Saturday, April 30, 2011

Studies find Philippines a disaster waiting to happen

By Winston A. Marbella
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:28:00 11/30/2010

MANILA, Philippines—As close to 200 countries began Monday a two-week meeting in Cancun, Mexico, to try to forge an agreement to curb climate change, several international agencies warned that the Philippines remained a disaster waiting to happen—with Metro Manila possibly going under water after just a heavy downpour.

As in earlier meetings in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Bali, Indonesia, a legally binding international agreement is not expected in Cancun to put a cap on carbon emissions scientists believe to be causing global warming and worsening natural disasters. But at least a preliminary road map is expected to be drawn up to replace the aging Kyoto agreement expiring in 2012.

As 15,000 government delegates, environmentalists, business leaders and journalists gathered in the Mexican resort, the Philippine government appeared to be moving heaven and earth to avert more catastrophes from impending natural disasters in a desperate race against time in a dangerously warming planet.

On the eve of the Cancun conference, President Benigno Aquino III declared a Global Warming and Climate Change Consciousness Week, calling on the people to adjust their lifestyles to prevent further degrading the environment as temperatures climb, ice melts, seas rise and the climate that nurtured man shifts in unpredictable ways.

Mr. Aquino also ordered the scrapping of the P18.7-billion Laguna Lake rehabilitation project in order to include additional features to remove centuries-old silt, save the watershed, install global positioning mapping, relocate illegal settlers, and provide livelihood programs for displaced fishermen.

The President’s order came not a day too soon: Some 70,000 fishermen live in 170 coastal villages around the lake area covering 90,000 hectares.

A triple-agency international study has found Metro Manila, together with three other Asian coastal megacities, in grave danger of killer floods that could devastate them anytime now unless steps are taken fast. An average of 20 typhoons strikes the country yearly.

The government-run Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) issued a similar warning after Typhoon “Ondoy” (international name: Ketsana) unleashed killer floods a year ago that kept parts of Metro Manila underwater for many months.

The state-owned water regulatory agency, Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS), has reported that many more parts of Metro Manila have slid below sea level because of sinking water tables. It said massive siltation had also greatly reduced the Pasig River’s capacity to drain floodwaters into Manila Bay, threatening to swamp the capital after even just a heavy thunderstorm.

An Asian-focused US think tank, Pacific Strategies and Assessments, recently accused the Aquino administration of underestimating the threat of natural disasters on the “most vulnerable” part of the country—Metro Manila—and overestimating government preparedness to cope with natural disasters like typhoons, floods and earthquakes in many parts of the country.

A series of international conferences over the past two years—in Bali, Indonesia, in 2008, Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2009, and now in Cancun—is expected to produce scant progress in reaching an enforceable agreement to cut pollution by the world’s leading industrial economies, notably China, India, the European Community, and the United States.

Silver lining

Happily, the gathering storm clouds have produced a silver lining: Filipino scientists are close to finding a breakthrough solution to environmental problems caused by fossil fuel. They are growing a species of algae suitable to large-scale biofuel production, an alternative energy source discussed in a new documentary film.

The film, “Cool It,” is heating up the global warming controversy first raised by the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” and a disturbing UN report warning of imminent environmental disasters caused by climate change.

The earlier documentary won an Academy Award that catapulted former US Vice President Al Gore to the world stage and a new career as environmentalist. For their work in raising global-warming awareness, Gore shared a Nobel Peace Prize with the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.


“Cool It” is making enough waves to rock the boat carrying Gore’s brand of environmental activists. The film questions the scientific bases of the climate change effects predicted by Gore and some 2,500 scientists comprising the UN panel.

“Cool It” is based on lectures and a book of the same title by Bjorn Lomborg, controversial author of “The Skeptical Environmentalist.” Lomborg founded the Copenhagen Consensus Center, a think tank that puts forward the views of the world’s leading economists on major global problems.

The award-winning filmmaker, Ondi Timoner, traveled the warming globe together with Lomborg to document climate change and find the most practical solutions to environmental problems.

Scare tactics

Lomborg says that Gore “oversold the message” of climate change and that Gore’s film was designed to scare people “witless.” He says it “works very well as a scary way to get everyone’s attention” but is an “incredibly poor way to make good decisions” about climate solutions.

Lomborg does not deny climate change but questions the scientific bases of the UN panel’s predicted environmental consequences. He also contests the cost effectiveness of proposed ways to fight global warming.

“There’s a lot of amazing ideas,” says Lomborg. “Solar and wind, of course, but we also look at growing your own oil fields through algae in the ocean, making artificial photosynthesis …”

Lomborg says current efforts to cut carbon emissions would reduce global temperatures only minimally, while much lower amounts spent for research could radically cut the costs of improving existing alternative energy sources and developing new ones.


In one such effort, Philippine scientists have identified a species of algae capable of producing commercial quantities of oil for fuel.

Teresita Perez, chair of Ateneo de Manila University’s Department of Environmental Science, has isolated species of algae that can yield 40 to 50 percent oil when grown in a medium containing nutrients that increase production.

The Ateneo scientists are looking at growing algae without using chemical fertilizers. They are experimenting with chicken manure, hog waste, and even fresh water lakes as alternative growth media.

Zero emissions

To preserve the environment, the researchers are testing a closed carbon-loop method to grow the algae, meaning the carbon dioxide by-product of aerobic decomposition is fed back to enrich the growth medium, thus avoiding releasing CO2 into the atmosphere.

After the oil is extracted, the algae become a rich source of protein and carbohydrates for feeding fish and livestock, completing the cycle.

An advantage of producing fuel oil from algae is that the process does not displace croplands that are better used for growing food like corn, soybean and sugar cane, thus keeping prices stable. Algae are 150 times more efficient than soybean in using arable land.

Boeing, the airplane manufacturer, estimates that growing enough soybeans to supply the fuel needs of the aviation industry for a year would require fields as big as Europe, but algae would need only 30,500 square kilometers of ponds, the size of Belgium.


The World Bank joint study released recently found Metro Manila—together with Asia’s biggest megacities, Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City—in grave danger of natural calamities triggered by climate change.

The country is already suffering the quadruple-whammy effects of global warming identified by UN climate scientists: rising sea levels, floods triggered by killer typhoons, dwindling drinking water supplies induced by drought, and shrinking food crops from parched agricultural lands.

A one-meter rise in sea level resulting from melting polar ice caps could put 64 of the country’s 81 provinces—a full 80 percent—in harm’s way, according to the environmental group Greenpeace.

That’s equivalent to 700 million square meters of coastal lands covering half of the country’s 1,610 municipalities, where half of the population depends on seafood as the main source of protein.

In 2006 alone, 3 million Filipinos were directly affected by natural disasters, according to the nongovernment Citizen Disaster Response Center. The number is expected to rise with rising temperatures and sea levels.

Waiting to happen

A World Bank study done after Typhoons “Ondoy” and “Pepeng” (Parma) struck last year, titled “Post Disaster Needs Assessment,” recommended “immediate changes in land-use planning, housing, water management, and environmental protection.”

Another World Bank study, done with the Asian Development Bank and the Japan International Cooperation Agency, titled “Climate Risks and Adaptation in Asian Coastal Megacities,” warned of climate-induced disasters in Metro Manila unless major steps were taken fast.

The study recommended constructing the Marikina Dam and embankments in the Pasig-Marikina river basin, and improving two major pumping stations serving Metro Manila, located beside the Manggahan River and in the Camanava area (Caloocan, Malabon, Navotas and Valenzuela).

Manila sinking

After Ondoy struck, the LLDA disclosed that the lake’s capacity to hold floodwaters had been cut drastically by silt dumped by 24 river tributaries from denuded watersheds.

The MWSS has disclosed that many more sections of Metro Manila have slid several feet below sea level because of sinking water tables being rapidly depleted by deep wells.

The agency also reported that massive siltation of the Pasig River has dangerously reduced its capacity to drain Metro Manila of floodwaters caused by even minor thunderstorms.

In the northern Luzon provinces devastated by Supertyphoon “Juan” (international code name: Megi) in October, the work of rebuilding broken lives and ravaged communities continues outside the peripheral vision of Manila—until the next environmental disaster strikes.

(Editor’s Note: The author is chief executive of a think tank specializing in transforming social, political, cultural and technological trends into business strategy. Comments are welcome at Marbella International Business Consultancy, e-mail

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Friday, April 29, 2011

Solving education’s Gordian Catch-22

Picture this scene happening in a factory: RECRUITMENT OFFICER -- "I am sorry we cannot hire you." TESDA GRADUATE -- "Can you please tell me why?" OFFICER -- "Because you have no experience." GRADUATE -- But how can I get experience if you do not hire me?!"

The situation described is called a Catch-22, from the war novel of the same name written in 1961 by the American author Joseph Heller and made into a movie in 1970.

Catch-22 is a military regulation which stipulates that a person who is insane may be allowed not to fight by formally filing a petition seeking to be relieved from duty for reason of insanity; but by asking to be relieved from duty to escape fighting, he is deemed sane, so he is forthwith sent to the front lines to fight!

The paradox is similar to the one described by Winston Churchill: "A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma."
But graduates who have not found a job need not lose heart. Early in his career, Alexander of Macedonia encountered a similar perplexing problem.

The story is told that King Gordius (the root word of Gordian knot) of Phyrigia tied an intricate knot which an oracle said is so complicated it can be untied only by the future ruler of Asia. Failing to untie it after several tries, Alexander the Great thought for a while, unsheathed his sword, and slashed the knot. He went on to conquer Asia.

After reviewing long-standing proposals to extend by two years the current 10-year basic elementary and secondary school system -- to follow a worldwide standard -- the Department of Education finds itself in the middle of a gargantuan Gordian knot.

The thinking behind the 12-year system is that it will make graduates more competitive in finding a job, even if they cannot go on to college. The opposition centers on the additional cost to parents of two more years, the more urgent tasks of solving hunger and malnutrition, which impair the child’s learning ability, building more classrooms and increasing teachers’ wages, and creating more jobs, rather than improving the graduates’ qualification for nonexistent jobs.

Understandably, all of the above will cost funding beyond what the government can raise -- or if it can raise -- can afford. Considering all the other basic needs that have to be met -- health care, food, housing, roads, basic utilities, the list is almost endless -- it may not even be practical to prioritize things because they all need to be done right here, right now, in fact, yesterday
Education Secretary Armin Luistro, former president of De La Salle University, will formally unveil the plan on Oct. 5, on the propitious occasion of National Teachers Day. He is looking forward to a sober and thoughtful national dialogue.

A story we all loved to read in elementary school, penned by Lewis Carroll, articulated the problem well enough: "Pussycat," Alice asked in absolute wonderment, "can you tell me which way I ought to go from here?" Replied the cat: "That depends on where you want to get to."

We know where we want to get to. We also seem to know which way we ought to go from here. In fact, we know many ways, perhaps too many. Knowing far too many ways to get there, we face the problem of determining where to begin. So we end up going around in circles, looking for the best place to start.

Considering all the problems we face, any place seems a good place to start. Let’s try the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).

The newly minted head of TESDA, former party-list representative Joey Villanueva, has ordered a review of the agency’s school accreditation and scholarship program, citing a lower than 20% employment rate of their graduates.

"That’s unacceptable!" he cried.

Villanueva reported that of the 743,465 students who enrolled in TESDA centers and accredited schools nationwide, only 113,710 or 15% found a job after graduation. Government records show TESDA spent P5.6 billion from 2008 to 2009 to support scholars.

"We will have to review the system to find out what we’re doing wrong," Villanueva said, adding he was also looking into reports of bogus schools and ghost scholars. Conceivably, if he finds proof of malfeasance, heads will roll and budgets will be slashed. Alexander’s sword may come in handy.

Maybe he can also learn a lesson or two from the Cristo Rey High School in an urban ghetto in New York City. The innovative school was recently featured by Pulitzer-Prize winner Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal in a piece entitled "A Good Catholic Story" -- refreshing news at a time when Catholic ministries are under attack worldwide for child abuse committed by clerics.

Wrote Henninger: "On June 10, Cristo Rey High School in East Harlem will graduate all of its 50 seniors. All come from families at or below the poverty level. All will attend college."

The Cristo Rey Network -- 24 high schools teaching some 6,000 students in big and small cities across America -- began in 1996 with the ambitious goal of qualifying its graduates for college. Almost all of them are Latinos or African-Americans, a group that traditionally finds it hard to hurdle college admission tests. Last June, the St. Martin de Porres High School in Cleveland, Ohio, also qualified all its graduates for college.

The Jesuits are credited with the Cristo Rey system because they started the first school in Chicago. The system is now supported and operated by 29 Catholic orders including the Dominican Sisters, the Sisters of Charity, the Christian Brothers, the Salesians, and the Vincentians.

How the Cristo Rey system does this is a lesson in education worth learning. Cristo Rey high schools are not public schools -- they are private schools funded up to 65% by the students themselves who work full time one day a week in partner companies. The companies pay anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000 for student work teams. The money goes to the school fund, sharply reducing tuition fees.

The list of sponsoring companies is impressive. There is no reason well-heeled Philippine companies cannot find the social conscience to do something akin.

To find the time to work a full day, the students compress their school work into four days. They learn to study hard to be able to work. In the process they also learn to work hard to be able to study. The money does not go to them but to the school to partly finance the cost of educating them. There must be a lesson there somewhere worth learning.

If we adopt the Cristo Rey system, the high school graduates we churn out will already have learned the value of studying hard. They will also have learned the value of hard work. When they apply for work after finishing high school, they will never be caught in the Catch-22 situation of not getting hired because they have had no working experience.

Solving Churchill’s conundrum -- the riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma -- may still tie them up in knots, but they can always learn how to sharpen a sword, and cut their way through the Gordian knot that ties up the country’s educational system.

Sometimes knowing a basic skill like sharpening a sword can get us out of difficult knots. But only if we have the political will to swing the sword. For that, there seems to be no school yet invented.

Political will is not learned. It is simply done.

The author is chief executive of Marbella International Business Consulting, a think tank specializing in business planning, management training, marketing strategy, corporate communications, and transforming social, political, cultural and technological trends into business intelligence that works. Comments are welcome at e-mail


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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

'He eats nails for breakfast'

Seasoned athletes -- or for that matter anyone who plays sports, whether as professionals or as vicarious athletes called couch potatoes -- know this truth deep in their heart: that games follow a natural rhythm, an ebb and flow that is as constant as the rolling tides and as predictable as the changing seasons.

Athletes and coaches know how to make use of this natural flow of the game to gain an advantage, no matter how small, to snatch victory. The three championship games of the Chicago Bulls are riveted in our memory because, perhaps unconsciously, we discerned the moment of truth when it came -- when Michael Jordan instinctively seized the dramatic moment to swing the game to their side.

"Carpe diem!" (Seize the day!), the ancient Romans liked to say. William Shakespeare, an ardent lover of history as much as master of picturesque rhetoric, used the metaphor of the ocean tides to depict the turning point in his classic rendering of Julius Caesar:

"There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune," Brutus exhorted the physically tired and psychologically exhausted Cassius, his comrade conspirator in the brutal slaying of Caesar.


If historical events have a natural flow, so do games -- and so do athletes. Timing is everything. Superior athletes know how to use this natural rhythm to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

A marathon runner, more than a sprinter, knows how to pace his race. Past the halfway point, he knows whether today will be his day. He paces himself with clockwork precision, timing the onset of the mythical second wind, when the onrush of adrenalin literally turbo-charges him for the final sprint to the finish line.

The roar of the crowd that greets him is almost anticlimactic. He already knows if today is his day. He knows because all athletes know when they are in the mystical, magical world of "the zone." Michael Jordan knew the moment he looped those heart-stopping winning baskets.


The Philippine football team, proudly called the Azkals (for asong kalye, or street mongrels) is on a steep learning curve. After a euphoric 2-0 win over Mongolia in Bacolod City, the Azkals crash-dived to reality in the wintry plateau of Mongolia, 1-2. They squeezed past the hardy Mongols by the skin of their canines in the cumulative scoring system of the qualifying round.

The bone-freezing temperatures and oxygen-starved atmosphere of the Mongolian steppes were definitely a factor. The Azkals had been training for the cold weather, first in the moderate temperatures of Benguet, and then on the slopes of Mount Fuji in Japan. It was there that the devastating earthquake had caught them. But that was just the beginning of their chilling saga.

Japan was in chaos. The trip to Narita airport took almost a day because the roads were choked. Finally in Mongolia, they struggled through a long climb up the mountain to reach Ulan Bator.

They were scheduled to practice the next day, but the snafu in Narita had caused their luggage to be left behind. Their winter uniforms were missing. Unable to practice on their only free day, they decided to walk to the stadium to get some exercise.

The next day, the Azkals were clearly frozen stiff. They moved in almost surreal slow motion. There is also danger in muscles that are not fully warmed up. Phil Younghusband, a natural striker, pulled a hamstring that kept him on the sidelines for all three succeeding matches in Myanmar.

Fighting for their lives in the qualifying round in Myanmar, they got a firsthand taste of blood when the Myanmar goalie threw a flying tackle smack onto the chest and face of Yanti Barsales. He crashed to the turf, bleeding.

The goalie was thrown out, unaware of this nifty little ditty in Les Miserables: "So never kick a dog because he’s just a pup/You’d better run for cover when the pup grows up!"


Later, his chest completely wrapped in tape and cuts plastered, Barsales rejoined the team to watch the replay. No, he did not want to see for himself how he got plastered. He wanted to rally the team to bounce back from the 1-1 draw. The gritty veteran knew how important was motivation to get the team going again..

"He eats nails for breakfast," team manager Dan Palami said proudly.

The next game was tougher still, against the taller and meaner Palestinians. But the Azkals seemed energized by the baptism of fire they got from the Burmese. They were fighting back.

Against the highly favored Palestinians, who went on to top the round, the Azkals valiantly held on to a scoreless draw, setting the stage for a do-or-die match with Bangladesh. To the seasoned couch potato, it seemed like the Azkals were beginning to get ... in the zone.

They were. They blasted the Bangladeshis with three rocketing goals that sent aftershocks to the football world after an earthquake had struck Myanmar the day before the finals.

The Azkals had passed their rite of passage with flying colors. Tough as nails, they stood their ground toe-to-toe against the toughest players in Asia. Gangling boys when they began a quest for glory fueled only by their nation’s passion, they march proudly now as men, bloodied but unbowed.


'She's not sick. She's bipolar.'

Oscar-winning actress Catherine Zeta-Jones is doing the world a favor by admitting she is undergoing treatment -- she’s bipolar -- and taking the occasion to educate us about the disorder. It used to be called manic-depressive and is characterized by mood swings from severe depressions to a manic state of extreme exhilaration.

Zeta-Jones has a condition called Bipolar II, which shows a less severe manic state. It seems she’s had the disorder since she was a child and it is triggered by stress, such as the one she just had nursing her husband, Michael Douglas, 66, back from a bout with throat cancer. Douglas has successfully overcome the cancer with her tender, loving care..


All along I had half-suspected that Dennis the Menace, the lovable cartoon character who nearly drove his neighbor, good old Mr. Wilson, to self-destruction, was not sick. Going through school, we all have met them -- classmates whom our teachers always scolded to sit still.

By today’s standards, they might be suspected of having Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). But they’re not sick. They just can’t sit still. If they do, they can’t learn. They are the guys with kinesthetic intelligence, which has been long misunderstood.

Avi Luxemburg, a teacher at North Island Distance Education School, filed this illuminating report at the Comox Valley Record:

"Julia McCoid is a learning assistance teacher at Ecole Robb Road Elementary (in British Columbia, Canada), where Al Johnson is a vice-principal and teacher."

They share the teaching of a very dynamic and energetic Grade 5 class.

"McCoid found that her students’ unique dynamism was quite a natural disposition. ‘[T]hey are mostly kinesthetic intelligence learners,’ she stated. McCoid is referring to Howard Gardner’s (now ubiquitous) theories on intelligence, where he describes people’s tendencies to prefer one or more types of intelligence.

"Gardner describes intelligence preferences such as logical/mathematical intelligence -- where a student learns best using sequential, logical reasoning -- and interpersonal intelligence, in which the student might best figure things out by talking them through.

"Gardner describes several types of intelligence, but the one that McCoid refers to is a tendency to gravitate toward movement as a form of processing information and personal expression. And in observing this Grade 5 class in action, there is indeed a preference for movement.

"Traditionally, a group of kinesthetic students might have been deemed troublesome by old-fashioned standards. A student’s continual tapping of a pencil or inability to concentrate while sitting still might have been viewed as problematic to a traditional, lecturing teacher.

"But, an understanding of the student’s needs and making adaptations for what works for the students can generate a focused energy that can be quite awe-inspiring, as witnessed one Wednesday in Johnson and McCoid’s classroom....


"The students worked together to ‘figure things out’ and questioned each other and taught each other...."

The focused energy in the room was not only palpable, it was overwhelming. If you did not observe what each student was doing and watch their focused attention, you might have thought that you were witnessing a party.

A list of skills that might have taken several classes to teach and practice was worked through in just 75 minutes....

"‘The room is full of energy, but you can see that every student is focused and engaged,’ remarked Johnson. ‘I love seeing students helping each other, teaching each other. Very cool.’

"‘They love working together like this,’ agreed McCoid. ‘Look at them moving, so excited. And they are learning so much.’"

Lauren Bailey filed this story in the Charlotte Observer:

"Loretta Tuttle of South Charlotte has had 20 years and six children to perfect the art of teaching.

"What started as a fascination with the human brain led to a business helping kids throughout the area excel in school. It all started about nine years ago, when Tuttle, who was home-schooling her children, became frustrated with the ‘how to learn’ process....

"In summer 2010, Tuttle started The Brain Station....

"Realizing that all children learn differently, Tuttle incorporates a wide range of learning techniques. One of the main ideas she follows is that of multiple intelligences, first proposed by Howard Gardner in 1983....

"According to Tuttle, the best way to assess how a child learns is to have them teach something. The way they teach is usually the way they learn....

"‘When we have family reading time, my youngest son plays Legos under the table. He connects Legos and connects what he’s hearing,’ Tuttle said. ‘If you quiz him afterward, he’ll know the answers.’

"‘Many children who are diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder are really just kinesthetic learners: They learn through movement.’"


There was a young girl who could not sit still. After repeated attempts to calm her down, her teacher decided to call her mother to school.

The two left her in a room so that they could talk. Before leaving, the teacher switched on a tiny radio. He then stood the mother behind a door and told her to watch.

Instantly, her daughter started to dance. The teacher told her mother she wasn’t sick -- she’s a dancer! He adviced her to enrol her in dance school.

Fortunately, there were such a teacher and such a mother.

The girl was Gillian Lynne. She choreographed Cats and another smash hit, Phantom of the Opera.

She’s kinesthetic.

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Monday, April 25, 2011

2 tablets for Christmas cheer

Two iconic brands, Apple and Samsung, are tearing at each other to grab a healthy slice of the lucrative Christmas gift giving market with two tablets, the iPad and the Galaxy Tab. You can’t go wrong with either one.

If you feel particularly lucky, buy both. They have enough unique features to keep you occupied until the New Year. Then you can decide what to keep for yourself and what to give away. Either way you win.

Having fun

Once in a long while, a visionary like Steve Jobs walks into our lives. First he gives us the Apple computer. And then he gives us the iPod, the iPhone, the MacBook Air, the iPad, the iPhone 4, and now the new-generation MacBook Air. And now our lives are never the same again.

The nice thing about innovating is that it’s fun. It’s even more fun the way Jobs does it.

In the summer of 2007, Jobs thought it was time to inject a little bit of fun back into the cell phone. He launched the iPhone, which was more of everything else than a phone. It could play music, browse the Web, do all the things that a personal digital assistant could do, and more.

It had an intuitive, interactive touch screen that opened a universe of fun -- a kind of tactile natural interface that made the iPhone so user-friendly. It was, to put it simply, a blast.

Loyal Apple fans had waited overnight for stores to open to get their hands on the first iPhones. People lined up along sidewalks and cheered as customers emerged from the stores with their designer iPhone bags.


Within three months after its US launch, Apple sold its millionth iPhone. It slashed the price by a third ($200 off the $599 top model for a bargain price of $399), gave previous buyers a $100 rebate, and launched a new iPod, also for $399.

The new iPod Touch was an iPhone without a phone!

iPod Touch models allowed users to connect directly to the Internet at Wi-Fi "hot spots" in the same way they would with a laptop computer.

Jobs explained in his usual modest way: "We think it’s one of the Seven Wonders of the World."

Four months later came the eighth wonder.


Slipping a new laptop from a regular-sized Manila envelope, Jobs introduced the MacBook Air, which Apple touted as the thinnest and lightest in the world. Actually the VAIO x505 launched by Sony in 2004 was thinner and lighter, but who would remember that without the showmanship of a Jobs?

Within a week of one another, full-page ads in Manila’s newspapers announced the introduction of "the world’s thinnest notebook," the MacBook Air, and the more powerful iMac, which was described as "Beauty. Brains. And now more brawn."

As usual, the two new models were unmistakably Apple: sleek, elegant, stylish. You could have rushed to your nearest Apple dealer and bought them just for the way they looked that night.


With the succeeding launch of the new iPhone, Apple signaled it was ready to lay siege on a city with the historic name of Waterloo, west of Toronto in Ontario, Canada, home of Research in Motion (RIM), makers of the smart phone Blackberry. Here RIM had started circling its wagons around the 19 low-rise buildings that composed its headquarters.

RIM employees were preparing to defend their dominance in smart phones in the North American market -- those gadgets that operate more like computers than phones. They felt, rightly, that it wouldn’t be long before they saw vultures circling overhead, with the Apple logo painted on their wings.

Barely a year after he launched the iPhone, Jobs was preparing an assault on what he perceived to be the next battleground of the cyber wars: smart phones that gave consumers easy access to the Web, digital music, and movies for rent.

Final frontier

Meanwhile, RIM was preparing to launch its curvier, more modern version of Blackberry. It was ready to take the fight to Apple’s stronghold: sleek design.

In a city with the unlikely name of Waterloo, two iconic brands were preparing to do battle for dominance of the lucrative smart phone market, the new gateway to the Internet. Whoever wins this battle is likely to move on to the next great battle: the galactic struggle for supremacy on the Web, the final frontier. The tablets open this new battlefront.

The battle for the future has begun. 

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In search of the gypsy in us

In one of his more brilliant moments, which come often, Steve Jobs defined the soul of Apple: "Why join the navy when you can be a pirate?" The hypothetical question said it all: the reason Apple is so successful. After the iPad was launched last April, Apple became the top technology company in stockholder value, dislodging Microsoft for the first time.

Apple still holds an insignificant share in personal computers, 8%, so its value rides on the strength of products that define its soul: the iPod, iPhone, iPad, and now the new MacBook and MacBook Air.

Edge of desire

These products are not by any means cutting edge in the pure technological sense of the word. A Sony Vaio laptop, introduced two years before the MacBook Air, was thinner and lighter. But nobody took notice.

Apple is not at the cutting edge of technology. It is at the cutting edge of consumer desire.

Combining a flair for good design and dramatic salesmanship with an exquisite sense of timing and feel for what the consumer is ready to buy, Apple has shot into its consumers’ hearts with products that give tactile pleasures no other product can.

But its enduring appeal lies in the way it has captured the heart and mind; it remains an underdog, a challenger brand in market-speak. It flies in the face of conventional wisdom, daring to push the frontiers, never settling for what is safe and predictable.

It is a pirate, not the navy. It is the gypsy in Steven Jobs.

Big apple

Its customers adore it because its employees radiate it. It is what makes it...Apple. Unmistakably, unabashedly, swashbuckling Apple.

It is ultimately the gypsy in us, too.

But why are we talking about this?

Because ultimately it is the problem with "Pilipinas Kay Ganda," the late lamented aborted advertising campaign of the Department of Tourism.

The problem with that campaign is not that it’s in Filipino speaking to the world. Or that its logo typeface looks so much like Poland’s Polska campaign. It’s not even the swaying coconut trees, or the bug-eyed tarsier, or the blazing tropical sun.

It’s simply that not enough thinking has gone behind it.

What were they thinking?

What is it really saying? What of the uniquely Filipino character does it evoke? In a world swarming with thousands of better tourist destinations, what will make tourists come to Pilipinas?

Until we know that, it’s pointless to try to say it. For what are we really saying? What are we thinking?

A good place to start is to first try to define the Filipino soul. Once we know that, it will simply be a matter of execution, good execution in the catchy phrase that has become so elusive.

It’s elusive because we have no big idea to express. Once the big idea jells, it’s a matter of crafting the words that ignite imagination -- and bring in the tourist dollars. Then the really hard part begins.

We have to satisfy the customer, deliver the promise we made. Or else they will not come back. Worse, they will tell all who care to listen that Pilipinas sucks.

In a world interconnected by the Internet in real time, that will take all of one day.

What is this animal? What is this thing called brand?

It is pointless to capture that animal in words. Don’t even think about it. Just feel it.

Nike. Coca-Cola. Sony. IBM. Apple. Levis. Ferrari. Lamborghini. Porsche. Rolex. Louis Vuitton. Ferragamo. Hermes. Singapore Girl. Incredible India. Malaysia, Truly Asia. Smoth as Silk.

Those are not brands. Feel them: They live. They breathe. They pulsate. They throb in our hearts. They stir the soul.

They can do that because the people who crafted those campaigns had imagination. Some of them had to labor long and hard. Others got it in a flash. Just the same, they captured the soul, the essence of those brands.

The elusive pirate in Steve Jobs.

They say it takes a thief to catch a thief. It takes soul to capture soul.

It takes a gypsy to know one.

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Requiem for a Baby Boomer icon

Sony, the electronics giant, has announced the death of the Walkman, the revolutionary cassette tape player that made high-fidelity music extremely portable, up close, and personal.

Like all great products that change the world, the Walkman also defined a generation, the postwar Baby Boom Generation, the 20% bump in babies that resulted from the euphoria over the end of World War II in 1945, or more accurately nine months later. (The war ended in Europe on May 8 and on August 15 in the Pacific.)

Time come and gone
When the Walkman was launched in July 1979, the first of the Baby Boomers -- the babies conceived in the euphoria at the end of the Second World War -- were 33, and the last of them were 15. Then the Walkman waltzed into their lives, and changed the way they would listen to music forever.

All of a sudden their hearts sang.

Audiophile music, once possible only in a living room with electron-tube amplifiers and gargantuan speakers, was now accessible via a small cassette tape player directly plugged into our auditory nerves by tiny earphones.

It was a product that suited the lifestyle of the Baby Boomers. Alternately derided as "self-absorbed, self-indulgent, and all too often just plain selfish," the boomers found in the Walkman a convenient device to tune in to their music and tune out the world.

All too matter-of-factly, the Sony announcement was terse: Walkman models on the company Web site were marked simply, "Production completed."

The Walkman was driven to completion by the digital MPs player and the Apple iPod. But it lives in the Discman, its compact disc cousin.

Walkman production may be "completed" in Japan, but it will continue to be made in China and sold in the United States, Europe, and some Asian countries.

Sony is not about to bury the Walkman in all its incarnations. A digital Walkman is being made with models that display lyrics and improve sound quality further with noise-cancelling technology.

Revolutionary road
Like the MP3 and iPod, the Walkman in its time was a leap of the imagination in the minds of Sony founders Akio Morita and Masaru Ibuka.

Ibuka got the idea during an overseas trip, listening to music played by a big tape recorder. Morita insisted that the device remove all recording capabilities and concentrate on high-fidelity playback, a revolutionary concept for a world still addicted to recording sounds on magnetic tape.

The first Walkman model was launched on July 1, 1979, at US$200 retail. It transformed Sony into a global player, selling 30,000 units in two months, some 50 million units in 10 years, and 220 million in 31 years and three months.

Defining sounds
The Walkman redefined the way we listened to music. In so doing, it also defined our generation.

It laid the foundations for personal music downloaded and mixed any which way we can in the iPod. The reason the iPod is so ubiquitous is that it stands on the shoulders of a giant of the musical age, the Walkman.

It lent music to the angst of a lost generation that found its voice in the lyrics of a nifty little Beatles ditty that could well be the marching song of the Baby Boom Generation:

Will you still need me,
Will you still feed me,
When I’m sixty-four?

Well, the first babies of that generation are 64 and soon will be entering retirement age, probably overtaxing the Social Security System and health care institutions.

Digital future
A few months ago, the editors and publishers of the Oxford Dictionary, the definitive book on the English Language, started work on the new edition, but they gave no assurances it would be printed at all. Depending on costs, they said, the new edition could go digital.

And so that’s how it goes: Life may go on without paper dictionaries, but not without music, digital or otherwise.

Music, like words, used to be printed on paper sheets. But the band plays on, the lyrics endure, the music still lives, and the dreams will never die.

And it’s all because for once in our lives we had the Walkman to play the songs that defined our generation’s angst.

The author is chief executive of a think tank specializing in transforming social, political, cultural and technological trends into business intelligence and strategy. Comments are welcome at Marbella International Business Consultancy, e-mail:

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Upwardly mobile social climbers

When the Finnish phone giant Nokia crafted its now-classic corporate battle cry, "Connecting People," it may not have had socially mobile Filipinos in mind. But now it does -- because nobody connects to people with as much alacrity as Filipinos. In fact, we took to the mobile phone like ducks to water.

In no time at all, with typical aplomb, we became the texting capital of the world, surpassing in one day all the texting that’s done in the European Community in one year!

Number 5
Now, we are also the world’s fifth "most engaged social networking community," according to a study done by the Internet marketing research firm, which earlier reported we were tops in Asia-Pacific. The study found that we were the fifth heaviest users of social networks in the world, averaging 6.2 hours logged in per person, compared to the world average of 4.5 hours. The question begs: Who can possibly beat us in this game? The following do, surprisingly: Russians averaged 9.8 hours per person, followed by Israelis, 9.2; Turks, 7.6; and Brits, 7.2. We out-logged the Canadians, 5.8 hours; Indonesians, 5.3; Finns and Spaniards, 5; and Puerto Ricans, 4.9. The Philippine figures could be higher, since the study did not measure traffic from Internet cafes and mobile phones, both busy access points in a country struggling to raise computer ownership.

Number 1
Claiming Philippine leadership in Internet access, Smart Communications said it served 8.3 million subscribers through its nationwide broadband and cellular networks. A company affiliate, Smart Broadband, serves over 1.3 million subscribers, while 7 million more access the Internet through Smart mobile phone subscriptions, which stood at 45.3 million as of last count. The country had close to 30 million Internet users as of last June, almost a third of its population, "We are seeing more Internet users in the Smart nertwork than ever before," beamed the head of the firm’s wireless consumer division, Danilo Mojica, with understandable pride.

‘The new cellular’
"The Internet is the new cellular," proclaimed Smart’s chief wireless advisor Orlando B. Vea. "The Internet should be for all. We will put it in the hands of everybody." Vea founded Smart and was its first president and CEO when the start-up company put affordable mobile phone service in the hands of the masses. His passion is to take the future deeper down into the grassroots.
The Philippines has the smallest Internet penetration among comparable countries in the region, where access to the World Wide Web is considered both a tool and measure of development.

Communication Swiss knife
The Internet has emerged as a basic tool for communications, commerce, education, social interaction, governance, and the delivery of basic services like health care and microfinance. Untapped demand for Internet access has been estimated at 15 million connections, prompting Mojica to articulate this mission statement: "We will make broadband pervasive, bringing new technologies and compelling content to the market." The average age for Filipinos having their first mobile phone is 15, says Nokia. The average age in the developed countries of Europe is 10. The aggressive entry of popular new devices like smart phones, netbooks, and tablets is expected to stimulate more growth.

Tablets for landlines
In another major foray, Smart’s mother ship, PLDT, announced it was reinventing the telephone with the launch of a seven-inch tablet computer bundled with landlines and Internet subscriptions in one package. The TelPad handset features a charging dock for the tablet. "We are reshaping the future of the landline and we are starting to bring it to the market now," trumpeted PLDT president Napoleon L. Nazareno. "We are proud that the PLDT TelPad was conceptualized and developed here in the Philippines using world-class technology." A brilliant marketing move which recalls Kodak’s classic maneuver to stimulate "Kodak moments" by making inexpensive black plastic boxes drive the more profitable film and photo processing businesses.

Of course, others jumped into the downstream businesses, notably Japanese, because the money lay in the profit-rich, value-added parts of preserving "memories." To upgrade to PLDT’s vision of "the future of the landline," current myDSL customers need to ante up only P500 a month. On top of the unlimited broadband access, subscribers can let their adroit texting fingers do the walking toward 100,000 applications available for the tablet computer.

TV as internet appliance
Early this year, innovative Smart offered a device that allowed customers to use their regular television sets to connect to the Web. At the Fireside Theater stands this sign: "The future is here. It is happening now." That might as well be PLDT’s, too. Or, even better, with appropriate apologies to Nokia: "Connecting People to the Future."

Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing! That’s not a phone you’re hearing. That’s the sound of the PLDT cash register.

The author is chief executive of a think tank specializing in transforming social, political, cultural and technological trends into intelligent public policy and business strategy. Comments are welcome at e-mail:

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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sound-bite social journalism

To the tech-savvy social networkers of Facebook and Twitter, where news is commoditized into sound bites wrapped in an opinion inside a celebrity gossip, an innovation in ABS-CBN’s late-night news, Bandila, hardly gives pause for thought. Here, erstwhile prime-time news anchors Karen Davila and Julius Babao, together with veteran Ces Orena Drilon, are keeping night owls wide awake with scintillating tweets sent by news watchers to their gleaming new iPad, MacBook and MacBook Air.

It goes like this: the highly motivated news anchors deliver their ratings-busting recipe of hard news, celebrity gossip, and road carnage (all news programs deliver the same recipe, if you care to flip channels). Then they invite viewers to send their comments.

For the birds
Sometimes the tweets electrify and offer fresh insight. More often they are just...tweets. But Bandila offers us a glimpse of how network news might evolve in the future: a morphing of social network chatter wrapped in a sound bite inside a celebrity gossip.

It is entertaining fare in a medium that was born primarily to entertain, before it evolved, like the newspapers before it, into a purveyor of news -- also. On the print media side, broadsheets are adopting the success recipe that the tabloids have known all along: an a la carte serving of gruesome crime, with road accidents for aperitif, and celebrity scandals for dessert.

From a programming point of view, the Bandila innovation makes sense: it has to differentiate itself from the main news program taken over by returning celebrity anchors Noli de Casro and Korina Sanchez. But to discerning viewers, Davila and Babao are taking to the interactive format with relish, aplomb, and, one might even say, palpable vengeance. Just watch them tonight, if you want to confirm.

Interactive news
Giving the audience an active role in the news delivery/consumption loop is certain to hook more viewers, interactivity being precisely the ingredient that makes social media so engaging. You are not just a passive receiver of news; you can help create news; nay, you can even be the news itself, yes!

This built-in power of social media is full of opportunity as well as danger. On the one hand, we saw how citizen activism energized our elections last May. On the other hand, we also saw how black propaganda can go viral in the Internet and infect unwary professional news organizations, if they are not careful.

Journalism is as much a profession as, say, engineering, accounting, lawyering, and medicine: it is bound by a professional code of ethics and requires years of training before anyone can become a professional of acceptable expertise. The professions, of course, change with the times; paralegals now supplement lawyers, caregivers assist licensed nurses and doctors.

So will journalism, frighteningly, in real time. It has been said that when lawyers make mistakes, clients go to jail. When doctors bungle things, patients go to the grave. Meanwhile, we can enjoy watching interactive news delivered with a new verve, vigor, and vitality, until we become victims.

The printed word
The digital revolution marches inexorably. Even for those of us who have just a casual interest in the spelling of words, their correct pronunciation, or the nuances of their various meanings, the announcement from the publishers of the venerable Oxford English Dictionary was shocking.

A spokesperson for the publishers, the Oxford University Press in the United Kingdom, announced that the third edition was due out in 10 years. But the publishers weren’t sure a printed edition would still be affordable when the time came. They may decide to go online.

When that happens, we shall mourn the death of another icon of the printed word, purveyors of a cultural revolution sparked by the invention of the Gutenberg press, which made knowledge and the wisdom of mankind accessible to almost anyone who could read.

Culture vultures
The printing press sparked the Age of Enlightenment and the flowering of the arts and culture during the Renaissance half a millennium ago.

Where, for example, would the literate world be now without books, magazines, newspapers, or even pamphlets? How could the exploration of the undiscovered world have happened without maps printed on paper?

Of course, all of the above can be digitized and made even more accessible to the rest of the world who can get hold of computers, cell phones, and the Internet. That would all be fine if humans treated literature merely as commodity or purveyor of ideas.

A certain charm
But there’s a certain charm to words printed on paper, a kind of Old World elegance that is disappearing from our rapidly digitizing world. Words have texture, nuance, and beauty all their own that only paper can capture.

The first edition of the Oxford Dictionary was actually printed in 1929. The second edition was published in 1989. Since that time, 21 years ago, a team of 80 lexicographers has been working on the third edition.

It seems that since the dawning of the Internet the market for printed dictionaries has been going down. The Oxford University Press says a final decision will be made when they are ready to go to press, or go online.

That’ll be the day that I’ll cry.

The author is chief executive of a think tank specializing in transforming social, political, cultural and technological trends into public policy and business strategy; e-mail:

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OMG! LOL is in OED*

*The celebrity word in OED this year is "selfie."

It’s official: the OED (Oxford English Dictionary), the venerable gatekeeper of the English language, has accepted OMG (oh my gosh) and LOL (laughing out loud). Now it is perfectly all right to say, OMG, my BFF and I are LOL over this latest decision of OED, IMHO (in my humble opinion). BTW, BRB (be right back).

Language reflects the subtle changes that happen in our lives -- eventually. When it finally does we can be fairly sure the subtle changes have in fact become sea changes.

When word of mouth was the main way we transmitted news, we asked ourselves, "Have you heard the news today?" And this was reflected in the idiomatic expression that news passed from mouth to mouth, much like gossip.

Eventually radio became the chief carrier of news. But our language did not change. We still asked, "Have you heard the news today?"

Language reflected a sea change when newspapers became the main purveyor of news: "Have you read the news today?"

The invention of television radically transformed the news. Although TV was bred mainly as a medium of entertainment, its immediacy and intrusiveness (it sat in our living rooms and eventually our bedrooms, too) totally dominated our lives -- and our culture. We were soon asking ourselves, "Have you seen the news tonight?"

History rewriten

Media historians say that if not for the daily carnage that prime-time news brought home, the American people would not have turned against the US involvement in Vietnam so violently as they did. The pioneering 24-hour news channel, CNN, brought us the Gulf War up close and personal. We watched in horror as the first massive terrorist attack brought down the towering symbols of the American century live from New York City on 9/11.

For some time, print journalism seemed on its way to dying. But it bounced back and thrived with television, although network news became its Big Brother in audience reach and impact. Print journalists, however, retained their influence over the elite audiences that shaped opinion, the movers and shakers of politics, the arts, and much of literati and glitterati.

Computers and the Internet soon introduced new technologies that would transform the communication landscape -- not only how we got the news, but more importantly how we worked, played, and generally lived our lives. The lap top, cell phone, and now the highly portable tablet computers gave technology a mobile platform to keep us informed on the go.

It will not be long before all this technology will reshape also the way we keep abreast of the news. In fact, a technological threshold was breached last year with hardly anyone noticing it -- for the first time in our habitation of this planet more people got the news on the Internet than in print.

Apple iPad

Transformed, transported

This technological transformation was no less profound than when we first landed on the moon. In those days, the computers that made possible the first lunar landing were housed in buildings. Today we carry more computing power in our smart phones.

Things will surely begin to change more rapidly than we can blink an eye. Inevitably our language is beginning to reflect this sea change.
In launching the iPad2 early this year, the naturally effusive Steve Jobs was brief, even terse. He delivered his launch spiel in 229 words! Hear ye:

"I’ve said this before, but thought it was worth repeating: It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough. That it’s technology married with the liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our hearts sing.

"And nowhere is that more true than in these post-PC devices.

"And a lot of folks in this tablet market are rushing in and they’re looking at this as the next PC. The hardware and the software are done by different companies. And they’re talking about speeds and feeds just like they did with PCs.

"And our experience and every bone in our body says that that is not the right approach to this. That these are post-PC devices that need to be easier to use than a PC. That need to be even more intuitive than a PC. And where the software and the hardware and the applications need to intertwine in an even more seamless way than they do on a PC.

"And we think we’re on the right track with this. We think we have the right architecture not just in silicon, but in the organization to build these kinds of products.

"And so I think we stand a pretty good chance of being pretty competitive in this market. And I hope that what you’ve seen today gives you a good feel for that."

Gone in days

As usual loyal Apple fans stormed the stores and cleaned the shelves. We will have to wait for months to get ours.

Meanwhile, the media mogul Rupert Murdoch is doing fine with his digital newspaper. The New York Times, too, has started charging for its digital edition. . Many more will follow.

When we start asking ourselves, "Have you browsed the news today?" we know that the future is here.

Language eventually catches up -- even if we have a lot of catching up to do on our ... browsing, IMHO.

BTW, comments? E-mail Marbella International Business Consultancy: BRB

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