Need louder audio? Check out the X-mini

My laptop has tinny sound. That’s horrible because when I find a funny YouTube video and share it with people nearby, they totally miss out on the punch line. That’s why I decided to look for a portable speaker that will give me decent audio (bawal ang lata!) for a good price. I knew I’d have to go well over CD-R King prices, but for the sake of my social life, I was willing to make the investment.

I did my research online. After days of due diligence, I decided to go for the cheapest variant of the X-mini, the X-mini v1.1:

X-mini v1.1 closed
Yes, I'm a speaker. I'm the X-mini v1.1!

The X-mini v1.1 fit my requirements for volume, portability, and price. It has very loud sound for such a little thing. You don’t need to plug it into a socket, since it has an internal battery which you can charge. Great for a laptop and a portable music player! I got it for Php990 at Hello—three times the price of a pair of computer speakers at CD-R King, but hey, I’m happy because I got the quality I paid for.

X-mini v1.1 beside a 5-peso coin
X-mini v1.1: I'm curled up beside a 5-peso coin
The X-mini v1.1 opens up to expand and expose the diaphragm.

X-mini v1.1 opened
Here's how I look when I'm open. Remember to open the lid, because otherwise, the audio will sound terrible.


The X-mini v1.1 has a short 3.5 mm stereo cable that tucks neatly underneath the unit.

The bottom of an X-mini v1.1, showing the 3.5 mm wire
I keep a wire under me which you'll use to plug into your computer or audio player.
X-mini v1.1 opened and wire uncoiled
When you uncoil the wire, I look like a robo-rat.

Ports and controls are at the bottom area of the X-mini v1.1.

X-mini v1.1 volume control
That's the volume control at the bottom. Start with low because I can scream really loud.
X-mini v1.1 mini-usb
I have a mini-usb port which you can use for charging and audio output.
X-mini v1.1 mini-usb cable
I come with a mini-usb cable which you can plug into a USB port for charging. The cable also has a 3.5 mm audio plug, which means you can also use it as a longer audio out wire if you find the one under me too short.


What I find most interesting is the X-mini’s buddy jack. It allows you to plug another audio output device into the X-mini, which means you can string a series of X-minis to get really LOUD sound!

X-mini v1.1 buddy jack
I have a buddy jack for use with, errr, my buddies.
X-mini daisy chain
Here's me with my buddies. Guess where I am! 😛 Watch out because we're really loud when we party!

Of course, you can use the buddy jack to plug in a pair of headphones, and you’d hear audio through both the headphones and the speaker. I just don’t know why you’d want to do that 😀

Overall, I’m very happy with my purchase. The X-mini v1.1 fulfilled my requirements perfectly.

X-mini v1.1 closed
Demo done! What do you think of me?

The Prize Winner in CJH, Baguio

Back in February, I attended a PLDT Bossings event and won the best prize ever: a three-day, two night stay in Camp John Hay! Call me a geek, but the first thing that came to my mind was that I could work on my thesis in Baguio 😉 Nerdy me finally scheduled a thesis-writing weekend on the last week of March.

But even if I had every inclination to make this a solo trip, I wasn’t about to waste the prize. The room I was given could take a maximum of four people! So I went ahead and brought along the most obvious companions—mom and dad.

Speaking of mom and dad, here they were right after we arrived at the hotel:

Mom and dad sleeping in our deluxe room at The Suites
Mom and Dad knocked out from the trip

They’re really the perfect paper-writing companions. As you can see, I don’t have much of a problem asking them to leave me alone 😀 I unpacked our stuff in the most OC way and fled the scene to scout the area.

We were billeted in The Suites because The Manor was full. But this hotel was equally world-class:

The Suites bathroom fixtures The Manor stuff at The Suites Hallway at The Suites

Here’s the very relaxing lobby area:

Lobby, The Suites Lobby, The Suites Lobby, The Suites Lobby, The Suites

and how it looks from outside:

The Suites at Camp John Hay The Suites at Camp John Hay Entrance of the Suites at Camp John Hay

The hotel experience was so wonderful that I’d go back when I could afford it. I was surprised to find out later that they give a 50% discount during the yearly rainy season, so that’s probably my chance!

I went to the proverbial Mile-Hi, where I spent the rest of that afternoon and where we would eat most of our meals during this trip. The Manor’s restaurant, Le Chef, is very famous but the prices are beyond us. Mile-Hi and the Filling Station (farther down the road) were our meal stops.

Cordillera coffee Liempo Longganisa with garlic rice Beef with broccoli

We wanted to try Chocolate de Batirol but it wasn’t open when we went 😦

Chocolate de Batirol signage Chocolate de Batirol Chocolate de Batirol

And to take advantage of the relaxing air in Baguio, I went around taking photos of the scenery:

135.JPG 146.JPG 136.JPG 197.JPG  025.JPG 018.JPG 183.JPG 221.JPG

We also visited two churches:

1. Baguio Cathedral

Baguio Cathedral Baguio Cathedral Baguio Cathedral

2. St. Joseph Church

St. Joseph Church, Baguio St. Joseph Church, Baguio


And the thesis? No photos. But it doesn’t mean I didn’t get anything done 😛

My fight against backaches: a more comfortable laptop workstation

I work long hours on my laptop, and by the time I log out, I usually have a good ol’ backache. That’s no mystery—laptops are really not ergonomic, and that’s the reason why they’re not supposed to be used for hours and hours straight. But I’m not some rich kid who can buy a separate PC just to have a more ergonomic set up. I knew I was ruining my posture, and while I didn’t have the money for the most obvious solution, I had to be resourceful and find an alternative.

The problem with a laptop is that there’s really no way to make it ergonomic on its own. Your arms must be L-shaped while typing, and your eyes must look forward into the screen. That’s impossible when the screen and the keyboard are attached to each other. To make things worse, I often use an office desk of the usual height, which means the keyboard is too high for my arms and the screen is too low for my eyes. I unconsciously end up frozen in a hunched position, which I’ve little doubt is too reminiscent of Quasimodo.

I thought of two ways of solving the problem: 1) setting the laptop at the right arm height and then pumping out the video on a separate monitor that’s at eye level, or 2) lifting up the laptop screen at screen at eye level, and then using a separate keyboard at arm height. Since I didn’t have the space for a new monitor, I scrapped the first option out. I’ve seen set ups that involved using a laptop lift/stand, so I thought that might work, but then I realized that my laptop doesn’t open up wide enough for these stands. My laptop’s screen would end up facing downwards.

laptop desk, keyboard, DJ laptop stand, and laptop
My home workstation: laptop desk, keyboard, DJ laptop stand, and laptop

Luckily, after months of searching, I found the solution: use a DJ laptop stand and a laptop table. The DJ laptop stand will lift my laptop high without demanding that it open as much as the usual stand would, and the laptop table will hold both the stand+laptop and an extra keyboard. Thank God for that DJ laptop stand. I’m no DJ so I don’t really know what they use these stands for, but I sure am glad that they’re there.

So here’s the full list of components:

Computer chair

Got it from Festival Mall for P1k+. There are better ones out there, but I’m on a budget.

Laptop desk

It was on sale at Handyman for P400, so I grabbed it immediately. But I think prices are ordinarily around P500. Be warned: a lot of laptop desks that are for sale are for your bed, especially the ones at CD-R King. They’re not what you want if you’re setting up a real workstation. Before you buy, make sure that the laptop desk is the right height for someone seated.


Mine is a very expensive Apple Aluminum Bluetooth Keyboard. It retails for around P5k. I had my reasons for buying it, but most people would be fine with an ordinary USB keyboard. There are some that sell for P200 at CD-R King.

DJ laptop stand

The one I got doesn’t seem to be commercially available here in the Philippines. I bought it from this guy here, who shipped it in from abroad. (Edit 2016/10/05: That link no longer works, but I’ve also found the laptop stand at Lazada.) This model is very sturdy and heavy, and it works great for a semi-permanent set up. If you’re a mobile worker and you want to bring it around, you can get a Stanton Uber Stand, but that’s more than three times the price of mine.


You don’t expect to use the trackpad much in this setup. I already had a wireless mouse which a friend gave me as a gift, so I was good to go. But if you don’t have a mouse yet, CDR-King sells a whole slew of USB optical mice for only P150.

A few more photos:

View from the top
View from the top
Box for the DJ laptop stand
Box for the DJ laptop stand
DJ laptop stand
DJ laptop stand

The Pinay on a budget travel to Rome

Not a lot of us have money to travel, and when we do get to save some money, the best that we could do is to travel on a budget. I’m not new to budget traveling, so I hope that this article will help give ideas to budget travelers like me.

Sample Cost:

  • $1,121 via Qatar Airways
  • 60 Euros for Schengen VISA 
  • 100 Euros for 5-day budget hotel near Roma Termini (w/ breakfast)
  • 20 Euros for shuttle from Airport to hotel and back
  • 15 Euros for lunch and dinner for each day
  • The rest of the cost is for optionals (museums, metro, souvenirs)
You can save on all travel expenses except for the airfare and Schengen VISA fee. Now let’s go straight to making your Rome experience cheap but memorable.
  1. Save on accommodation. Although we opted for a budget hotel, it wasn’t that bad at all. We appreciated the breakfast served everyday which saved us a bunch. Going to a budget hotel (like Hotel Luciani) is probably worth the convenience and the breakfast. After a long walk around Rome, you’d want to go home  and sleep on comfortable beds and having not to worry about what to have for breakfast. This hotel is perfect if you are 3 or 4 persons to share the room cost. What’s best too about this hotel is that it’s extremely near Roma Termini. WiFi is for 5 Euros though but that will last you the whole trip and you could share with the others though you can’t go online at the same time. Befriend the Filipino manager, and you might get this for free. 🙂 Or you may try Couch Surfing. It requires that you agree to allow another couch surfer your own couch when he visits Manila. It’s practically free. Like asking a friend to make you stay at his place for a few days.
  2. Sightseeing and Museums. Rome is actually very small. You can walk from one sight to another literally. It is very normal for a Roman to walk at most an hour to get from A to B. You don’t normally need to pay to enter the amazing Churches in Rome. You just have to brave the long lines at St. Peter’s Basilica, but it’s not as long a wait as it may appear. If you want to see all the art collections in Rome, the only museum you should pay for is the Vatican Museum. Save yourself time by buying your ticket online although it will charge you an extra 4 Euros for the service. We overtook a really long line because of this. Then again, you might want to save 4 Euros for your lunch that day. 🙂 Take my word for it, you can just walk around Rome. On each day, you can focus on an area so you don’t go all around. Here’s a suggested itinerary for 3 days walking tour:
    • Day 1: Central Rome – Colosseo, Roman Forum, Arc of Triumphs, Trajan’s Column, have a gelato, pizza and pasta for lunch

      That’s me in front of the Colosseo. No need to go inside and save on entrance fee!
    • Day 2: Southeast of Rome (Passion of the Christ tour) – Santa Maria Maggiore (relics of the true Cross), St. John Lateran, Scala Santa (stairs that claim to have drops of Christ’s blood), Santa Croce en Jerusalem (relics from Calvary), Santa Prassede (relic of the pilar where Christ was scourged), relax at a park

      St. John Lateran
    • Day 3: Central eastern Rome for St. Peter’s Basilica and Vatican Museum (you might want to buy a day trip ticket for this tour @ 4 Euros), Santa Maria in Trastevere, Santa Cecilia, Bocca della Verita, Piazza Navona, Pantheon, Fontana di Trevi, and Scala Spagna (Spanish steps).

      Throw a coin over to the Trevi Fountain and wish to come to Rome. It worked for me. 🙂
  3. Transportation. Rome bus and subway systems is difficult to figure out compared to Singapore’s, New York’s or Madrid’s. It might take a while for you to figure out and maximize your unlimited ticket. But if you are willing, the ATAC Rome metro system offers one day unlimited (only up to 12 MN) for 4 Euros, and 3 days for 11 Euros.
  4. Side trips outside Rome. Our group was able to visit Florence. If you want to save on your Florence trip, purchase your train ticket ahead of time. If you do so, you might be lucky to get a MINI fare which can save you up to 60% off on regular fares. We chose to take the nonstop train (1 hour) to Florence to save time for 45 Euros and took a regular train (3.5 hours) for 17 Euros. You can get cheaper prices as well for Milan and Venice. Florence is a cheap place to go to for the art lover and can be a day trip. You can go around Florence for just half a day. The other half you can spend absorbing the art and a bit of shopping. Don’t miss out on San Lorenzo market (5 minutes walk to the west of Santa Maria Novella train station) where you can buy authentic leather goods and various souvenirs. Don’t miss out on buying Florence stationeries which they are also famous for. For better quality paper and bookmarks, visit Mandragoragift shop behind the Duomo. They sell wax seals, Florence stationeries and various bookmarks at affordable prices. Making side trips, the best place to stay is near Roma Termini so even if you come home late, your hotel is just nearby. You don’t have to pay 6,50 Euros to see Michelangelo’s David. There is a replica at Palazzio Vecchio. 🙂

    My friends in front of the San Lorenzo Church with its unfinished facade. Across is the San Lorenzo Market.
  5. Tour guides. No, don’t pay for a tour guide. There are many audio tours you can get online before making your trip. Better for you to already be informed before going to the places so that when you get there, all you have to do is admire. It’s difficult to study or listen to a podcast while you’re staring at ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Since you studied ahead, you look forward to seeing the places in real life. You can download some maps and audio here.
  6. Save on drinking water. When we visited Rome, it was summer and dry. With that weather, we were easily thirsty and hot-headed. Bring your water bottle. There are many water fountains that you can find along the way to fill your bottle with water. Just make sure it’s potable. Don’t get your water from fountains like the Trevi fountain. 🙂 Also, drinks from vendo machines are much cheaper (by a Euro) than buying from a person. 🙂
I also would like to share some generic travel tips that will save you the hassle as you try to enjoy your trip outside your country.
  • Check-in Online. Usually, 36 hours before your flight, you can “check-in” online. This has saved so much time when checking-in. For online checkers, they usually have a fast lane for you and you will skip the generic queue and you can choose your seat ahead of the rest.
  • Use your credit card. Using your credit card (I assume that you pay your bills on time), can buy you time to save money before actually paying for your train ticket or museum ticket. Above all, it saves you time from lining up most of the time.
  • Travel light. Budget hotels are found in old buildings, and does not necessarily have an elevator like in the case of Hotel Luciani. Don’t expect a first class treatment in a budget hotel. Remember always that you get what you pay for.
  • Always have a map.
I definitely enjoyed my trip despite being on a tight budget. I hope you do too! Rome is one big museum as others would say. You shouldn’t have to pay so much just to see the beauty of Rome. Appreciate the art. Appreciate the role of the Catholic Church in taking care of what’s left of Ancient, Medieval, and Renaissance Rome. The Church only wants to keep a record of the greatness of man — a record of man’s ability to create, which is a gift from his Creator.
Enjoy your trip! Worth emptying the pocket, I promise.
This post was written by Trish Castro.

A not-so-young Pinay at WYD 2011 in Madrid

I’m not within the prescribed age range of WYD participants, but they allow otherwise if they act as the group leader. Acting as group leader or not, I still joined my first WYD. Allow me to be illogical: It’s the best WYD that I’ve attended! What made it the best? All the pain that we experienced.

“Esta es la juventud del Papa! Esta es la juventud del Papa!”

The Jornada Mundial Juventud (JMJ) pilgrims in Madrid chant the words from the top of their lungs to the point of almost losing their voices. “This is the youth of the Pope!”  Indeed, the youth of the Pope is this: lively, enthusiastic, faithful, prayerful, and energetic long-haired rockstar-looking caucasians, slit-eyed Asians, dark-skinned Nigerians, sharp-jawed Iraqis, and ubiquitous Filipinos holding the Philippine, US, Abu Dhabi, and Canadian flags proudly. The youth loves the sweet Vicar of Christ on earth. 1.5 to 2 million youth from France, Italy, Spain and afar profess their faith along the streets and subways of Madrid — shamelessly and proudly, wearing their “cross” on their sleeve. This is reality — the reality of our faith, the reality of evangelization, the new evangelization.

My delegation, “Stella Orientis Choir”, at Zone E1 at Cuatro Vientos after the Closing Mass with the Pope.

“Benedicto! Benedicto!”

Pope Benedict XVI has always been portrayed as a strict and stern Pope. Ask the 1.5 to 2 million young pilgrims if that is true, and they will surely answer that he’s not. His facial expression when winds and rain battered the JMJ stage during the Vigil at Cuatro Vientos is priceless: ever smiling, almost looked like he’s enjoying the spontaneity that the phenomenon is bringing out in him! To the point that he was moved to say these unscripted words: “You (the youth) are stronger than the rains.”

Pope Benedict XVI bearing the winds for the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament despite getting a “bad hair day.” 

Firmes en la fe.

“Strong in faith.” Faith is the greatest gift that God has given to man. Faith allows us to see God in others and exercise Charity. Faith allows us to speak about God unashamedly to others. Faith allows us to kneel down and pray to God, our creator, and father. Faith allows us to have Hope in the future. These are the reasons why our faith needs to be strong: firmly built up and planted in Jesus Christ, the source of Faith himself.

Vale la pena

Vale la pena. It’s worth the pain. The heat, the thirst, swollen feet, discomfort, and crowded metros are all worth the trouble to see and hear Benedicto speak. When he talked to us, we became almost blind-sided to his words and forgot all the miseries and discomfort that we were experiencing. We, the sincere JMJ pilgrims, only saw and heard the Pope as if we were on Mt. Tabor experiencing the transfiguration. “It is good to be here.” It was good to be in Madrid; the spiritual high was good to have and we all wish that it does not end. Thanks to the Pope for the gift of the crucifix that will help remind us of what happened in JMJ 2011 in Madrid, and that all the pain is worth it. Vale la pena.

JMJ 2011 – Not as perfect

I decided to add this last paragraph as an endnote to explain to those Filipino pilgrims who only had bad things to say about their experience in Madrid. Some of the comments are as follows:

  • “We were housed in a school almost an hour away from the JMJ venue.”
  • “Some of our things were stolen during the Vigil.”
  • “Why would they organize the WYD during the Spanish economic recession?”
  • “Communion was not distributed during the Closing Mass!”
  • “The adoration tents were destroyed!”

These comments, though factual, have a bratty connotation to them. When we participated and registered for the World Youth Day, we should have known that we were not going there for a vacation or to expect to see heaven. We will see heaven when we die; only then will we have great and perfect accommodations.

  • Theft during the vigil is expected. We cannot assure that every single “pilgrim” is 100% sinless. For all we know, like other thieves, people go to these crowded events to take advantage to precisely steal.
  • The World Youth Day is a spiritual event and income generating. If the pilgrims registered properly on the WYD website, they would have paid a fee and received food cheques amounting to almost 15 lunches and dinners at great restaurants and fast food chains, each cheque worth 6.50 Euros. Imagine all the 1.5M to 2M pilgrims spending this much in each restaurant. Food business is good! Not to mention the souvenir shops and malls that opened even on Sundays (malls are closed on Sundays in Spain) for the pilgrims.
  • Naturally, since the adoration tents were torn because of the strong winds and rains that night, the organizers were not able to keep the consecrated hosts the next day’s Mass. We were told to receive communion in any Church in Madrid — we didn’t have to wait for Mass to receive communion. We can simply knock on the Church door, and ask the priest to give us communion.
We were all pilgrims and sacrifice was key to making the WYD experience successful and fruitful. Besides, the Christian life is to be adorned with sacrifices so that when we reach the end, there is a stronger and greater appreciation of the consequence of Loving Sacrifice: heaven.
It’s not too late to change. It’s never too late to change. You can change now. Have faith in God, and in yourself. Vale la pena!
This post was written by Trish Castro.