Monday, August 21, 2017

Chapter 29

Life is a vast infinity of unknowns. (Taken at Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia)

Another year, another notch in my calendar.

Over the years, I've come to realize that very few things have grown as much in value as time. Severely limited and utterly irreplaceable, it's an oft overlooked moral imperative that we have to do as much good as we can in the world with what we have.

I suppose that's one of reasons why moving out has been one of the bigger decisions I've made in the past year. Time has grown increasingly important for me - which is inversely proportional to the omnipresent Filipino misfortune of Manila's slowly regressing traffic situation.

Eliminating the four-hour commute each day has done wonders for my well-being. That's easily twenty hours a week, eighty hours a month and eventually, 40 days a year. It's terrifying that people lose a month of their lives every year to meaningless travel. There's just so much value one gains back when time is saved. Less stress, more sleep and better opportunities to pursue one's fleeting interests - maybe that's one of the better gifts I've received in a very long time.

Oh, and the sometimes overwhelming sense of freedom of being (mostly) on one's own is just icing on the cake.

Despite everything, I'm glad to say I'm in a much better place. Heck, maybe things are even starting to look up.


Monday, July 17, 2017

Project Poseidon: Arena Speedfarming in Gumballs & Dungeons

Gumballs and Dungeons is a deceptively complex mobile game, with even more deceptively hidden features.

One of these is the Poseidon gumball, the second highest unlockable character next to Hades. As a Canas' Enlightenment player, Poseidon is a must have, but getting to the 38,000 point threshold for this Spending Returns reward will take some effort for non-whales like me.

The Dungeon
At an average of 120,000 gold per L95 run, the Arena is the best option for farming by a massive margin - up to six times more gold earned compared to other currently released dungeons. The most commonly used teams take an hour on average to complete this dungeon, which isn't ideal for players who are otherwise pre-occupied with real life.

The Team
Odin (Main) is arguably the best magic-class gumball. The Eternal ability enhances any spell being cast by 40% and extends effects by an additional round. When chosen for use as a main or link gumball, it provides a Electrostatic Field scroll every two floors. If used as a main, it also gives a free Timestill at the start of the run.

Three-Eye King (Soul-Link 1) provides the Sky Eye active skill, which damages all on-screen enemies based on the attack stat and reduces the defense by a considerable amount, allowing for devastating follow-up attacks. Even more important is that it carries the Oriental Paper Cutting when entering the dungeon. This single use item summons Howling, a pet often exploited for its scaling health and attack stats coupled with life leech and decent dodge rating.

Merchant's (Soul-Link 2) skill is Trading Master, which passively adds three more items to all Treasure and Scroll shops within the dungeon on top of a 25% discount. This allows for an easier time finding useful equipment and spells throughout the dungeon run.

Bring the Necklace of Legendary Mage +6, as well as the Werewolf Potion.

Upon entering the dungeon, focus on maxing out Treasure Seeker and Magic Apprentice. At this point, EP can be saved up for future use.

Buy all Disrupting Rays and Earthquakes from the scroll shops you come across. Similarly, purchase all Burned Parchment scrolls and Orc Livers from the Depot, prioritising them in that order.

For Treasure shops, try to buy pieces of the Noble Suit and the Hunter's Suit which will help in filling out the titles needed for the run. It's not really required, but try to buy Destroyer's Slate, Belt of Electric Arc and White Pearl if they come up. This helps in boosting some of the buff spells later on.

Do not disenchant treasure until the Blacksmith title has been maxed out.

For the Arena matches until F55, use Bless followed by Sky Eye to defeat the opponent and clear the audience easily. For bosses until F50, use Electrostatic Field, followed by Sky Eye and Lightning Bolt to beat them.

On F25, fill in the titles in this order: White Mage (1*), Priest (1*), Air Master (3*), Legendary Mage (0*). This should help in clearing bosses and Arena matches until the the rest of the build is complete.

The next goal is to forge (or find) an Earth Spell Book using Holy Blacksmith. Fill in the Venture title as follows: Explorationist (1*), Blacksmith (3*). As soon as the Blacksmith title has been maxed, start disenchanting unused treasure for extra EP and Quenching Essence. Continue titles towards Royal Blacksmith (1*) and Holy Blacksmith (3* HP). Before F60, there should be enough Quenching Essence for the Earth Spell book. Equip it at this point to amass Earthquake scrolls.

If all goes well, there should be enough EP to fill in the Melee titles: Novice Warrior (1*), Knight (3*). Legendary Mage (3* HP, 3* Power) should be maxed as well before F60.

The titles above should provide Howling with a decent HP pool to last until F95. He should be summoned using the Werewolf potion trick to maximise stats. Typically, Howling should have 1200 HP and 1400 Attack (for Bless) or 2400 Attack (for Blade of Ruin).

At this point, EP can be freely spent. I always fill in the rest of Legendary Mage for free Timestills and extended spell duration, then focus on boosting HP from then on.

Howling should be able to clear everything easily with minimal help. The next checkpoint is the F80 boss. To defeat it, cast Timestill - which should last for ten turns - followed by Electrostatic Field, Disrupting Ray and spells of choice for an easy win. If there are more than five Burned parchments in inventory, these can be used in place of spells to one-shot the boss.

Watch Howling's HP on the next floors as the enemies will start hitting considerably harder. If he enters a floor with low HP, cast Earthquake to speed-clear the floor without enemy counterattacks. This trick should allow for fast-clearing floors all the way to F95 (or beyond).

At the F85 Arena match, Timestill should last for a whopping 23 turns.

At the F90 boss, cast Timestill, Electrostatic Field, Disrupting Ray and Burned Parchments for another easy win.

At the final Arena match in F95, cast Timestill and throw everything at the Spartan gumball. Clearing this will provide fragments, as well as upgrade the Champion's Certificate to give 100,000 gold upon exiting the dungeon. Hoorah!

This setup revolves around reliability, ease of living and speed.

The Titles provide a lot of safety nets, and allows for runs to be completed even in the (likely) scenario that Blade of Ruin does not drop before needing to summon Howling.

The setup also eliminates a lot of RNG-related factors that other builds may have.

The largest setback is the fact that Three-Eye King is not only an event gumball, but he has only been available once so far during the week of the Chinese Lunar New Year. So far there are no indications of the event returning until next year, but my theory is that the event would return on October in time for the Golden Week.

Odin is a gem-only gumball, but should be one of the first purchases with the many free gems that the game provides. It might be expensive to max his stats as well, but it's well worth it.

Final Thoughts
This is the quickest way I've found so far to farming the Arena for easy gold. With practice, it is possible to beat the dungeon in around 20 minutes without relying on luck. The biggest challenge is the availability of the Three-Eye King, but it should come back around in a few months time (as per the developer's hint).


Monday, July 10, 2017

Beef and Ale Stew

There's something about the rainy season that makes people gravitate towards heartier dishes. Whether it's braving the increasingly common floods on the way home from work or just wanting to cook something passive on a cold weekend day, one can't go wrong with this dish.

700g beef short ribs, cut into small chunks
a few tablespoons of flour
1/4 bar of butter
2 large onions, cut into quarters
2 whole pieces of garlic, crushed and peeled
200g tomato paste
1 bottle of preferred beer
half a liter of water, or substitute with another bottle of beer
1 beef bouillon cube
2 large potatoes, cut into eights
2 - 3 carrots, cubed
Worcestershire sauce

In a large bowl, coat the beef with flour.

On a large pot, melt the butter in medium heat. Add the beef in batches, ensuring that they are lightly seared. Once the beef's surface start to turn brown, immediately remove from the pot and place on a separate plate to allow it to rest.

Back to the large pot, add the garlic followed by the onions and cook slightly. Add the potatoes and carrots, and cook for about 2 - 3 minutes.

Add the beef, ensuring that the contents are mixed equally. After 2 to 3 minutes, add the beer into the pot. Bubbles may form from the carbonation, which will eventually settle after a few minutes.

Bring to high heat, then carefully pour in the water (but avoid filling to the brim) followed by the beef bouillon. Add the Worcestershire sauce to taste - I probably used a third of the bottle in this batch. Finally, add the tomato paste into the stew and bring to a boil.

Once the stew starts boiling, reduce to low heat to avoid overflowing. Cover the pot but leave a small gap to allow evaporation. Cook for another 1.5 - 2 hours until beef is tender, then serve.


Monday, July 03, 2017


Rhetorical question - is it weird that my latest post after a long drought of updates is a recipe?


This is a recipe for shakshuka, a North African dish that I've been meaning to cook for a long time. Hearty and warm, it's excellent for cold, rainy nights. It's excellent for any time of the day, really.

2 whole pieces of garlic, minced
2 onions, sliced thinly
700 - 1,000g of crushed tomatoes
2 green bell peppers, sliced
1 tablespoon of chili garlic (or your spice of choice)
6 eggs
200g of button mushrooms (optional)

Heat oil on a large, flat pan. Add garlic and allow them to brown slightly. Toss in the onions, cook until onions are slightly sweet then add the bell peppers.

Once the bell peppers are slightly cooked, add the button mushrooms. Cook for 1 minute, then add the chili garlic. Stir well for another minute, then add the crushed tomatoes and bring to a simmer on low to medium heat.

After the water has slightly reduced, add salt to taste and continue stirring. Crack the eggs over the surface area of the stew, allowing the simmering tomatoes to gently cook then. If not using a cast iron pan, distribute the heat manually by moving the flame under each egg to slowly cook them. Add salt as desired.

Once raw egg whites are no longer visible (or is minimal), turn off the flame and cover the pan. Ideally, the yolks should remain runny.

Portion on plates, then serve with toast.


Saturday, December 31, 2016

Those Little Shards of Light

"As you get older, the questions come down to about two or three. How long? And what do I do with the time I've got left?"
- David Bowie

Let's get to the point - 2016 will forever be marked as one of those years.

I mean, screw cognitive dissonance. I'd rather not write a list of my struggles down, but this year has brought a lot of loss, sadness and fear. And perhaps least important among my personal troubles, I've not written as much as I'd like.

Then again, I'd like to think that maybe 2016 was meant to teach us some important lesson that we'd forget a year or two down the line. That's humanity for you, but I digress. That lesson boils down to the inevitability of change - and how scary change is (in more ways that one might think).

Our family attended Christmas Mass last weekend as a whole - something that hasn't happened in years (if not a decade or so). I remember the priest's sermon, particularly because I disagreed with it as he spoke. He emphasized the importance of a positive outlook in life, and the fact that we should always try to find the blessing in everything that happens to us - especially the bad things.

I could try to explain why such an outlook is a dangerous fallacy, but over the past few days I've come to realize that the lesson he was trying to say may have gone over my head. I was angry and frustrated at so many things this year. Maybe I still am - knots take a bit of time to untangle, after all.

I guess the priest's point was that we're living in very dark times, and at some point we'd need to look for those tiny shards of light in the darkness to help us find our way in this life. It's way too easy to lose one's way in this world. It's easy to overlook the little things that help us survive another difficult day and give us just that tiny bit of strength to keep pushing forward until things become easier again.

Despite the crap, I guess there were also a ton of cool things that happened this year.

That fantastic backpacking trip throughout Cebu (and Dumaguete) last summer.

Two (!) trips to Baguio.

An eye-opening week in Hong Kong.

Finding a new way to bond and tell stories via D&D.

Learning (and mostly failing) how to surf in Zambales.

And the awesomest girlfriend anyone could hope for.

I could list a lot more to fill a small book, but I'm way behind on my blog posts to recall everything. However, I'm pretty sure there's still a lot to be thankful for. A lot of small pieces of light scattered in the darkness that helped us survive into 2017.

So yeah. Even if you were such a dick, 2016, I'd like to thank you. We're tougher than we look, because we're made from stardust and all that positive mumbo jumbo.

Happy New Year (in a few hours)!


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Chapter 28

Mango Bravo for breakfast, spaghetti for lunch, a proper steak for dinner and some ice cream cake to top it all off.

For some reason, I felt that I owed it to myself to have my birthday pass as discreetly as possible this year. For the longest time, I've thought that the "helpful" birthday reminders in our social media feeds remove a lot of human sentiment from the greetings, making them feel cheap and artificial. Removing that from my profile was a breath of fresh (digital) air. Not that the greetings aren't well received, but I personally appreciate it more when people remember the old fashioned way.

Life's been a good run so far, and I have a few stories in mind that I'm just itching to write about. I'll find time - sure - because stories about people's lives are few and far in between, and even rarer are the ones that make one feel alive and hopeful about the world. I'll talk about whale sharks and giant turtles and massive schools of fish that seem like silver whirlwinds under the sea, about newfound hobbies which would put my storytelling to the test, and about random getaways that gave me some much needed second wind to fight life's battles another day.

So yeah, another year added to my life's book and hopefully a little more wisdom added to my belt. Life is still a little too challenging these days but for the first time in a while, I slept last night with a rare sense of contentment and inner peace (hah!).

That's something I'll always be thankful for.

Yes, I'm still around, although not in these parts for the past few months. With some luck, I'll be back real soon.


Monday, June 27, 2016

Conquering Masungi

The Web.  © Almary de Ocampo

For all its fragile beauty, there are very few things that would make one feel insignificant as the majesty of nature. This was my main takeaway from a weekend trip with friends to the Masungi Georeserve, a conservation area hidden away in the rainforests of Rizal.

Torn from beneath the sea by volcanic activity about sixty million years ago, Masungi Georeserve features limestone features jutting out the forest throughout its vast territory, most of which are reachable within four hours' worth of trekking (and picture-taking, for those so inclined).

Limestone Formations. © Almary de Ocampo

The trek began at a base site, which was essentially a garden which had a few covered areas for briefings and debriefings. We were introduced by the park staff to the ranger who was assigned to guide us through the rainforest and we were reminded of a few rules for the trip.

Masungi was a dying landscape as recently as 1999 and was restored with a great deal of effort over a decade by some very passionate individuals. The reserve opened to the public late last year in an effort to raise consciousness for its continued preservation (despite some significant struggles that threatened its existence only a few months ago), thus most likely ensuring its place amongst the better nature retreats easily accessible from Manila.

Scarier than you think. © Almary de Ocampo

A lot of the views are spectacular and (literally) breathtaking, such as the famous sapot (spider web) and the duyan (hammock), where everyone is suspended several hundred feet in mid-air over rocks or the forest canopy overlooking the park.

Duyan. © Almary de Ocampo

Masungi is laid out like a Dark Souls level - most of the landmarks visible in the distance were reachable on foot, and it was really cool to make mental notes (of personal achievement) as we reached each feature we saw just hours prior.

Nanay, one of the two major 'peaks' (along with Tatay). © Almary de Ocampo

It was a relatively easy trek, as the trails have been clearly marked (although there was a good amount of 'alternate' routes that the rangers warn newcomers about) and a path was painstakingly laid out through the rainforest for both trekkers and folks who just wished to retreat into nature.

While not as physically demanding as the 'easy' peaks like Pico de Loro, Masungi requires a decent level of fitness during the trek. In addition to the rainforest trail, we had to climb up (and down) several rope cargo nets as well as walk (and crawl) through caves - of which some of the crevices were rather small - to move forward.

Yungib ni Ruben. © Almary de Ocampo

The park was a combination of both natural wonders and human engineering. A lot of the artificial landmarks were built by hand over a long period of time, such as the duyan (which took three people ninety days to build) and what I could only describe as a 'rest station that was held up by a hanging bridge over the forest'. It's a testament to the engineers' and rangers' passion to help to raise public awareness for the reserve.

No, seriously. © Almary de Ocampo

I've been to several treks and one of the biggest things I've noticed was that there was not a single piece of litter throughout the trail - something that I was consciously trying to find. The park rangers were adamant that we should leave the place just as it was when we arrived, and the fact that they didn't sell any souvenirs reinforced the idea that they were doing what they did for a singular cause and they were not running the park for profit.

Masungi Georeserve's primary goal was to raise awareness for natural conservation and sustainable eco-tourism, and I believe that they were spot on in providing people with an opportunity to commune with the natural world. It was a gentle reminder that we humans are all but fleeting travelers through this life, and the world will continue to exist long after we move on.

Lame. © Almary de Ocampo

The Fine Print
They charge PhP 1,400 for a minimum group of seven, with a group of fifteen as the largest batch they'll take. Book in advance through their website, as it could take weeks (or even months) for a slot to open up. The cost includes the services of the park ranges (who'll also serve as the guide), as well as a liter of water and a sandwich (and some refreshments) at the end of the trek.

Safety gear will be provided along with a knapsack to carry things around. I'd recommend bringing only the essentials, but I think bringing extra water would be a good idea as the physical activity could lead to some mild dehydration despite the shade from the forest canopy.

I'm not sure if they'd provide ponchos in case it rains. It actually did pour down when we got there, but thankfully the weather cleared up before we were scheduled to start.

The trek isn't as hard as it seemed (despite the pictures) and overall, I'd say it was definitely well worth the price.