Better Diesel Fuel?

Last July, I wrote a petition to Petron Philippines to create a premium diesel fuel offering that would cater to modern direct-injected diesel engined vehicles. I got a reply from Ms. Abigail Ramos of Petron 4 hours later (quick!). Her sincere reply was:

“Dear Mr. Garcia,

On behalf of Petron Corporation we would like to thank you for being a loyal customer of our world-class fuels.

We equally appreciate your invaluable suggestion for a premium diesel product concept as we strive to give what is truly essential to our customers.

We continuously listen to voice of our customers and in the process we collaborate with them to create the products best suited for their needs.

Your suggestion was correspondingly endorsed to our Research and Development Department that will conduct feasibility of the concept.

Rest assured that we will continue to promote our customers’ best interest at heart in the way we do business as part of our corporate thrust for good governance.

Thank you for choosing Petron to share this innovative idea that would truly be a first in the industry.

Best regards,

Abigail  L. Ramos

Petron Customer Interaction Center”

Then, just a couple of months later Petron launches its “Turbo Diesel”, a premium diesel fuel product that’s also priced at a premium. Was my letter the tipping point? I’ll never know. Anyway, Petron’s new product was immediately followed by a launch of Shell’s V-Power Diesel, just a few weeks after.

If you would read both products’ press releases and literature, you wouldn’t find any specific claims. No concrete Cetane ratings, not even a claim for lowered sulfur content. Both Shell and Petron just state general claims such as “improved performance” and “better cleaning properties.”

Still, I was curious on a the new fuels’ effects or benefits so I topped up my car (a Hyundai Getz CRDi) with Shell V-Power Diesel. Believe it or not, the difference was almost immediate: the engine idles a more smoothly and with a tad less vibration. Power and response seemed to improve a bit too, and I’m pretty sure it not just my imagination. What’s more, there seems to be less smoke coming out of the tailpipe under aggressive acceleration. I’ve yet to determine mileage improvements when I deplete the first tank, so stay tuned. I will also try to top up with Petron’s Turbo Diesel for some impressions.

My car, rocking a Shell V-Power Diesel sticker.

If you’ve read this far hoping I would arrive at a recommendation at the end, prepare to be disappointed as I can’t make an honest recommendation yet. In the first place, I’ve not ranked up enough miles/burned enough fuel to come up with even a subjective review. Second, the justification of Php2.50 price premium (in the case of Shell) is even more sensitive and arguable. If you are the type of person who wants nothing but the best for his car, then by all means fill ‘er up with either of these premium fuels. Besides, if you’ve invested hard earned cash on a diesel BMW X5, Audi A4 (my dream ride!), or even a Jeep Commander CRD, then the additional few pesos on “better” fuel shouldn’t be an issue.

Personally, for me and my trusty ol’ Getz, I think I’ll stick to the V-Power Diesel for now… I’ll definitely let you know if I change my mind.

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Jintan Nude Breath and Belly Mint

To say that this is a “typical novelty” of Japan may seem like an oxymoron, but that’s what it really is. This exotic mint is has two active ingredients:  a strong mint and an herb extract oil, that freshens the mouth and belly respectively. Typical mints only work on your mouth, but Jintan Nude is more advanced. Even the capsules is a tech marvel in food manufacturing. Each capsule has four layers resembling the Earth’s insides: the herb oil core is enclosed in a gelatin shell which is within a strong mint mantle, finally covered by another gelatin crust.

Jintan Nude - Mints Made in Japan!

Consuming a capsule is an experience in itself. You are supposed to just let it melt in your mouth. The outer shell melts quickly, letting the really strong mint explode in your mouth. The inner shell takes a bit longer to pop, and I assume that this is an intentional, well researched delay. As soon as the mint begins to fade, the inner shell pops and gives out a different flavor (and function, which is to attack belly odors).

Back of packaging shows instructions and capsule "anatomy."

This candy is said to be very rare, and I was only able to source one in Siam Paragon Bangkok’s supermarket at roughly 65 Baht (or approx US$2) a pack. It’s elusiveness adds to its novelty. Getting this out of your pocket is an instant source of curious conversation and will definitely impress your other geek friends.

Close up of the cute dispenser.

As to its effectiveness, it can say that the strong mint really freshens the mouth. I couldn’t tell if the herb extract oil really does neutralize belly odors, but its taste is indeed pleasant. I would recommend fellow geeks to get a pack (or a few) if ever they visit Bangkok. Much credit goes to my office colleague Arnold for this tip!

Early Adapter

Proud to be one for iPod, specially now that it’s heavily proliferated (about 300 million sold to date!). I was a major major fan of portable audio since my youth. Think late 80’s long before walking around with headphones became a part of mass culture (see footnote below). I’ve always wanted an iPod since it was launched, but it was hella expensive out of reach: not only was the device pricey, but it required that you have a Mac to sync it with. The 3rd generation was the first iPod to offer Windows compatibility, and therefore opened itself to “the rest of us.”

Very recent photo of my first iPod (20GB 3rd gen). It's still working today. I love the classy indigo and red-orange backlights!

I’m even more proud to say that (like a true blue geek) I take utmost care of my gadgets, with the photo above as proof. I still use it today, mainly hooked up to my car. But the battery has deteriorated so badly that I have to charge it everyday. Still pondering if I should still invest in having the battery replaced.

I wish I can post photos if its cables and packaging. I still have them, but the latter is kinda misplaced.

The graphic on iTunes when the 3rd gen is plugged is charmingly retro.

Footnote

A little bit of history: I got my first generic portable cassette player in 1989, and upgraded to several Walkmans and Aiwas, including those with Dolby B, C(!) equalizers and even auto reverse! Then I moved on to CD players. I didn’t own Sony Discmans, as I was more loyal to Aiwa and Panasonic because of their anti-skip buffer and thinnest/lightest headline specs. Before finally jumping (early) into the iPod bandwagon, I walked the streets with portable MiniDisc players.

Sundays are for Playing Vinyl

Lazy Sundays are in fact opportunities: to tidy up the house, wax the car, replace a busted light bulb and, in my case, to listen to good old vinyl.

My Technics SL-1200 Mk3 with Ortofon OM30 Super needle cartridge.

So in this age of digital media, why would anyone still want to play records?  My answer in 3 simple points:

1. The Tangibility – Today we are used to tapping the shuffle “button” (if you would call it that) in a glossy iPod Touch, the music stored as bytes in a solid state device plays and we walk away. Such a cold, cold experience if you ask me. On the other hand, listening to LPs demands attention: You pull out the record from its sleeve and feel the fine grooves against your fingerprints. You place it on the platter, clean it with a brush and cue the needle by gently laying it on a groove. As the music plays you watch the needle gently glide in between the grooves which are the actual musical vibrations etched in vinyl. The sight of the needle playing the groove is hypnotic, somewhat like a car in a spiraling, endless and lonely highway… This level of involvement and tactile experience makes one appreciate music more. Cleaning, cueing and flipping records may be time consuming, but well worth it and as the blog title says, its best done on lazy Sundays.

2. The Sound – I will not say that music played through turntables sound better. Without an argument, uncompressed digital music is indeed cleaner as compared to vinyl that is prone to crackles, pops, skips, rumble, distortion and even speed fluctuations (the latter eliminated by the now legendary SL-1200 ‘tables). But somehow, it is actually these imperfections that add character to the music. And it ain’t that bad; if you have good clean copies of vinyl and your turntable is properly tweaked, the noises mentioned should be minimal. Inexplicably, music coming out of a black, rotating disc sounds more raw, dynamic, warm and emotional.

3. The Software – By default, a person’s vinyl collection is that of music in the heyday of the turntable. Depending how old that person is, his records will be from the ’50s to the ’80s. My personal collection includes Duran Duran, U2, and the like. (Dire Strait’s Your Latest Trick is my favorite track to listen to on vinyl!) As such, turntables are virtually time machines, and playing old records can bring back fond memories. Sure you can download Queen from iTunes, but retro music is still best reproduced on its rightful medium which is the record player (see #2).

Geek Visits Bangkok

Another business trip, another opportunity to blog. While Bangkok isn’t new to most of us, most travel blogs talk about the usual tom yum, thai massage and Pat Phong. Here’s a different take, through the contact lens of a geek, of course.

KFC Spicy Chicken

This was my first meal in Bangkok, specifically an afternoon snack in KFC, MBK (lunch was 11am at the plane and I got very hungry after walking around the mall). It was good, but when Thais say spicy, they mean it. My tongue burned and my stomach got hyper-acidic after eating this.

2,000 "Bath" is more like a privilege, than a fine

Sighted at KFC MBK. I’m not a smoker, but this sign actually made me consider. Make my fine twice a day with warm water, thank you.

World time on my watch.

For my business trip, I decided to use my Casio as it has world time, preset to 40 cities around the globe. Pretty convenient for travellers. Photo was taken while waiting for my Mos Burger dinner. I know Thailand only has a one hour time difference versus Manila, but it’s still pretty cool to have “BKK” displayed on the watch.

Takoyaki @ Siam Paragon Food Hall

There was actually a long cue for this, but it was well worth the wait. I’m used to the takoyaki sold in Manila, but as I described to my colleague, Siam Paragon Food Hall’s is takoyaki from heaven. Fresh and flavorful with huge chunks of octopus. For me, it’s the best takoyaki ever.

McDonald's Bangkok, across Intercon Hotel

Going to a foreign land wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the local McDonald’s. Here you can see how a McDonald’s can be truly serene and beautiful. Mickey D’s in Bangkok has their own Samurai Burger with a pork patty and teriyaki sauce. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to try it. They also have a spicy chicken burger which I tried, and regretted.

Food Hall

This is the food hall in the 7th floor of IBM Thailand’s building in Ari. A chicken and rice meal here is as low as 35Baht (roughly 1US$). But food here tastes bland, and the place is quite dodgy, specially for the hygiene freaks.

Sukiyaki style noodle soup also from the IBM office Food Hall. Again, nothing to write home about.

Monkey taxi driver?

To cap off my blog, here’s a curious photo of the taxi we rode to the airport. What is a bunch of fresh bananas doing on the dashboard? Complimentary snacks to passengers perhaps?