Furious note-taking & history-making


Manila, 13 January—Are any of us still making New Year’s resolutions? I suppose there’s no harm in having some. This year, I’m thinking about focusing on two things: Getting more water into my body, and reading more books. If these sound familiar, that’s because I’ve been having them as New Year’s resolution for years. Haha. Wala namang may sabing bawal mag-ulit ng New Year’s resolutions, di ba? :)

Anyway. So last year’s set of resolutions involved writing more, and I think that went well. I committed to sitting down to write at least one thing every week, and at the end of the year, I had a mixed bag of fifty written things. Looking back, I think this resolution worked because there was a concrete plan to execute it, and progress was measurable.

So this year I’m taking the same approach: I’ve been monitoring my water intake so I can track just how much more I need to be drinking, and I’ve been trying to read 20 pages a day in order to end up reading more books in a year (h/t James Clear).

So far, this has been a success: While I still have to improve on my water drinking situation, I have already finished ONE BOOK this year.

Here’s Book 1:

Jessica Zafra’s Twisted Travels: Rambles in Central Europe is a compilation of essays about her journeys to Czech Republic, Italy, Austria, France, Hungary, and Poland. To admit, I was quite excited to read her thoughts about Poland, because it’s the only country in her book that I’ve been to before. Verdict: Zafra’s humor still gets to me. Loved her Czech Republic piece the most. (Got my copy for P250 at Fully Booked Power Plant)

Speaking of books: My girlfriend is trying out dataviz and for her first attempt, her dataset involved books she read in 2011.

Look at how pretty:

And because she’s a nerd like me, she also wrote a bit about it here. I am livid* at the fact that she gets to do a pun for the title AND design something this pretty at first go.

ANYWAY. What goals are you measuring this year? Are there books on your tbr pile that are finally getting read this month? (Mine is Joey Arguelles’s Ordinary World) What are you looking forward to this coming week? (As for me, I’m looking forward to my very first Sinulog coverage next weekend!)

Here’s hoping this Monday starts your week right.


*and by livid, I mean proud.

#nerdweekend: visualizing transport data from grab

Manila, 4 January—Hello 2019! How’s the first weekend of 2019 shaping up so far? More importantly, how did the first work days of 2019 go for you? Admittedly, I’m bad at going on vacations, because I get anxious about going back to work. Working in media for bulk of my life meant always being on-call in some form, and never really tuning out. I’m still trying to figure out how to get better at vacationing.

Anyway, speaking of the holidays, here’s something I thought about doing while in the middle of festivities: A small dataviz project for the dataset that Grab has on its passengers, which recently made the rounds on social media.

The immediate takeaway from this dataset, of course, is how much any one person spent over a specific period for Grab rides alone. For instance, some spent as much as P100,000 in 12 months, and some commented how this was already equivalent to a downpayment for a car. Which led me to think about researching into payment terms for cars, average cost of maintenance, historic prices of fuel, parking rates around Makati, etc—a vortex of its own, I assure you, but not really one that was relevant for me, seeing that I don’t have a car to begin with.

Anyway, so I also looked into my data, and decided it was par for the course, considering my life movements this year: I moved closer to work, so transportation wasn’t a huge chunk of my expenses, but just looking at the mix of outrage, disbelief and resignation among my friends told me a thing or two about how crucial Grab has been as a service amid the terrible mass transport situation in the metro.

Expensive or cheap?

Crucial, yes, but at what cost? If a person spends P100,000 on 300 Grab rides, that comes up to P333 per ride. Is this figure cheap or expensive? This can be answered in a variety of ways. One way would be to quantify it as a percentage of wages earned; perhaps a P300 Grab ride is unwise for anyone earning less than that in a day.

However, if I were to remain within the confines of the Grab dataset, what other information did I have that can help further contextualize these figures?

Here are the available data:

  • Date and time of ride

  • Pick-up and drop-off points

  • Ride distance in kilometers

  • Total fare paid

I wish the dataset also included time spent per ride, because it’s the only data point that can actually quantify how terrible traffic has been in the metro. Grab did, however, aggregate that information: In its personalized Your #2018withGrab infographic, it informed me that we spent more than 6,400 minutes in more than 100 rides, which meant I spent close to an hour or so in every Grab ride I took.

Anyway, I thought the Total Fare Paid info is essentially incomplete. Some rides are expensive due to distance, while some are due to surge and demand. Certainly, paying a certain amount for a within Makati ride and paying the same amount for a Makati-BGC ride are two different stories, and I wanted to capture both stories accurately.

That’s how I ended up with the Cost per Kilometer metric (Fare over Ride distance), which is the anchor data point for the entire dataset. With this info now computed, the full range of what I paid for this service came into clearer view: I spent between P13 to P90 per kilometer on Grab rides from April to December 2018. I chose April as the starting point because that was when Uber ceased operations and Grab became the sole provider of this type of service.

Trial and error

My initial instinct was to make a two-axis graph and plot the cost per km on the Y-Axis and the distance in km on the X-Axis. I realized that with 133 data points, this was going to be unwieldy. I tried plotting the first 5 rides before I gave up.

I regrouped and conceded that I needed to work with ranges. Studying the data further I realized that they naturally occurred in clusters. I ended up grouping together rides that cost under P20/km, between P20-P39, between P40-P59, and P60 and above. Distance-wise, the rides were either under 2 km, between 2-5 km, between 5-10km, and over 10km.

To get this on paper, I used some shapes and colors: Green circles for the under P20, Blue triangles for the P20-39 segment, Orange squares for the P40-59 segment, and Red pentagon houses for the P60 and above segment.

Distance traveled was represented by small arcs beside the shapes: one for the under 2km segment, two for the between 2-5km segment, three for the between 5-10km segment, and four for the over 10km segment.

In terms of location traveled, since bulk of my trips either started or ended in Makati, I just took note of that by shading the appropriate portion of the shape: Shaded left halves for trips that originated in Makati, and shaded right halves for those that terminated in Makati. This meant that fully shaded shapes were just trips around Makati, and empty shapes were trips around other cities.

And since I had run out of elegant ideas, I decided to lump them together by month.

Here’s how it all looked like put together:

Anyway, some takeaways from going through my data:

  • The cheapest rides (green circles) are the longest ones—check out the arcs beside those.

  • Conversely, the most expensive rides (red houses) are all under 2km, and are mostly within Makati rides.

  • Most of my trips either originated from or ended in Makati, in one way or another. I very rarely took Grab rides around other areas in the Metro.

  • Bulk of my rides cost between P20-P39 per km—definitely cheaper than roughly half of the other rides that cost at least P40 per km.

Using these stats, next year’s personal transport targets are now clearer:

  • Even as I already do a lot of walking around Makati, there is still need to intensify walking efforts and cut the number of within Makati/under 2km trips by half.

  • As for total Grab expenses, target is to reduce them by at least 5% by end of this year.

These may not be implementable for all types of Grab users, but I encourage everyone to go through their data and look for insights. They may surprise you.


here's looking at you, 2018

Manila, 31 December—Happy New Year, friends! If you had a word for 2018, what would it be? Well, 2018 hasn't exactly been easy, but I don't hate it so much, I guess? After all, I made a lot of things happen this year, at least 52 weekly editions of this newsletter included, and I think on the whole, I'm pretty happy about how this effort turned out. 

This year has been... a surprise, mostly. I think the most surprising thing of all was that people actually read Mnemonics, which came out earlier this year—undoubtedly the most batshit thing I've managed to pull off in the last 12 months. Thank you for supporting it :)

In the spirit of year-enders, I also compiled my other favorite things that we did this year:

  • Black Books. This year, my girlfriend also launched her own side hustle called The Black Books, which is a line of specialized planners. It has been such a joy to pitch ideas for this project, and I'm just happy that finally, my random finance and accounting knowledge carried over from business school now have some use. 

  • Dad's Yearbook. Throughout the year, I have been helping my dad put together his entry for their Navy class yearbook. It's been decades in the making, considering they are class 1977. As for me, it has provided me with an opportunity to get to know my Dad better. He isn't really the talkative type, and when we do talk it's mostly functional, most times, but when we talk yearbook, we get to talk about his days as a student, and how hard it was to get through military training. It's been a joy to help write. I wrote about it here.

  • Pride. I joined the Pride March in Marikina this year after skipping it for the last few years. It was also the first time I joined Pride with my brother (albeit we came with different people). It's one of the biggest on record, and I'm extremely honored to have been a part of it. My notes on the Pride parade here.

  • Sagada. I was in Sagada for work early this year, and it involved a rather lengthy if picturesque hike with co-workers. Despite the difficulty, it was one of my most cherished experiences this year. I always say I'm not built for the outdoors, but man actually being outdoors is actually kind of refreshing. I'm glad for every opportunity. I wrote about that here.

  • Year 1 with C. Oh, this was certainly my most favorite. 2018 has also been a revival of sorts. For most of 2017, life has been pretty much gray. 2018 was the year the color started coming back, and they came back with C, who has been the most terrific partner, in both work and play. I love her, I love making things with her, and I love the person I am when I'm with her; most of all, I love the way we laugh at each other's invented tunes and corny jokes (or ako lang ata yun, haha) and I sincerely hope that I have been good for her in 2018, too :) I'd apologize for the cheese assault, but it's been a while, okay? I'm ready to write this way again more often. Please don't ban me from your inboxes haha.

Anyway, considering I wrote a lot this year, I figured I'd share some of my favorite pieces:

Last-minute binges

Bird Box. Sandra Bullock is a survivor in a world plagued by a mysterious unseen monster. The movie starts 5 years into the terror, and right as she decides to ferry two five-year-olds down a loooong river ride to safety. Have I mentioned everybody had to be blindfolded to survive? Everybody had to be blindfolded to survive. You don't see the monsters, which leaves the viewer free to imagine how terrible they must be to drive all those people mad and suicidal. Sandra is spectacular in this one—of course, the woman you'd bet on to drive a rickety boat down the rapids blindfolded would be the same woman on Speed 2. Or the woman who survived outer space alone. Or Miss Congeniality. 

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. Did you ever have those Choose Your Own Adventure books in the 90s? I preferred them over Sweet Valley. My sister and I grew up on Choose Your Own Adventure books and R.L. Stine, and Bandersnatch is CYOA brought to life in TV format. We enjoyed playing along, and listing down our decisions as we did. Sugar puffs or Frosties? Also, choose Netflix. You're welcome.

A Simple Favor. Oh man, what took us so long to watch this? I regret not going to the movie house to watch Blake Lively in all her larger-than-life glory. Her suits in this are absolutely to die for, and Anna Kendrick is also a delight to watch, as far as mom vloggers are concerned. The twist is... well, when it happens, you go, The fuck why did I not think of that? But personally, I didn't see it coming. It's like Gone Girl, but with a dubiously flirtatious potentially bisexual lead who is as hot as Blake Lively. 

Crisis on Earth-X. Super late to this epic crossover party, but wow. These episodes are pretty much my introduction to Arrow, The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow, and I'm a little in love with the whole Alex Danvers/Sara Lance thing, expectedly. Also: Wentworth Miller, oh my, so fabulous. 

What did you love this year?

I'd like to read it, see it, visit it, play it, watch it, or listen to it. Come yell about your 2018 favorites :) 

A Final Note

This is Letter #52 for the 2018 edition of Letters from The Last Girl. It's also the last issue—for this year, at least, and on the Mailchimp platform. It has been a great year for experimenting.  

For next year, I am fully moving this newsletter to the Substack, because of its relatively simpler interface + automatic archives. Don't worry, I am automatically migrating existing subscribers as of Dec. 31.

See you in 2019! :) 

TV we watched in 2018

Manila, 27 December—How did you unwind this year? For us, it was Netflix. People usually say there are a bajillion better things to do instead of binge-watching anything on TV, and while we've had our share of binge-regrets (sigh, The Alienist and Alias Grace), we found that Netflix's constantly growing library of media available on demand has been a treasure trove of excellent storytelling. As a fan of stories, we quite enjoyed them. Sharing some that made 2018 bearable and entertaining. We hope they made your lists, too.

SERIES RECAP 2018: In order of appearance, as in the last yearender

Black Mirror Season 4 (January). Oh man, this was how we opened 2018, and looking back, how apt right? All equally bleak episodes considered, my favorite ep is Hang the DJ, which is this season's San Junipero.

One Day At A Time (February). I adore this family so, so much. I love how it manages to touch on a wide range of issues—from race to sexuality to feminism and misogyny, to the war in Afghanistan and mental health. What a blessing this show has been.

Altered Carbon (February). Came for Dichen Lachman, stayed for the premise. Imagine a world where you can just load your consciousness into a new body—and live forever? Intriguing concept, action-packed execution. Also, Dichen Lachman.

Sense8 Seasons 1 and 2 (June). We were late to this party, but WOW what a party. Surreal and lovely and tender and action-packed in all the right places. The sets were magnificent and the actors we goshdarned amazing. Made me wish I had my own cluster.

Hannah Gadsby's Nanette (July). This year's hardest watch is also this year's most important one. In this, Gadsby deconstructs comedy and how it has failed queer comedians like her. We began watching not knowing what to expect and came out of it with more questions than answers—all for the better, I think. 

Queer Eye Season 1 (July). I liked this reboot so much better than the first one. I think this group is so much more... grounded, and in touch with today's issues, and on the whole very, very kind. I have a hard time pinning down a favorite: Maybe JVN. Lovely. 

Tig Notaro: Happy to Be Here (July). Two words: Indigo Girls. This was such a riot. We watched primarily to balance the heaviness we felt off "Nanette" and oh man. Tig Notaro's final gag is so damn good, and we're not even Indigo Girls fans. Haha.

OITNB Season 6 (July). My favorite inmates at Litchfield came back for the series' second to the last season, and I'll be the first to admit this season felt a bit flat due to the lack of a compelling Big Bad. Nevertheless, the girls pull through with an entertaining season. 

Insatiable (August). Oh man, where do I begin about this show. I thought about putting this on the regret-bingepile, but I just couldn't; it was so damn entertaining. Full disclosure: This was sold to me as, "Uy parang Lipgloss!" so yeah. SOLD. NO REGRETS.  

Maniac (September). Any series that would put Emma Stone and Jonah Hill together would surely turn some heads, and it did ours. This felt like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind had a baby with Black Mirror and Stranger Things. I like this Emma Stone better than the Emma Stone in La La Land, and that says a lot about La La Land. Jonah Hill is a revelation. Together, their characters Owen and Annie join a pharmaceutical trial for a drug that promises to cure their mental illness. Trippy like fuck, hella confusing at some points, and a downright messy in the others. Quite a lovely ride, and, for all its bleakness, that was such a gorgeous ending. 

Salt Fat Acid Heat (November). Samin Nosrat travels all over the world to demonstrate how four core factors decide the fate of a dish. I'm not a cook, but I truly enjoyed this. Entertaining and informative. Watch while eating LOL. 

The Haunting of Hill House (November). I'm not one to voluntarily subject myself to horror shows, but I am glad I gave Hill House a chance. Watched it twice this year—a second time with siblings over the Christmas break—and finally understood the other parts I had survived with closed eyes haha.

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power (December). I'm a fan of the original She-Ra, an icon from my early childhood, so I approached this reboot with caution, only to find that there was truly no reason to worry: The reboot is amazing and contemporary and updated. Adora is the hero today's young girls deserve. I am glad they have her, and Glimmer and Bow, and everyone else.

Supergirl Season 3 (December). I'm five thousand years late to the Sanvers break-up party, but I'm happy I'm finally onboard. I'm not as... unhappy, per se, that Alex and Maggie had to go their separate ways; I'm just happy no one is dying, period. Also, in that brief time they managed to tackle a lot of important issues. I'm glad.  

The Good Place (year-long). I have never recovered from the Season 1 finale twist, and it only gets better. This wonderful bunch is motherforking amazeballs. We just watched the current season's mid-season finale, and oh my god, Janet

Brooklyn Nine-Nine (year-long). Speaking of fantastic ensembles, you can't get any better than Brooklyn Nine-Nine. The latest season had Rosa's bisexual coming out moment, which we thought was so important. For a show full of cops, it's not so bad.  

Killing Eve (BBC). This year's best performances, hands down. Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer are cat and mouse in this spy series that isn't on Netflix. Who's the cat and who's the mouse, though? Nailbiting and inexplicably queer and sexy until the last frame. Can't wait for Season 2!

Manifest (NBC). Oh jeez, this was a surprise. A flight encounters turbulence and when it lands, they discover that they have been missing for five years. It's an irresistible premise.  

Rec your favorites!

Anything we missed this year? What were you obsessed with this year? What are you looking forward to in 2019? Let's yell about TV together :)

Movies we watched in 2018

Manila, 22 December—There was a time I didn't think my year amounted to something that was good enough for recaps; it was a rather dark time. Thankfully, this year, no matter how batshit it's been, I'm in a place where it feels like life is worth making a couple of recaps for, and I think it's great. 

ANYWAY: This year we did some things more than others, and this year we watched movies—both at home and at the cinemas. 

In fact: We watched SIXTEEN MOVIES at the cinemas. You're welcome, cinema owners.

MOVIE RECAP 2018: In order of appearance, I guess

The Greatest Showman (January).Loved this charming little musical led by Hugh Jackman. People singing together really, really makes me weepy. Killer track: This is Me by Keala Settle. Check out this Reimagined  OST.

Call me By Your Name (February). Wrote a mini-review of this coming of age film by Luca Guadagnino starring Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer in extremely short shorts. Loved the summer vibe and the colors.

Black Panther (February). This movie is easily one of the most amazing experiences this year—from the all-Black cast to the breathtaking action sequences, name it. This movie had 'blockbuster' written all over it. Also: Amazing empowered women galore! Loved it. 

Four Sisters and a Wedding (March). This was a late watch haha. Someone asked me who I most related to in this movie, so I had to go and watch it to be able to answer. Also: I learned so many memes, including this GIF, always a favorite. (Also, I'm a Bobbie.) 

Annihilation (March). We also watched a lot of movies on Netflix, and this sci-fi thriller is definitely notable. A little bit like Stranger Things, a little like Westworld, a little like Black Mirror, a little like Orphan Black, feels a lot like Arrival. Hella trippy.

A Quiet Place (April). You'd be hard-pressed to see me voluntarily going to the cinema to watch a horror movie, but for this movie, I did. Emily Blunt and John Krasinski are stellar in this movie, which has the most stressful stair scene in the entire history of stairs.

Never Not Love You (April). James Reid and Nadine Lustre are modern young Filipino lovers Gio and Joanne in this movie about what happens after happily ever after. There's a semblance of review here (where I mash it up with A Quiet Place, btw). 

Avengers: Infinity War (April). SO. MANY. QUESTIONS! It felt like many movies mashed up into one, and up to now I'm still mighty confused. Also: I love Drax and Groot. Also: Thanos in Banaue! What's not to like?

The Incredibles 2 (June). Watch for that sequence with Jack-jack and the raccoon. That's it, that's the show. Anyway, did you catch that expanded clip of Edna inventing Jack-Jack's costume? Because that was also golden.

Ocean's 8 (June). Also known as the movie where Cate Blanchett's outfits demolished me as a lesbian. Anyway. This is my kind of heist movie, Sandra Bullock is underrated as a comedian, and don't get me started on Helena Bonham Carter oh my god. How she could be Bellatrix and this character—it really does not compute, it hurt my brain. Also: the distinct lack of boys is refreshing. Like, the men here could have literally been replaced by moving lamps and it wouldn't have mattered. Except for James Corden ("two of these!"), who was so lovely here, I read him as a woman.  

Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again (July). Cheesy franchise is cheesy, BUT still a delight. Lily James as a younger Donna plus the younger versions of Christine Baranski and Julie Walters really shine in this, and their comedic timing is crisp and bright. Watch for that final performance of Super Trouper.

Buy Bust (August). I don't remember breathing at all while watching this Erik Matti movie about a police drug operation gone wrong in a Manila slum. A stark look at what's wrong with the government's violent war on drugs. (tl;dr: Everything.)

Moana (August). Promise not to laugh, but the truth is, I have never watched Moana before this year. It was amazing. Moana is an easy fave. Now I get the hype.

Crazy Rich Asians (August). Kris Aquino's brief cameo in this movie definitely sold it to the Filipino audience. I remember it most for Ken Jeong and Awkwafina. Also: I learned mahjong (albeit via mobile game) so that I could understand that mahjong scene LOL. Never too late to learn.

To all the boys I've loved before (August). Well, this was an unexpected charmer. Lara Jean and Peter Kavinsky are damn cute together. Also: FAKE DATING TROPE. Sold.

Kimi No Nawa (September). Oh wow this movie made me weep. I wish I caught it at the cinemas during its commercial run. Gorgeous animation, and that twist made me pause and rewind. Also: Stellar OST is stellar! I still use it as writing background :)

Goyo (September). This movie about legendary boy general Gregorio del Pilar had me fascinated yet again about side-stories glossed over during our history lectures in school. Compared to Heneral Luna, however, Goyo is a bit more muted. Wrote a brief review about this Jerrold Tarrog film here.

Next Gen (September). Can't rave enough about this animated film which is about a girl and a robot. We rarely get girls and robots in the same story without the girl being too sexy, Transformers style. Think Big Hero 6 but the protag is a girl with anger issues. Review-ish here.

A Star is Born (October). We wanted to check for ourselves if the hype was warranted, and it was. According to criticsthis is an easy Oscar nomination for Gaga, whose portrayal of rising star Ally was stellar all the way through the roughly two-hour film. Heartbreaking and gorgeous, it is easy to forget who Gaga is in the first place. I got so lost in her portrayal of Ally, whose journey to stardom is both boosted and weighed down by her alcoholic partner Jack. For his part, Bradley Cooper is charming and arresting, if a bit unintelligible (subtitles preferred). When I first heard Shallow I didn't think it was particularly special, but watching it come alive in the movie had me teary-eyed. As a friend put it, "It moved my cold dead heart." Well, if I'll Never Love Again doesn't, I don't know what to say to you.

Bohemian Rhapsody (November). One word: Glorious. The movie follows the rise and fall and rise again of rock icon and Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, played by the amazing Rami Malek (who is definitely in the running for all sorts of awards because of his performance here.) It was great to know more about an icon who's truly larger-than-life the way Freddie Mercury was, and to somehow know how it felt like to be part of a Queen concert. Hot take: I like this better than A Star is Born. Rami Malek and Lady Gaga should have just made a movie together, tbh.

Wreck-it Ralph 2 (November). Why did we find this so damn funny? No idea. Watch for the Disney Princesses and Vanellope's hilarious Slaughter Race song. Also, stay through the credits for that fitting post-credit scene. This movie nails my kind of humor.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (December). We've heard friends raving about this being their best movie for 2018, and it certainly did not disappoint! We went in with high hopes, and yes, it truly was all that. Go watch it! It's an experience.

Rec your favorites!

Whew! That was a mouthful, wasn't it? I can't believe we were able to watch that much—or document them, for that matter. Everything feels too far away. (I feel like Black Panther was ages ago!).

What great movies did you watch this year? Rec them please :) 

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