It’s been about 3 weeks since we pitched at Startup Summit. In that time the team has been hard at work overhauling the interface and actually coding the app.
The back end is somewhat complete and the focus this week has been the front end.
Along the way we were hit with some unsexy problems, the kind that you don’t read about in the glossy magazine write ups of startups. We had to replace one of the computers since its AMD CPU wasn’t playing nicely with Visual Studio (VS). The new computer then had to go through the usual Windows install and then VS install. The internet at the office is so slow that I had to bring the computer back home and download VS there. After the new computer was up and running some VS sync problems cropped up between our 2 work computers.
It’s basically third world development problems. I don’t think devs in the US or Singapore have to worry about slow internet or coding on budget machines.
Honestly I thought one could code on just about any computer but modern development these days isn’t like that. These IT problems are minor but annoying and really slow down the workflow of a small team.
We’ve settled on Android Kitkat as our default template OS for the Android version. This is based on the assumption that most Android devices in the Philippines are older models which will most likely be running Kitkat and not Lollipop or Nougat (definitely not Oreo).
Heck, my personal phone is a Moto X which still runs on Kitkat.
To be clear, our ambitions extend beyond the Philippine market. Crowded cities all around the world (eg. in Indonesia, China or South America) are potential markets for AutoConscience. But the Philippines will be our first market so we’re tailoring the app to suit Philippines users. If we do manage to expand overseas the app will evolve along with that change.
The current timeline is to have an internal working Alpha version in a week or 2. By October AutoConscience should be available for download from the Android Playstore.
I’ll leave you with pictures of the new interface and logo. I think they look like quite spiffy.
So the last business I set up an eternity ago (6 years to be precise) is chugging along nicely. It makes money. Guests are, overall, happy. But to be honest, Alcoves has become a little boring for me. Yes I’m extremely grateful that the apartments are renting well and I’ve poured a lot of hard work into the “buffet apartment hotel”. But I’ve been itching for awhile now to launch another crazy idea.
As such, I’ve gathered a small team and together we’re creating an app to help ordinary people fight Manila traffic. We want to build something that is so useful and simple that anyone on the road can use it to improve road conditions.
(Any idea that even attempts to alleviate traffic in Manila is foolhardy so I thought this would be an interesting challenge.)
The app itself is simple – it will allow you to report good and bad driving behavior. We hope that since drivers will be able to receive a lot of feedback, almost in real time, they will be encouraged to do more of the good driving (signalling, using proper lanes, not blocking the intersection) and less of the bad (swerving, smoke belching, not signalling, etc.)
This is a new challenge for me – leading a team purely focused on a software product. I taught myself HTML and CSS in the past but do not consider myself a technical founder. So in short the odds are high that this will be a spectacular failure! At the very least it will be exciting.
I’ve always wanted solar panels on my roof but neither had the clearance (been living with other people) nor the money to install them where I lived. Recently though I’ve moved to my own place so clearance was no longer a problem. As for the cost I was able to strike a business deal which covered most of the cost of the panels (more on that later).
There are a ton of solar panel installers in the Philippines. Before I tell you who I finally chose I’ll just give an overview of how it was to deal with them and how much they quoted for a 3kw system. (Note this was in 2016, prices may have changed by the time you read this.)
Solaric – No one responded to my inquiries so I had no quote from them. Solar Philippines – Also no response. Matec Solar Power – Around PHP360,000 for a 3kw system. This is all in, the price includes the panels, the inverter and installation. Sol Energy Systems – The person spoke to couldn’t give me a quote and asked me to call back :l United Solar – Initially the price was PHP300,000 but they were nice enough to reduce it to PHP285,000. Miester Solar – Also no response.
So while there a lot of solar installers in the Philippines (and I’m sure there are many more that I did not contact), a lot of them could invest more in better sales staff.
I eventually chose United Solar and I am quite happy with them. One of the main reasons for my choice was because my primary contact there, Monica, was helpful and very conscientious about following up with me. The follow ups weren’t pushy but they were quite regular, around every 3 weeks or so. Even after I decided not to get solar (eventually I changed my mind) she would still touch base every now and then. It wasn’t a hard sell though, just an occasional reminder which I appreciated.
A large factor also was the cost, United Solar was the cheapest quote I got for a 3kw system. Usually you get what you pay for and I’m wary of the cheapest cost but since communication with United Solar was always very prompt, and they seemed to be on the ball, I decided to risk it.
The panels arrived around a month after I paid the 50% downpayment and installation took a day. The reason for the delay was the inverter was stuck in customs. The installation was very clean and the inverter fit nicely into the space we chose.
The installers and the head guy leading the installation, Bryan, were all nice and pleasant. Bryan in particular took the time to explain some of the numbers behind solar operation in the Philippines.
Mober is like Uber for delivery vans/trucks. Now you don’t need a delivery van every day but you’d be surprised how often this need does arise.
I tried Mober out a couple of months ago when I had to transport a heavy wooden dining set (table and 8 chairs) from Magallanes village (in Makati) to San Antonio village (also in Makati). As the dining set would not fit into any of the vehicles I had on hand, I had to look for alternative means of transport.
If you’ve used any ride hailing app (eg. Uber or Grab) then you are familiar with how to use Mober. When I used the app I was skeptical that there would be a delivery truck which would respond to my request at all. It turned out though that a truck responded quite quickly.
I would find out later that while independent trucks can sign up to offer their services through Mober (again, like Uber), a lot of Mober’s fleet is currently provided by the company itself. It’s as if Uber bought cars and paid people to drive them around.
This is good in the short term for Mober as curious customers (like me) are assured that there will be vans/trucks waiting to fulfill their order. Also having the trucks ply the roads is great for marketing, I discovered Mober after seeing one of their trucks along EDSA. In the long term though the company can’t rely on itself to keep buying trucks to meet the demand. It will need to sign up independent trucks/vans if it wants to grow.
Back to the transit of my dining set. I met the Mober van outside Magallanes without any problems and ushered them into the village. For the actual loading of the furniture the Mober guys were ready with ropes and assorted paraphernalia to keep the items secure inside the van. The Mober guys were young and a little inexperienced, they had to think for a bit on how to get everything inside the van. That wasn’t a big deal but I think an experienced crew would have fitted everything in quicker.
After a short drive we reached our destination, the furniture was unpacked and the Mober guys brought it inside the house.
Overall the experience went much smoother than I expected. Admittedly the cost was a bit pricey. It was around PHP3,100 for a journey of less than 9KM. You definitely do not want to use Mober for long distances (eg. Metro Manila to Laguna or Pampanga, or even Makati to Alabang for that matter).
But if your transit needs are of a short distance, and you don’t mind paying a premium, Mober isn’t a bad choice.
Civilization 6 came out a couple of months ago and since then I’ve been in many a “one more turn” coma, plugging away at the game into the wee hours of the morning. I’ve played every version of Civ and Civ 6 is a good blend of new ideas and comfortingly familiar gameplay.
As it is a Civilization game though there are always some oddities of the rules that you wonder about. I’ll list some infrequently asked questions and add some more as I encounter them in game. I play the game on Emperor and have noticed you really make use of the ins and outs of the game mechanics more on the higher difficulty levels.
1. Is the attack range of a city affected by hills? – Yes, it is. Note in the screenshot how Liverpool can only hit the musketman unit beside it and not the musketman two hexes away (beyond the hills with marble in them) on the right. (That darn musketman has also just pillaged one of my improvements.)
2. What happens when an enemy unit is occupying one of your airfields? – You can’t build any aircraft in that airfield.
3. If you have the Venetian Arsenal and you build a fleet, do you get 2 fleets? – Yup, you get 2 fleets. (Sweet.)
4. If an embarked land unit occupies the same sea hex as a naval unit and is then attacked by an adjacent land unit will the sea unit “cover” the land unit? – No the sea unit is useless in this case. The land unit will absorb all of the damage from the attack. This is a bit counter intuitive as in previous civ games you wanted your sea units to be in the same tile as your embarked (or transported, depending on which version of Civ you’re playing) land units so that the sea unit would take the damage. This leads us to the next question/weird Civ 6 rule.
5. Can land units attack adjacent embarked land units? – Yes. Weird, but yes.
6. Do embarked units count as land units or naval units? (This is important for attack/defense bonuses) – Embarked units count as land units.
7. Does the SAM unit have any kind of melee defense? – None. If it gets attacked by anything land based it will lose without dealing any damage. It’s like a settler or builder except the enemy doesn’t capture it.
Yesterday (Sunday) my cable connection went dead. I also did not have any internet as Skycable is both my cable TV and internet provider.
I first tried calling their hotline (381-0000) so I could talk to someone on the phone. Fifteen minutes later and 3 rounds of “all our agents are occupied at the moment” I gave up trying to get a real person on the phone. After all it was Sunday afternoon, the worse possible time to try to get service from a provider.
In desperation I texted Report (My Subscriber account number) to 23662. This was a hail mary play though, I didn’t expect anything to come of it and that I would have to call the hotline again the next day, Monday. To top it all off, the only response from Skycable was an automated text telling me to visit their website for common trouble shooting tips. (This text was particularly aggravating since my internet was down as well. It’s like asking a drowning man why doesn’t he swim.)
The cable went out around 4pm. I texted the hotline around 5:30pm. Amazingly at around 8pm someone from Skycable called to inform me that they had had a service interruption in the area but it was fixed now so my cable and my internet should be working. The customer service rep patiently waited while I checked both and that was that.
So, texting Skycable to get service works! (Even on a Sunday.)
To recap, if you are having technical difficulty with Skycable:
Find out your account number (let’s say it’s 12345)
Short Story: From what I can gather, insert plate, means that your vehicle is not registered in the national database of LTO. Instead your record is still in a district office (usually the district office where the vehicle was first registered) and it has to be that district office which manually uploads the file to the national database. I use manually as you have to physically go to that district office and tell them to insert plate.
In Dec 2013 I bought a new car from the Honda dealership at Shaw Blvd. The dealership had already registered the car at the LTO district office in Marikina. The license plate of the car ends in 1.
Skip forward to January 2017 and I needed to renew the registration of my car for the first time (a new car is considered registered for 3 years from date of purchase). As I live in Makati I figured I could register the car at LTO Makati. Information around the internet suggested it would be no problem renewing in Makati even though the car was originally registered in Marikina. That link I shared specifically says you can renew at any LTO office, just subject to a PHP100 “transfer fee.”
So I get my emissions test (“smoke” is the slang term) and insurance done, both in Makati. Unfortunately both smoke and insurance were unable to find the file of my car online. (Both the emissions testers and insurance providers have access to the LTO database as they are required to upload/attach their findings and insurance policy to the file of the motor vehicle in question). Both assured me though I just needed to go to Window C (Records) at LTO Makati and ask records to “insert plate”.
Dutifully I head off to Window C where they inform me that they are unable to insert plate from there and I have to go to LTO Marikina.
At this point no one can explain to me what this magical “insert plate” even means.
I ask the Motor Vehicle Inspector (the guy usually at the front of every LTO office who handles renewal of vehicle registration) why I can’t can’t renew my registration in Makati. He says they just can’t do it but I can pay a 2 year penalty if I renew at Makati.
More on this “penalty”. It’s not really a penalty. Since I got my car in Dec 2013 I have to pay a 1/4 year fee for 2013 and the subsequent 3 years, 2014, 2015 and 2016 are free (since new cars are considered registered for 3 years). According to the guy at Window C (LTO Makati) I only needed to pay a 1/4 penalty at LTO Marikina. MV Inspector Makati says that’s true but if I want it done in Makati I would have to pay a penalty worth 2 years.
To top it all off the Makati Inspector was not even clear if after all that expense I would be able to register my car in Makati or if I would run into the same insert plate problem with Records.
Makati looked like a bust so I had no choice to go to LTO Marikina, Window 7 (Records). Window 7 was able to insert plate but the whole process, including getting my 2017 registration took me to the inside of the LTO office where I had to ask the IT guy to update my vehicle records. Further I had to pay twice, the 1/4 fee for 2013 and then the full fee for 2017, both times the lines for the cashier were long.
Basically I spent 2 mornings (1 at Makati and 1 in Marikina) running around LTO for something as simple as registering a car.
I have no idea why:
The record of my vehicle had not been uploaded to the LTO database in the first place (and was “stuck” in the LTO Marikina database)
Why LTO Makati couldn’t just call LTO Marikina and tell the latter to upload/update the vehicle file
Are M Lhuilier and Cebuana Lhuillier the same? Short answer: No, they are not. If you are trying to collect money from one be sure you go to the correct Lhulier.
Long story: I had to find an M Lhulier near Alcoves as a guest who was staying 6 weeks had pera padala‘d to himself the amount which was supposed to be our payment. There seems to be more branches of Cebuana Lhuillier though so finding an M Lhuilier was a bit tricky.
The closest M Lhuilier branch I could find near Greenbelt was a bit of a walk – it’s in the Ayala MRT station. (So pass through Greenbelt, then Landmark, then Glorietta then SM.) Exiting SM you can’t miss the branch, it’s right in front of you as you exit the mall (on your left will be the rest of the station with the ticket booths, etc.)
Payment went smoothly but it took a little time (20 minutes or so) for M Lhuilier to cough up the money.