoly of rare earth materials and have Congress approve incentives to kick start our domestic supply. Besides, who would want to have a shortage on aircraft maintenance supplies or batteries for your latest gadget and electric powered cars?

Friday, September 10, 2010

"Swiss Valley: A glimpse of heaven"

"Swiss Valley: A glimpse of heaven"
Originally uploaded by Don Sausa

Jen and I were on a small train to the Jungfrau-Aletsch Protected Area, the only World Heritage Site in the Alps. We had to go to this small town called Grindelwald which you see in the valley below. That town's at 4,000 feet above sea level and I'm guessing here, but I took this shot probably around 5,000 feet.

I can honestly say that this valley is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. Simply, simply amazing. It makes you want to think what heaven would be like.

I didn't know this until later but Grindelwald's very popular in film:

- Many scenes of the documentary film The Alps were shot in the region of Grindelwald.
- The James Bond film, On Her Majesty's Secret Service includes a chase through a skating rink and Christmas festival in Grindelwald.
- Grindelwald's mountains were used as the basis for the view of Alderaan in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.
- Some of the action scenes in The Golden Compass were also shot in Grindelwald.
- JK Rowling is said to have used the name of 'Grindelwald' in the creation of her character; Gellert Grindelwald, in the Harry Potter novels.

Equipment: Canon 7D + Canon 17-40mm f/4L: 1/160 secs, f8, ISO 100
Composition notes: The valley starts from the bottom right of the frame and leads to the top of the mountain.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Hova Bator Air Flowing Incubator Review

Incubator with quail and hen eggs.
I've recently hatched 15 chicks: 5 Japanese quail (Coturnix japonica), and 10 regular chickens after one month of use in my awesome new Hova Bator. The setup wasn't as simple as I thought. There's a few included parts that you have to install:

  1. You have to actually screw in a small piece of metal called a thermostat wafer.
  2. Lay down a piece of plastic and put a little bit of warm water.
  3. Then a small metallic screen where you put the eggs on top of it.

After all of the parts are installed, you can then turn it on and just put the eggs in! I've managed to put in a mix of quail and chicken eggs together with no problems, although you have to make sure the new hatchings don't trample over the eggs that haven't hatched yet.

It will maintain 100 F degrees and have a fan spinning the entire time it's operating.

Excellent experiment for my kids to play around with.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus carolinensis)

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus carolinensis)
Originally uploaded by Don Sausa

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus carolinensis)

Location: J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel, Florida, USA.

After church, my family and I went on a Sabbath nature walk and visited the largest undeveloped mangrove reserve in the world: J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

It wasn't the right season for all of the migratory birds, but I was hoping to see at least some birds pop out.

I really wanted to capture an osprey or some sort of raptor up close and as we exited the drive-through area of the reserve, my dad saw this osprey perched on a tree.

It was magnificent! The right bird and the right lens (Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS) made this shot easy! I did some handheld and then when I saw the osprey not budging from his location, I took out the tripod.

To be honest I have lived in Florida all my life and have largely ignored the abundant wildlife that surrounded me until I started buying super telephoto lenses. With these lenses I could see them up close and personal. God created some magnificent creatures.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Fort Myers Moon - Handheld Shot

Fort Myers Moon - Handheld Shot
Originally uploaded by Don Sausa

This was a handheld shot using a Canon 7D + 1.4x TC + Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS. (Yes folks, this is a heavy lens.)

All processing done within Canon's DPP (no Photoshop alterations) and watermarked via LR3.

Friday, July 23, 2010

URGENT: USA cred. authority (FSBPT) bans Philippines graduates from physical therapy exam for 1+ year (NPTE)

I want to invite you to read about a recent controversial decision that has affected an entire country and would like to hear your feedback.  Plus, if you agree with me on this post and you live in the United States, please write to your congressman.

I have outlined my points below.
  • WHO. A non-profit organization, called Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT) certifies most physical therapy / physical therapy applicants in the United States. 
    • Presumably, most of the income that they earn every year originate from the state governments' referrals for their exams and services and any taxpayer funded support from those respective state health boards. 
    • This non-profit, pseudo-government organization holds a virtual monopoly on physical therapy exams.
    • As part of their service to the government and the American public, FSBPT investigates whether test exam questions are being recalled from previous test takers and are being shared.  
    • Their security checks attempt to ensure the protection of the American public by making sure all physical therapy exam passers have the knowledge to practice this health profession.
  • WHAT.  In the past, FSBPT has found cheaters in the United States and other countries.  
    • This time they found alleged cheaters in Manila, Philippines, specifically in one island. In particular, a review center called St. Louis Review Center (SLRC) stood out as the biggest issue "...and its alleged owners/operators, Gerard L. Martin, Roger P. Tong-An and Carlito Balita...".
    • Instead of banning graduates from that review center or from that area, they banned graduates of the entire country from taking the normal NPTE exam.  
    • To sum it up: potential issue in one island, FSBPT bans 7,100 islands.
    • When asked, if there were Philippine PT graduates that already live in the U.S. and never stepped foot in the alleged review center, would they also be banned from taking the normal exam?  Answer: They are still banned. Here is their full e-mail:

    • On Sat, Jul 17, 2010 at 1:31 AM,
                Shana Dawkins wrote:           Don,
      Testing is being halted for new PT and PTA NPTE registrations for graduates of Egyptian, Indian, Pakistani and Philippine programs. This applies even to candidates residing in the U.S. 
      You will be required to take the NPTE-YRLY if you wish to test when it becomes available and will not be eligible until then.
      Separate PT and PTA examinations, called the NPTE-YRLY, will be developed for Egyptian, Indian, Pakistani and Philippine programs.
      The Federation estimates that the new examinations will be available in fall 2011. The plan is to continue to offer the NPTE-YRLY once a year for graduates of those programs going forward.
      The locations at which this test will be given have not yet been determined. This decision is final and there are no exceptions.
      Please contact our office by phone if you have additional questions rather than responding to this email.
      Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy
      124 West Street South Third Floor
      Alexandria, VA 22314 703-739-9420

      From: Don Sausa
      Sent: Wednesday, July 14, 2010 1:12 PM
      Subject: NPTE for Philippines graduate living in US?
      I understand there's security concerns in test/exam centers in the Philippines. How about for graduates already in the United States and are U.S. citizens living here but graduated from a Philippines school? Are those individuals banned too from taking the test? Even though they've never been to a Philippines review center?

  • SANCTIONS AGAINST THE PHILIPPINES: Fair Action? Or Discrimination? I have officially sent a request to FSBPT today to see meeting minutes, voting records, and investigation notes to help me understand whether their decision to ban an entire country from the normal NPTE exam was fair.
    • Unequal treatment? Graduates in America were also found cheating in the past and in a more recent case even provided false credentials to get into an exam.  With such blatant fraud, how come U.S.-based graduates aren't also in question and aren't banned from normal NPTE exams? (Obviously, a rhetorical question. My point is, I disagree with discriminating against an entire population. Punish the criminals, not the innocents!)
  • POINT #1 - Federation's Decision Hurts America's Health: America's schools has not been able to sufficiently meet the demands of an aging population.  As more people retire, the needs for nurses and physical therapists have been increasing.  
    • In fact, the demand is so high that Wall Street Journal's Career Journal considers the PT profession to be one of the eight best and most in demand professions in America.  
    • As a case study, a recent article in Puget Sound Business Journal, shows that Washington has over 320,000+ unemployed individuals in public record yet they could not fill any of the physical therapy openings at Symmetry Physical Therapy's clinic.  There's simply no supply.  
    • In my opinion, the Federation's decision to cut the supply will negatively affect patient care.  
  • POINT #2 - Federation's Decision Is Inhumane: The plane ticket to America, meals, hotels, the visa clearance, and the difficulty of going through U.S. immigration rules by itself, could easily cost a college graduate's family well over $5000.  This is coming from a country that has a yearly per capita income of $3,300 (source: CIA World Book).  In layman's terms, an average Filipino family would have to give up almost two years worth of income just to take this exam.
  • POINT #3 - Federation's Decision Is Hurting Innocent People, Including Those In Poverty: The Federation has an impressive list of health professionals in their board of directors. A group of health professionals that know the in's and out's of the health industry. But the relative ease of this decision and re-affirmation of it days later is very concerning and shows a lack of depth or understanding on what they have done to thousands of families. They have punished innocent PT graduates by directly banning an entire country's graduates.
    • There were innocent PT graduates that spent their family's life savings that's in the U.S. already to take the exam and now they have been told to wait one year.  
    • But the truth is: these applicants have to re-take all of the visa work, the immigration work, language tests, and other processes all over again!  
    • They have to once again find the same amount of money (nearly 2 years worth of an average family's income) because the PT graduates' visas and certificates have expiration dates.  They can't stay in the U.S. indefinitely.
    • As we speak, there are now people suffering from this decision -- innocent people, a significant number of which are in poverty. What happened to due process?  Innocent before proven guilty?

1. You can fax FSBPT at (703) 299-3110, and call them at (703) 299-3100 and write to them at 509 Wythe Street, Alexandria, Virginia 22314. You should also e-mail them at: It is important that you send and communicate your dissatisfaction across all lines of communication, to make sure they receive the message.

2. Even if you are not a candidate, if you disagree with the discriminatory actions taken by the FSBPT that affects the life savings of thousands of candidates and applicants, you should communicate your dissatisfaction to FSBPT. Please be cordial as possible, along the lines of: "While I agree that an investigation needs to be conducted, I disagree with discriminating against an entire country."

3. If you are a U.S. citizen or U.S. resident, write to your congressman and senator.  Join the petition and instantly write to your congressman.

4. Write to your attorney general's office (U.S. citizen or legal resident) and ask for an investigation on the legality of such discriminatory practices.

5. Write to your physical therapy state board body.

6. Contact all Asian and Filipino associations and ask them if they should tolerate FSBPT's discriminatory actions.

7. If you are a lawyer or know of a lawyer in your state, ask them if they know of any state statutes that FSBPT may have broken since their ban is across all states against any PT graduate from the Philippines...even if that applicant never set foot in a Philippines review center.

8. Contact physical therapy associations in your state and lobby for support.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

My Sabbath Expedition: Balaring, Silay, Philippines

Healthy Coastal Habitats in Negros Occidental: A Rare Treat

Two days ago, I read about the extensive mangrove forest restoration efforts at Balaring, Silay. Over the years, the local government, BAMPA, Japanese aid groups (IKAW-AKO), Girl Scouts, and the international chipmaker, AMD, have cleaned up the coast line and the nearby estuaries.

I have been monitoring the shorelines of Bacolod for quite some time and have found them to be depressing, with little wildlife activity and an abundant supply of pollution. The only birds I typically find near the Bacolod shore lines are Euroasian Tree Sparrows that people mistakenly identify as mayas. So I was quite surprised, and excited to read about the restoration efforts at this little township called Balaring.

Restoration of Mangroves = Bird Watershed?

I was curious whether the restoration efforts increased the amount of bird activity in the area.

You see birds can be an instant bellwether of the local environment.

The late Roger Tory Peterson, an ornithologist, and one of the founding fathers of the modern environmental movement, once said, "Birds are an ecological litmus paper. Because of their rapid metabolism and wide geographic range, they reflect changes in the environment quickly..."

With the wife's approval, and with little Kaycee's prayers, we set out on a mini-bird expedition as a Sabbath activity. With my Canon 7D packed, and insect repellent, we drove to Balaring and arrived there with just one wrong turn (a record!).

Directions: Getting There

From Manila, you fly to Bacolod-Silay airport. You take a right on the main national highway (Rizal St/Lacson), go for a couple of miles until you are at the end of Silay proper. As you are about to exit the city, you will find sugarcane fields and one lone building, the T.L. Jalandoni Provincial Hospital. Take a left immediately after that hospital and follow the road to the coast.

From Bacolod, you head north on Lacson St and head north. As you are about to exit the city of Silay, you will find sugarcane fields and one lone building, the T.L. Jalandoni Provincial Hospital. Take a left immediately after that hospital and follow the road to the coast.

First impressions of the area

The coastal area of Balaring is fairly primitive. I want to set your expectations straight, do not expect any three star accommodations here or for that matter, running water and electricity.

You can tell most of the industry here is primarily dependent on fishing and aquaculture. There's a few floating restaurants nearby that may interest the adventure loving tourist. I hear they have some of the best seafood in town.

Eureka! Birds!

And as I looked around, I started seeing some signs of wildlife near the fish farms. I pulled out the trusty Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS lens and a Canon EF 1.4X II extender to see what kind of birds were in this area and to my surprise, I saw a Striated Heron (Butorides striata)! The first time I've seen them in this region.

These birds are known for some unique behaviors such as dropping feathers or leaves on the water so they can attract fish!

This is the same kind of bird but at another location near Silay called Talisay.

Then after the Striated Heron, I saw a white bird walking about. It was a Little Egret (Egretta Garzetta) stalking fish.

Also saw the White-collared Kingfisher (Todirhampus chloris).

Probably the most common bird I saw aside from the typical sparrows, were the Pacific Swallow or Hill Swallow (Hirundo tahitica). A rare treat that he stopped for a few minutes to let me take a picture.

Another large bird I saw was an interesting Javan Pond Heron (Ardeola speciosa). It has breeding plumage, so it must be mating season. Look carefully and you will find two of them in the picture.

And what's a bird tour in the Philippines without at least one picture of the Philippine maya, the national bird of the Philippines up until 1995. The Black-headed Munia also known as Chestnut Munia (Lonchura atricapilla) is an estrildid finch found throughout Asia. The subspecies that's endemic to the Philippines is called Lonchura atricapilla jagori.

Here's a couple of pictures of a face off between the Javan Pond Heron (Ardeola speciosa) and the Little Egret (Egretta Garzetta) and one Javan Pond Heron flying off.

Conclusion: Balaring has a future, for the birds and for the people

Looks like the habitat restoration is paying off, with migratory birds and non-migratory birds taking advantage of the new ecosystem developing around the newly expanded mangrove forest. In time, you will see the supply of fish increase as these estuaries mature and more birds will come to the area.

From an economic standpoint, Silay could take advantage of this and further expand this area, not only ensuring that the fishing villages have ample stocks of fish through the habitat restoration, but to also expand the current ecotourism attractions from the current mangrove forests tours to guided bird tours that employ the local population. Add solar powered lights for night use, pave the dirt road, put in a weekly garbage collection route, add some picnic tables, and this place could be an awesome weekend distraction even for the locals.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Pinoys: Will the real Philippine Maya bird please stand up?

This is a classic case study of incorrect information being passed on from generation to generation. I hope this little piece of information can help calibrate the Philippine national identity just a little bit.

The Philippine Maya Bird
The real maya, the Philippines' national bird before 1995.

False Maya Bird of the Philippines
This was never a national bird of the Philippines!

One of the most widely spread misinformation in the Philippines is the identity of our formal national bird. Before the Philippine Eagle was declared as the official national bird of the Philippines in 1995, the title previously belonged to the Philippine maya.

Everyone thinks it's the brown bird...
When I was a child, I was told all of those tiny brown birds were all mayas. Everyone around me thought the same. My friends, family, and teachers, all of them thought the brown birds were mayas. Unfortunately what I was taught was incorrect. These brown animals, the most widely seen bird species in the country, is not actually endemic to the Philippines. It's found all over Europe and Asia and was introduced here. The official name of this bird is the Eurasian Tree Sparrow or Passer montanus.

The real maya stands out -- it's red in color
Thankfully this morning, in my backyard in Bacolod, Philippines, a real maya bird visited my garden. This was the first time I've ever captured a real maya bird on a DSLR. He was looking to build his nest and something in my garden attracted him. Soon there were two of them looking around for building material.

The Philippine maya is otherwise known as the Black-headed Munia also known as Chestnut Munia (Lonchura atricapilla). While it's family is found throughout Asia, the maya bird subspecies particularly belongs to the Philippines. It's called Lonchura atricapilla jagori.

When they are young, the color of their feathers are brown but when they mature, they turn red.

So there you have it, you have now been given truth. Spread it out and help educate the masses! Teach your friends, relatives, and children the correct information. If you are Pinoy, you should at least know your former national bird wasn't an introduced species by foreigners.

Maya bird, the Philippine national bird before 1995

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Hong Kong's "A Symphony of Lights"

Hong Kong's "A Symphony of Lights"
Originally uploaded by Don Sausa

Traditionally, on July 4th weekend I would see fireworks in the United States. But since I'm in Asia, I guess this will do.

According to Guinness World Records, Hong Kong's "A Symphony of Lights" is considered to be the world's largest permanent light and sound show. There are over 40 buildings involved in the show and the features include laser beams, search lights, and colored displays, all of which synchronized to the music that's playing over loud speakers. The show typically starts at 8pm and ends around 8:15pm. This shot was taken near the Clock Tower at Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon.

This is not HDR. This is a plain shot with light contrast, no post process noise reduction either. Equipment: Canon 7D and Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L lens using a tripod, remote trigger, and a 1/25 sec shutter at ISO 100.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Photography workshop in Bacolod, Philippines

Just posting a plug for Teleperformance Philippines' Shutterbug Photography Workshop on July 19, 2010 that I'll be participating in. This is free for all active Teleperformance employees that want to learn about the basic fundamentals of photography.

In class sessions will be about 3 hours and practical portraits/shooting will be done in the afternoon.

For more information, contact:

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Lightroom 3 and Windows 7 file association problem

Lightroom 3 (LR3) file association bug in Windows 7.

This screenshot shows what happens when Adobe Lightroom 3 (LR3) is properly installed and has the capability to open image files.  However, I found a bug where this particular option would disappear.  Here's how to replicate it or in case you are experiencing the problem, this is how to fix it:

Problem Summary:
  1. Paid $99 to upgrade LR3 Beta to LR3 official release
  2. In the past, I was able to right click on images and load it in LR3 Beta directly
  3. When I upgraded, that option to right click disappeared, LR3 or LR3 Beta was not in the choices.
  4. Attempts to manually add it using typical 'associate with' method in Windows was futile.
  1. Go to your registry (run 'regedit')
  2. Go to Computer\HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\Applications\lightroom.exe\shell\open\command
  3. Modify it to reflect the new path of the new LR3 version that you installed. This key when I opened it still had the LR3 Beta file path, which the installer failed to update.


It seems like the upgrade installer does not properly fix the old registry keys for the LR3 beta version. This causes a conflict and Windows simply removes LR3 from the open with dialog box.

I have highlighted the correct path in the registry to what it should look like.

Please note it is dangerous to mess around with your registry keys if you don't know what you are doing. Back it up before doing anything, but if you have no clue how to do it .... just don't do it.

There have been some talk in the Microsoft troubleshooting forums that this happens to upgrades. Someone mentioned it occurred in a Photoshop 7 to CS3 upgrade. I have suggested this to Adobe as a bug fix.

Red Theater's Kungfu Show in Beijing

Red Theater's Kungfu Show in Beijing
Originally uploaded by Don Sausa

A Chinese boy meditates at the Red Theater lobby in Beijing.

While the story portrayed in the show has opportunities in developing the plot, the show itself and the martial arts techniques it employs is incredible. At one point, small children roughly the same age as the one pictured conduct hazardous back flips and they purposely land their heads consecutively, 4-5 times in a row.

A most impressive feat, not only because these kids are so young and talented, but the fact that child labor laws allow them to do this?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

"Sea House" Published on CNN Travel

"Sea House" Published on CNN Travel
Originally uploaded by Don Sausa

My photograph, "Sea House", was published on CNN Travel. The picture was taken on April 11, 2010 near Bacolod, Philippines and was awarded as "Travel Photo of the Day" by producers.

My caption, "These structures can sometimes be very elaborate, but most of them are small and are designed as holding areas for fish or mussels. Some structures have makeshift beds for fishermen that want to take a nap."

Access this link for details on the gear that was used and a full picture.

Put Fraudulent Call Center Employees in Jail

Case study: A true zero tolerance policy terminates employment and seeks imprisonment for fraudulent call center activity. 

What do I think of pastors and priests that abuse children? Scum. What do I think of doctors that abuse their patients? Worst that sewage. What do I consider call center agents that defraud their customers? Deserving nothing less than jail.

So this story is about a Capital One agent, who does activations. The short story is this: my wife calls to activate her card. A Capital One agent activates it but then attempts to do an upsell for payment protection. Payment protection is simply put, if you lose your job, or you suffer an injury that causes you to be disabled, the bank keeps paying your bill. Obviously not needed when you hardly have any balance on the account!

So why does this call center agent keep insisting? For one, in this type of work, Capital One may require him to make rebuttals at least two to three times on a refusal. Secondly, this agent's job performance maybe dependent on these types of metrics along with average handling time (AHT), and customer satisfaction (CSAT). Third and the most likely scenario, he may get monetary incentives in upselling these sales packages.

Whatever the case maybe on why he has pressure to perform, whether it be for financial gain or for performance obligations, when a customer clearly says no, you stop. But instead of stopping and letting the call end, he proceeds to add this package to my wife's account.

Fast forward to May 2010's statement, I see the payment protection added to my wife's account.

So what if you were a victim of fraud like my wife? The first step is to let the bank know through their abuse and fraud department. Thankfully Capital One made this easy. Their email address is Second, let them know that you are willing to press for criminal charges.

In my wife's case, when the agent committed the fraudulent act in the Philippines, there are laws in the Philippines that applies, specifically Access Device Regulation Act of 1998 which calls for six to ten years of jail.  The message that I want to send to the outsourced vendor and their agents in Cebu that's handling Capital One transactions?  Before you commit an act of crime because you want to get a little incentive or want to please your supervisor with your scores, just remember, nobody cares about that when you land in prison.

7/15/2010 Update: CEO said they'll take care of it and refunded the money.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Azure-winged Magpie (Cyanopica cyana) @ Temple of Heaven, Beijing, China

Azure-winged Magpie (Cyanopica cyana) @ Temple of Heaven, Beijing, China
Originally uploaded by Don Sausa

This long tailed, beautiful Azure-winged Magpie or the Cyanopica cyana was collecting raw materials for its nest. Taken at Beijing, China near the gate entrance of the Temple of Heaven.

Shot using a 300mm f/4L IS + 1.4x teleconverter.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Kite to Heaven

Kite to Heaven
Originally uploaded by Don Sausa

"Kite to Heaven"

A Chinese man shows off his kite flying skills in Houhai (后海/後海), a popular area in Beijing home to a park with a lake and boats, several restaurants, and bars. Very popoular with foreign tourists and the expatriate community.

The Great Wall @ Badaling, Beijing

The Great Wall @ Badaling, Beijing
Originally uploaded by Don Sausa

Qin Shi Huang conquered and united China in 221 BC establishing the Qin Dynasty. He wanted to protect the empire against intrusions by the Xiongnu people from the north, so he ordered the building of a new wall to connect the remaining fortifications along the empire's new northern frontier.

Pictured here is the "North Pass" of Juyongguan known as Badaling. In ancient times, this is one of the most well guarded areas of the Wall as it was the gateway to the capital: Beijing.

This picture was taken on top of a guard tower and this would be what a Chinese soldier would see in ancient times.

The Silent Rebel

The Silent Rebel
Originally uploaded by Don Sausa

You often hear about the strictness of Chinese discipline and how the Party exerts an incredible amount of control...when I finally came to visit the country, I found out these guys are as normal as the rest of the world. There's still plenty of ways they get away with things.

For instance, in this picture, a communist guard uses his cell phone while at work and was hiding in a corner away from surveillance cameras. Check the top left of the picture and you will find the camera he's hiding from. I initially thought he was sleeping.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Lonchura punctulata cabanisi aka Scaly-breasted Munia or The Spice Finch (Philippines endemic subspecies)

Lonchura punctulata cabanisi aka Scaly-breasted Munia or The Spice Finch (Philippines endemic subspecies)
Originally uploaded by Don Sausa

Shot on Negros Island, photographed at the Bulata village in the municipality of Cauayan, Negros Island on May 31, 2010. He was attempting to get the leaves from this branch. This specific subspecies can only be found in the Philippines (endemic).

This location is about 10 minutes away by boat from Danjugan Island Marine and Wildlife Reserve, a known sanctuary for birds.

This is sometimes called the Scaly-breasted Munia or The Spice Finch. It is also one of the birds mistakenly called "maya" in the Philippines. They will call almost any small brown bird as "maya" down here.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Black-naped Oriole (Oriolus chinensis), Negros, Philippines

Black-naped Oriole (Oriolus chinensis), Negros, Philippines
Originally uploaded by Don Sausa

This is a Black-naped Oriole (Oriolus chinensis) I photographed at the Bulata village in the municipality of Cauayan, Negros Island on May 31, 2010. He was sun bathing.

This location is about 10 minutes away by boat from Danjugan Island Marine and Wildlife Reserve.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Lehigh Acres crime statistics, is it that bad?

Back in August of 2007, I posted a concern about criminal activity in Lehigh Acres. Lehigh Acres is part of Lee County and an area right outside my hometown of Fort Myers. With a population of 49,000 (est 2009), I was shocked with the amount of violent crime being reported daily on the news.

May 2010 - fast forward

So has things improved since I first highlighted Lehigh Acres as an area of concern in my county? According to the News-Press and other sources, violent crime continues to make the headlines in Lehigh Acres. A quick glance of the news in the area clearly showed there's still lingering problems with violent crime.

Here's a quick scan for just May alone:

May 21, 2010: Manual Rosales arrested for attempting to kill a 20 year old and her 3 month old son. Both victims remain in critical condition.

May 21, 2010: A 15-year old boy was found dead with a gunshot wound to the face. His mother found him.

May 12, 2010: A homicide investigation on 21st Street SW, near Susan Avenue. The neighbor, Eddie Maurice said, he heard gunshots, but he didn't think anything of it because he hears gunshots all the time. That's a bad indication of a bad town. The victim was Maria DeLourdes Bauza, age 48, which police said the victim's body was tied to the undercarriage of the suspect's car and she was dragged from her home to a lot across the street. The suspect, 58-year-old Zacarias Jaime Izquierdo, has been arrested.

May 6, 2010: A 15 year old student, David Rodriguez of 4300 West 13 St attempted to enter his former local high school (Lehigh Senior High School) with a concealed weapon: a semi-automatic handgun. He tried to bypass normal entrances. This could have been a very, very bad day. Kudos to the security guard that reported this problem to a deputy.

Crime Statistics

It's difficult to find crime statistics of Lehigh Acres because it's not technically a town or a city but rather a census designated place. The crime statistics tend to be skewed as it gets added to the base population of the metro Fort Myers area or Lee County.

Thankfully there are a couple of data sources that reveal neighborhood specific crime rates. One of which is Sperling's Best Places crime index and CL Research's crime index.

Sperling Best Places Crime Index

The ratings below are scored from 1 to 10, with 1 being the lowest crime rate. It also shows a comparison to U.S. national averages.

The result unfortunately shows that Lehigh Acres is double the crime rate compared to the national average in terms of property and violent crimes.

CLRSearch Crime Index

Not wanting to rely on one source for statistics, I looked at a 2009 crime index by Onboard Informatics / CLRSearch. The data shows that if you live in Lehigh Acres, you have a 10% higher risk in being a victim of personal crime vs. the national average, or a 4% higher risk in murder vs the national average, and an astounding 41% higher risk in being a rape victim vs. the national average.


No matter what I look at, whether the current news trends or the latest criminal statistics from commercial sources, there's one thing that they are all indicating: Lehigh Acres has a huge crime problem.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Review: Newspapers state Dr. Venter created synthetic life for the first time, but other scientists disagree


Telegraph recently published an article with a sub-headline, "Artificial life has been created in a laboratory for the first time by a maverick scientist." This maverick scientist is none other than Dr. Craig Venter, a scientist turned successful entrepreneur, known for his role as one of the first scientists to successfully map out the human genome.

His team's most recent work about "synthetic life" has been published in the journal Science. The article entitled, "Synthetic Genome Brings New Life to Bacterium", briefly describes how Venter's team was able to infuse genetic code artificially. The R&D price tag? About $40 million.

To date, there has never been any successful attempts to create a cell from scratch. The cell theory has been a basic foundation of biology: living cells come from other living cells.

I was curious to see if scientists were able to break this theory apart. It would be a game changer! Humanity creating life from basic elements would be more than just genetic engineering, it would mean that humanity is a creator of life, or to a degree, "playing god".

A careful look
While many journalists are caught up in the idea that mankind just created new life, a careful look at the research shows it was not a new creation of life but rather a new method of genetic engineering.

To summarize in layman's terms, Dr. Venter's team was able to strip a bacterial cell's DNA and infuse another set of that they've developed. After grueling weeks, months, and years of research, they finally had a breakthrough on one weekend: their Frankenstein bacteria (M. capricolum) was able to reproduce.

I don't want to take away anything from this achievement, this is a great example of a new method of genetic engineering. However, it falls short of creating life synthetically as described by Telegraph and other news outlets, because the team was still not able to create life from scratch, but rather they had to use cells that were already alive.

Here's a quote from Science that speculative copy editors and journalists seem to have purposely missed:
"That's a pretty amazing accomplishment," says Anthony Forster, a molecular biologist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Still, he and others emphasize that this work didn't create a truly synthetic life form, because the genome was put into an existing cell.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Philippines Election Results Posted

Philippines Election Results Posted
Originally uploaded by Don Sausa

For the first time, the Philippines used an electronic voting system that immediately provided results online. This reduced the political tension that was prevalent in past elections. For those that didn't have a computer or television, various organizations provided election results through displays on the street.

In this example, they posted the results on the main highway which attracted crowds and caused a traffic congestion.

Look closely and you'll find the jeepney has the Aquino ribbon while the taxi has a Villar checkmark.

Many believe Senator Noynoy Aquino won the presidential race against Senator Manny Villar because he was the son of the Philippines' most revered modern heroes. The people that voted for Noynoy hope his upbringing and the influence of his humble mother will help reform the country. And while he doesn't have many legislative victories to brag about, he also looks less corrupt than the rest, and in this country, that's an achievement in of itself.

Martial Arts Movie Reviews: Donnie Yen's Ip Man movie and Scott Adkins' Ninja movie

Ip Man, and Ip Man 2, is awesome

I recently saw two martial arts movies on DVD: Ip Man and Ip Man 2, an epic semi-biographical story of Bruce Lee's mentor and teacher. In both movies, Donnie Yen excellently plays the revered wing chun master. In the first movie, he stands up for his nation against the Japanese through martial arts competitions and in the second movie, he proved to the British that the Chinese fighting styles were more than equal to western boxing when he defeated an English boxing champion.

For gōngfu (kung fu), karate, and fans of other martial arts styles, these two Chinese films are incredible not only because of the action sequences but because of the writers' and director's ability to bring you into the historical context of the scenes.

For someone like me, whose late grandfather fought against the imperialistic Japanese in World War II, I appreciated the historical backdrop. According to China Daily, it seems I'm not the only one though. In Hong Kong for instance, Iron Man 2 was released in theaters about the same time as Ip Man 2. Ip Man 2 pulled in 28 million yuan vs. Iron Man 2's 7 million yuan.

Scott Adkins' Ninja

The other new martial arts movie that I saw this week was Ninja, starring English actor Scott Adkins. I have to be honest, anytime I see a white man trying to play ninja, I'm skeptical. But watching this film, Adkins proves he can out kick and out maneuver the best of them.

This film's plot was somewhat mediocre. For instance, the whole templars/world domination deal wasn't too realistic. It seems like it was a bad remake of the Foot Clan storyline from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. However, this movie's action sequences were phenomenal and Adkins really applied himself in some acrobatic/gymnastics moves.


If you are a martial arts practitioner, I'm sure you will enjoy watching these movies; however, there are some scenes that are not applicable for children. Hence, have your fast forward button ready and make sure you don't have children around when objectionable material is there.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Aquaponics harvest in the Philippines

A while back I talked about the first aquaponics experiment in the Philippines in my backyard.

Since I initially posted that experiment, I've had a number of plants grow and I have tested other plants in the system such as adding sugarcane. Quite a few of my readers also wanted some consulting on how to develop this on their properties and fish farms. I hope some of my guidance has helped.

I would have to say this was a very successful experiment if we consider two goals:
  1. Proof of concept that this is doable in small areas with basic materials from any hardware store.
  2. Proof of concept that this is commercially viable.
On the pictures posted, it shows my fish being harvested with my little boy and his nanny watching. The size of the fish is slightly larger than what you'll find in the supermarket.