Tuesday, June 15, 2010

My Interview with Taiwan Cloud Leader George Wang

Who isn't impressed by Taiwan? Isolated diplomatically, its 20 million+ people crammed onto a relatively small island, the country has achieved world leadership in much of the computing hardware industry over the past 20 years.

Now, it's focusing attention on Cloud Computing in a big way. It wants to build more than just traditional computing hardware, but also build new Cloud devices, and deliver services. It sees China as one of its big markets--business has flourished on the continent despite the political delicacy.

I was able to catch George Wang, EVP of Taiwan's Institute for Information Industry (III), one of the prime movers behind Cloud in Taiwan.

He sees Cloud as a "golden opportunity" for Taiwan, and he has a time of between 500 and 600 R&D researchers to aid the cause. The government has allocated 24 billion Taiwan dollars toward Cloud Computing (about $730 million), and sees a "trillion-dollar opportunity" in local dollars.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

My Interview with Software Park Thailand's Director

Say "hello" to Suwipa Wanasathop, Director of Software Park Thailand. I just interviewed her about the Park's history and mission, its prospects, investment in the Thai software industry, a little bit about Cloud Computing, what motivates her, and why investors should be motivated to place a bet on Thailand. The interview ran long, so I broke it up into two parts, which can be found at these two URLS:

http://readnowmag.ulitzer.com/node/1391290

She was a liberal arts major in her home country, then won a Fulbright Scholarship and earned an MA and an MBA in the US. She's also spent many years in Europe, and led a trade mission to China, before assuming the top spot at the government-funded Software Park a few years ago.

During the interview, she emphasized collaboration--among developers and investors in Thailand, and among nations--and threw in a pitch about Thailand's status as an ASEAN nation.

I'm a big ASEAN fan, as it acts as a regional governmental cooperative that represents almost 600 million people. With the twin elephants China and India in this neighborhood, that fact sometimes gets lost in the discussion.

But Indonesia now has one of the world's top 20 economies, and Thailand has a higher per-capita income than its archipelagoan neighbor. ASEAN is often criticized as a mere "talk shop," and is under fire these days for being soft with the dictators in Burma. To me, talk is not cheap in the world of diplomacy, it is the coin of the realm. Better to be talking than to be shooting.

Whew! The Philippines Elects a President

The tension was ratcheted up about as high as one would ever want by media reports of potential trouble with the May 10 Philippine Presidential election. The new, automated machines might not work, the military might intervene, the current president might declare a "failure of elections" and try to hang onto power, with daily revelations and accusations among the leading candidates.

Then, as with the feared Y2K bug, nothing happened.

Or, more accurately, a lot happened: 45 million or so people showed up at crowded polls, stood in the blazing sun for as long as four or five hours, and voted. Then the election commission announced 38% of the vote only two hours after the polls closed. It was clear by then that Benigno "Noynoy" Acquino III had won.

By the next morning, the man who was thought to be his primary competition, Manny Villar, conceded. This was a supreme act of statesmanship, in that it closed off the possibility of a serious challenge to the results. The Philippine Senate actually has the right to announce the official results in a few weeks, but Villar's announcement etched those results in stone.

Villar actually finished third, and only had about a third of the votes of Aquino. Former movie star and Philippine President Joseph "Erap" Estrada finished second, earning his redemption in his eyes. He refused to concede, but he also said he wouldn't mount a challenge to Noynoy's presumed victory. He also "forgot" to vote for his running mate (President and VP are chosen separately here), because of a recent feud. It was just Erap being Erap.

Villar's very disappointing finish was a major shock for a candidate was thought to be neck and neck in polls taken a few months ago. But allegations of corruption--that Philippine evergreen--dogged him. Villar will return to the Senate; maybe his statesmanship had an element of "pagasa" (hope) that Aquino won't press any investigatory efforts against him.

Aquino has said his administration will prosecute members of the current administration who he thinks are dirty. The strong implication is that he means the current President, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and especially, her husband. But GMA, as she's called, was herself a winner in this election, having easily gained a seat in the House of Representatives from her home province of Pampanga (just north of Manila).

GMA may also have the votes to become the Speaker of the House, and rumors have had it for months that she will lobby for a constitutional change that would establish said speaker as Prime Minister at the government's head. Oy. Welcome to the bigs, Noynoy. How'dja like that first fastball behind your ear?

Certain of us remember Peter Boyle and Robert Redford exchanging panicked looks at the conclusion of the great movie, "The Candidate," when newly minted President of the United States Redford asked his top adviser "now what?"

One can only hope the placid, seemingly unflappable Noynoy is more aware of the tremendous challenges he now faces to break this beautiful country's feudal mentality and unleash its tremendous potential upon the world.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Black Propaganda and the Philippine Election

I've been trying to write this story for a couple of weeks. But real work intervened, a series of blackouts (electrical, not alcoholic) limited any extra time I might have had, and I'm half-serious when I say I worry about some guy driving buy on a motorcycle and shooting me.

I decided that the motorcycle thingie wasn't going to happen. I'm far from well-known enough here to be considered a threat to anyone. But there have been a few reports of this form of political thuggery in the run-up to the current election, which is also the first Presidential election in six years.

Hard to Figure Talaga
One of the pleasures of international travel is the opportunity to try to grasp what seem to be confounding contradictions. The English rudely slamming you in the back to get past you while very politely saying "sorry." The Turkish penchant for precise detail in a country that often defines the word "chaos." The ultra-liberal French banning everything in sight.

And the specter of extreme Philippine violence in a country populated by soft-spoken, non-confrontational people.

The Maguindanao Massacre made world headlines, and was repugnant viscerally, morally, and politically. A total of 57 people, mostly journalists and female relatives of the second most powerful political family in the region, shot and butchered, allegedly by members of the most powerful political family in the region.

Maguindanao lies beyond the normal reach of government here. It is part of the Muslim Autonomous Region, and according to local press reports, functions as a sultanate for members of one extended family.

The family reportedly delivered an enormous windfall of votes to the current president, Gloria Magapacal-Arroyo during the last Presidential election in 2004; an infamous, recorded phone call has long been held up as indisputable evidence of chicanery in this affair. The region receives ample government financial support, yet remains the poorest in the Philippines.

Most recently, a federal attorney let two members of the family off the hook for any and all charges regarding the massacre. Following a couple of weeks of outrage, he found "new evidence" to re-instate the charges.

Now, the Main Event
All this is just a sideshow to the main event, which pits Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III, the scion of two icons, against a rich guy (Manny Villar) and a bunch of guys who won't win.

In the Orange Corner, Erap!
One of the guys who won't win is former President Joseph "Erap" Estrada, who was hustled out of office on corruption charges in 2001, and who has been working tirelessly to restore his reputation ever since. Erap, as many outside the Philippines know, is also a movie and TV star.
The candidates are all color-coded here, for instant recognition. Erap was the original "orange" candidate, and has complained that Villar, a nemesis, has taken this color as well.
To my eye, Erap seemingly styles himself after Ronald Reagan, with unlikely jet-black hair at the age of 73, a twinkle in his eye and gait, and a penchant for the quick quip. Unlike Reagan, Erap has always positioned himself as a tireless worker for the poor, and his guttural voice and accent make him sound more like Charles Bronson than The Great Communicator.

In the Other Orange Corner, Manny!
Villar also positions himself as a friend of the poor. One of the Philippines' richest businessmen today, he claims poverty-stricken roots from Manila's sprawling Tondo ghetto. Those roots have been questioned by is political opponents, allegations that he says are part of "black propaganda" campaign against him.

"Black propaganda" rates with "trapos" (traditional politicians) as two of the favorite slurs slung around the political horn in the Philippines. No one is a trapo except for one's competition, and black propaganda is also the province of one's competitors, never one's self.

Villar has been darkly referring to all the blackness hurled against him in recent weeks--about his roots, whether he conspired to rig the national stock exchange in his favor, and whether he was the source of black propaganda against Aquino.

In the Yellow Corner, Noynoy!
Noynoy Aquino is the son of the Marcos-era political martyr Benigno "Nino" Aquino, Jr. (whose face is now on the 500-peso note) and Corazon Aquino, who was thrust into the international spotlight after her husband's murder, and who was ultimately swept into office during the People Power's revolution in 1986, replacing Marcos.

Noynoy has served in the Senate for several years, with little apparent distinguishment. He has taken the color yellow, appropriating the color made famous during his mother's People Power campaign.
Noynoy seems preternaturally calm and unflappable--in stark contrast to his over-animated sister Kris, a TV and movie star--or is he merely reticent? Or is he psychologically depressed, even stupid, as numerous sources have claimed?

Twice now, reputed psychological reports attesting to his depression have surfaced, only to be quickly refuted by their alleged authors. Villar has maintained that his campaign is not the source of the leaks, while calling on all candidates to take psychological evaluations now.

Meanwhile, Villar's mother was so upset by all the black propaganda against her son, that she made a long and lachrymose appearance on television the other evening attesting to her hard life of poverty while raising her son, and her hurt that he is being attacked so mercilessly.

When questioned about his mother's interview, Villar (rather disingenuously, to my eye) expressed surprise that she had been on TV at all.

Erap quickly said that he would never, and had never, used his mother as a political tool in this deeply conservative culture in which mothers and especially grandmothers are revered, even as he was being thrown out of office, arrested, convicted, and put into house detention in 2001. (Manny Villar led the impeachment effort. Yes, everything in Philippine politics is intertwined.)

In the Green Corner, Gibo!
The official candidate of the current ruling party, Gilbert "Gibo" Teodoro (a second cousin to Noynoy) languishes in fourth place in the polls. Another calming, placid personality, Gibo served as Defense Minister under GMA, and my guess is he will end up somewhere in the new administration, no mater who wins.

Gibo has been saddled with his association with the current, deeply unpopular administration. Yet ironically, the major newspapers have reported all along that Villar is the candidate that current president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (and her powerful husband, Mike) really prefer. Macapagal-Arroyo (known as GMA) was vice-president in the Estrada administration, and assumed power when the Villar-led revolt gave Erap the boot.

She then won election to a full, six-year term in 2004, in an election that has remained controversial since that time, with allegations of massive voter fraud.

A Scion from God?
A year ago, Noynoy was not in the race. His current running mate, Mar Roxas II, grandson of the first president of the independent Philippines, whose surname is found on the main thoroughfare of Manila and seemingly everywhere else one looks around, was one of the favorites.

But when Corazon Aquino died of cancer at age 76 earlier this year, the Philippines witnessed a renewal of the passion that accompanied her accession to office. Cries of People Power re-emerged, and its L-shaped handsign (the L stands for "laban" or "fight") re-appeared.

Noynoy secreted himself in a religious retreat for several days, saying that God would help him decide what to do. His sentiment seemed heartfelt, and still resonates in a country that takes its religion seriously and at face value, even if most people wear it lightly.

Roxas, educated at Harvard (as was Gibo), was smart enough to see things for what they were. Once Noynoy and God decided he would run, Roxas put aside his own aspirations to join up with the man he saw as the clear favorite.

Villar and Noynoy were running neck-and-neck in the polls a few months ago. But the constant talk that Villar is GMA's true candidate and the appearance of his mother on TV have driven down his numbers. He is now tied with Erap in the polls, well behind Noynoy. (GMA, by the way, is herself the daughter of former Philippine president Diosdadao Macapagal, who was defeated by Marcos in 1965.)

It's an Onion. No, It's a Quilt
I was going to make this blog entry short and concise, but Philippine politics has defeated my effort to do so. There are layers upon layers to be peeled away if one tries to understand politics in the Philippines.

I have covered maybe 0.2% of what could be discussed. My version here is the Reader's Digest version of the Reader's Digest version.

I haven't covered, for example, the ongoing disturbances by Muslim breakaway groups Abu Sayef and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (or MILF, yes MILF, the abbreviation that is outstanding in its hilarity to US eyes), the continuing war against the Communist National People's Army, and how the rebel groups are sublimely intertwined into the warp and woof of the Philippine political quilt.
I haven't mentioned that Bongbong Marcos, son of Ferdinand and Imelda, is a senator and running again on Villar's ticket. This is no more scandalous here than seeing another Kennedy or Bush on a senatorial ticket would be in the US.

Instead, I offer up one overarching theory and one basic fact, though, that seem to be the sources from which everything else flows.

The theory is that GMA simply does not want to give up power. She's running for Congress from her home district, and there's talk she will then work to get herself elected house leader, then force a change in the constitution that would re-install her at the head of the government as Prime Minister.

There is a whole side story about the voting machines that fits into this theory. This will be the first time that automated voting machines have been used. Past elections used paper ballots that were hand counted, a process that has been ripe for fraud since paper was invented, whether in the Philippines, the United States, or anywhere else.

Yet the reported problems with the machines have been banal in their predictability and operatic in their appearance. To wit:
* the ultraviolet security stamps on the ballots had the wrong kind of ink.
* he contract for folders to hold ballots was cancelled when it was revealed they were to cost $8 apiece, an outrage in a country where half the people make less than $100 a month.
* and now, the flash memory chips have been programmed in a way that they're unable to read the ballots.

Meanwhile, in a culture that is nonconfrontational and polite (until stupendous violence suddenly breaks out), the passive-aggressive political pronouncement has evolved into a minor art form.

There's been almost-daily talk over the past few months about a "failed election," how the military will have to step in if their is one, how such talk is dangerous, how such talk about such talk is dangerous, how the national police force will be loyal to its leaders and not politicians, how a plot has been uncovered to grind the election to a halt, how a side-by-side manual count is a necessary complement to the automated count, how a proposal for a manual count is in itself a tactic to create a failed election, how such talk is dangerous, how talk about such talk is dangerous, ad infinitum.

Dark secrets, black propaganda, whispers of military takeover all fit into the theory of GMA simply not wanting to let go. She has to be out of office by June 30, according to the constitution. But the constitution was written only in 1986, and is an easy target for severe testing.

The fact to which I allude above is, Philippine politics is still dominated by the small number of families who were original large landowners before independence, and who just don't want to let go.

They are able to maintain their power through a highly centralized government, with all power flowing from the capital city of Manila, in a country that is unified only by cultural tendencies toward politeness, conformance, respect for authority, and saying "yes" with one's eyebrows.

Language Lesson
This country is a densely packed string of islands. Each of the big islands has at least one of its own languages; call them dialects if you will, but they are, for the most part, mutually unintelligble.

Even the main island of Luzon, which contains Manila and the Tagalog-speaking people whose language is, in essence, the National Language known as Filipino, has other language groups. In fact, where I live, just 40 miles north of Manila, in GMA's home territory, the local language differs dramatically from Tagalog or Filipino.

Every student learns the national language in school, and it's spoken on all the TV shows and newscasts. It's an effective enough lingua franca. But at night, in the mostly tiny homes of the "ordinary Filipino" it may be remarked that this day was particularly "mapaso" and not "mainit," let alone "hot." That barking may be coming from an "iro," not an "aso," and not a "dog." Life may be "malisud" or "makuri," not "mahirap" and not "difficult" or "hard."

English is an official language here, government transactions are in English. I don't dare venture into the ambivalence toward English in Phlippine intellectual society at this point. But I will say that English is not well-understood by 50% or more the population, particularly as one gets further away from Manila, down into the provinces. These people have no shot at better lives unless one of them makes it overseas via marriage or a work visa.

Filipinos at all levels of society use the term "bahala na" as a way of saying, in essence, God's will, and moving on. It's not passivity, it's a way of looking at things very clearly and accepting what is possible and what is not. It's tough to think of this as the Land of Opportunity, unless one is born into one of the still-ruling families.

So What Will Happen?
Noynoy comes from some of those families. His mother, good-hearted as she was, was stymied, oftentimes by her own relatives, in trying to bring about the sort of reform that commentators have been crying out for through the decades. He has shown no fire in the belly to do so during his time in the Senate.

But as the election date nears, it appears that he is the people's choice. In a free and fair election, he would win. He has already all but promised civil disturbance if he loses unfairly.

It's going to be a mess Monday and for many days beyond. This is a tropical country, and the humidity level has just kicked up a few notches in recent days as the winds start to shift in the weeks before the onset of typhoon season.

The weather is always hot here, as are the politics. This is the first presidential election in six years, so there is serious money and power to be grabbed. This country has a GDP in the hundreds of billions of dollars, and enough money for good roads, major hydroelectric power, and a skyline in its main business district of Makati City that rivals that of Singapore.

So, what will happen? Will the favored candidate get elected peacefully? Or will the current administration somehow spring an "upset"? Will the election be postponed? Will it be considered legitimate or "failed"? Will there be a military takeover? Will certain elements of the military rebel against other elements of the military? Will it take another revolution to put the candidate that people really want into office?

All of these things have happened here in the last 25 years.

As an American who watched a national crisis unfold in the US in 2000 and early 2001, when a stalemate in the presidential election kept the world in suspense for several months, when only the most self-serving "solutions" were offered by both political camps, and when the election was finally resolved through a series of court decisions that struck most people as abjectly political, I have little room to wag my finger at political scoundrels in the Philippines.

My only hope is that, shaky as the system may be and heated as the rhetoric may become, that the fundamentally fair-minded and cooperative nature of the "ordinary Filipino" will win out, that this election will be determined peacefully, if chaotically. Bahala na.

Friday, April 30, 2010

I Just Made a John Veenstra Sighting

There may be a group of people out there who know the name John Veenstra. If you know his name, then you know what I'm talking about.

Remember ZLand?

He has a new website at www.johnveenstra.com

He registered the name in 2007, so I'm behind the times here. But I've been trying to locate John for many years, and this is the first I've heard of him for a long time.

If you know John as I do and would like to discuss, go ahead and email me at strukhoff@yahoo.com

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Philippines Update: The Weather Outside is Frightful

It rained last night in Metro Manila. Hard.

This was the first time in two months we've had rain. Does it signal a shift from the dry season to the rainy season?

When I look at an interactive map at weather.com, it appears so. There are prevailing westerlies to the south of the Phlippines, curling around and pulling humidity north and to the east--and bringing us rain.

But if it is, I certainly won't find out from the official weather service here. (More on that topic later.)

The Amihan and the Habagat
The March-to-May period is summertime in the Philippines. It's the hottest time of the year. Schools are out; they will resume in June.

The dry season runs from around November to May or June, when the prevailing wind is from the northeast, and the wet season from May or June to around November, when the prevailing wind is from the southwest.

The northeast seasonal wind is known as the Amihan, and the southwest seasonal wind is known as the Habagat.

The Amihan allegedly blows in cool air from as far north as Siberia, and I've seen the term "cold front" in describing a little pick-up in the breeze on certain days. It's a relative term. A cold front here is analogous to a fast snail or a quiet seventh-grader. Not very fast, not very quiet, not very cold.

This is not the Midwest, where the cold fronts form giant V-shaped wedges across hundreds of miles in the skies and come booming in with thunderheads, tornadoes, and 30-degree temperature drops. The cold fronts here might raise the prevailing breeze from 7 to 9mph and drop the temperature a degree, maybe two.

The irony of the Amihan season is that the end of it is the hottest time of the year, ie, now. Even in a hot place such as this, the summertime heat is remarkable.

So the heat has been building steadily for six weeks now. Each day seems incrementally warmer than the last. Typical high-low readings are 95/75, 97/73, 95/73, 99/77, etc.

Everybody in the US knows about humidity and its effect on hot weather. They're a little less sure about where it's humid, but they know high humidity makes things miserable. When I lived in the East for awhile, people asked me if it was humid back in my native Midwest. People in the Midwest wonder the same thing about the East.

Affirmative for both regions.

Now that I'm spending a lot of time in Southeast Asia, trying to get a grip on business outsourcing on the one hand and cloud computing on the other, people from the US have asked me if it's humid here.

Yes, it is. I live at approximately 14.5 degrees north latitude. The tropics kick in somewhere around 22 or 23. We're hundreds of miles below the tropical line. So it's humid.

This is an El Ninyo year, which in this part of the world means drought. Hydroelectric power has been crippled, leading to numerous blackouts, some of them lasting throughout the daylight hours.

With the drought comes an unrelenting sun, the kind you can imagine in an old Clint Eastwood western, or more appropriately, in any movie about India. Heat and Dust meets the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Very few people venture out between 9am and sunset at 5pm. The few that do are usually women after a kilo or two of rice, or perhaps some gossip; they carry lovely, delicate parasols. The guys who have to work in the sun (and it's mostly men), whether in construction, installation, or driving a tricycle, wear towels and other garmets to protect their heads from boiling over.

Then, last night, it rained. Clouds had been building a bit over the past couple of days, in our area centered around the volcanic Mt. Arayat, which rises out of the Pampangan plains. Yesterday, they seemed to be reaching a critical mass, and by nightfall, all hell finally broke loose. Thunder, lightning, moderately high winds, and precipitation by the bucketful.

The temperature dropped noticeably; for the first time anyone could remember, it felt cool.

Weather Nuttery: It's Important
I'm a weather nut, clearly. Most Midwesterners are, because there's a real good chance that the weather will kill you there over the course of any given year. So you better learn about it, know the forecast, and use your own sense and experience to make your own real-time forecast.

I grew up listening to 10-minute weather discussions on TV, full of isobars, dewpoints, wind chills, occluded fronts, precipitation probabilities, and all the rest. I know the difference between a thunderstorm (or tornado) watch and a warning.

There's a government agency, Pagasa (Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration) that forecasts the weather.

But Pagasa (the word coincidentally means "hope" in tagalog) is just a damned bureaucracy. The Philippines is highly centralized, bureaucratic country (thank-you, Spain), and Pagasa fits right in.

Even though the agency has very high expertise in observing and describing atmospheric conditions, ie, the weather, it is focused only on its "area of responsibility" and very, very laconic in making predictions.

Pagasa was chastised last year when what appeared to be just another typhoon suddenly ballooned into Ondoy, flooded large parts of Manila, killed several hundred people, and made tens of thousands of others homeless.

I remember on another occasion when a tropical disturbance turned into a moderate-sized typhoon shortly after Pagasa warned only of an "increased southwest flow."

But Pagasa is typical of the way things are done in this country. People are given rules to follow, they follow them, and there is no advantage--no upside, as we say in Silicon Valley--in sticking your neck out and offering an opinion. This is a serious weakness of this country, that hampers its efforts to compete globally with its more aggressive neighbors, but that's a different story.

Returning to the topic of typhoons, they come from the east, striking the relatively unpopulated areas of the Philippines first. Manila is on the western edge of Central Luzon island, so is usually spared the worst of the storms.

The seeming discrepancy between the prevailing southwest winds in typhoon season and the typhoons' actual approach from the east lies in simple geography. During typhoon season, the prevailing winds in Southeast Asia are from the east, but travel under the southern Philippines, then curl up and to the right to manifest themselves as southwesterlies.

Pagasa knows all this, and more. Check out the wind-analysis graphic I picked up from its website. Looks like it was created by smart people to me:





So why in hell isn't anyone from there telling me about all this rain? It's raining again today, this time in mid-afternoon. But my visit to the Pagasa website states the following:

"Low Pressure Advisory: The Low Pressure Area was estimated at 350 kms Northwest of Puerto Princesa City (12.5°N 116.5°E)."

To be fair, elsewhere on the site it tells me that conditions in the metro area "will be partly cloudy to cloudy with isolated rainshowers or thunderstorms mostly in the afternoon or evening."

But where's the rest of the story? I see precipitation all over the little Bing weather map at weather.com, something that I haven't seen for two months? Where did this come from?

The dewpoint jumped up about 7 degrees today, compared to the last several weeks. Where is Pagasa's commentary on that? Where's the passion, dude?

More important, does this storm signify the shift from Amihan to Habagat? This often happens in a single day? Has it this time? Has the monsoon occurred? Is typhoon season upon us?

Friday, April 2, 2010

April Fools' Day Is Over, Back to Work

Thanks to everyone who read my little jest. Back to serious stuff here real soon now...

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Oh, Those French! New Law Bans Use of 2.0


President Nicholas Sarkozy of France has signed into law new legislation that outlaws use of the term “2.0” in France and all of its holdings around the world.

“This imbecilic term led so many people, in the business and consumer sectors, to hold a false impression of the truth of the world,” Sarkozy said in an official statement.

“It was proven without doubt in 2001 that there is no such thing as a new economy; today we can say without contradiction there exists no possibility of applying the term ‘2.0’ to anything that is viable or comprehensible.”

Sarkozy added, “This vacuous term led to the global economic meltdown in 2008-09.” The legislation itself notes that “the idea of ‘2.0 thinking’ led to overconfidence among entrepreneurs building a so-called New Economy 10 years ago.

“Then, after the dot-com bubbleburst (éclat de soufflé in French) the term returned immediately, being used ubiquitously to justify risk in financial instruments and machinations that proved to be untenable and catastrophic.”

France has a long tradition of resisting US influence, whether in movies, television, food, or fashion. Only blue jeans, Jerry Lewis, Mickey Rourke, and Le BigMac have penetrated this cultural Maginot Line.

“Resistance to the term ‘2.0’ should thus be viewed through this prism of French opposition to bad ideas,” explained Avrile LaPlaisantre , an analyst with the Paris-based trendspotting firm, Obtenuvous. “We French truly believe that most ideas emanating from the US are, how does one say, merde.”

A redesign of the Élyséé Palace website (referred to as “la version 2.0” in the leading French newspaper LeMonde at http://bit.ly/dqjf5q) was said to have been the “pièce de resistance” that led to the new law.

The redesign was announced only three days ago, but contained numerous gaffes and faux pas. Officially, “la version 2.0” was reportedly considered by Sarkozy to have “un certain je ne sais quoi” that he disliked. (The Palace is the official residence of the President of France.)

Grand Implications
The law may have far-reaching implications for media companies and retailers who brand new products and ideas with the 2.0 label.

Under terms of this legislation, products with the term “2.0” on their packaging will be confiscated. Offending retailers and wholesalers are subject to fines of 100 euro per item. Newspapers, magazines, television shows, and radio broadcasts who use this term are subject to closure and minimum fines of 10,000 euro.

The French government has requested a “expedited local normalization” from the European Union that would allow this legislation to remain in force within overall EU trade and commerce guidelines. “I think also that the Sarkozy administration will push to normalize this legislation throughout the entire EU,” LaPlaisantrie said. “I believe there is a universal loathing of this term in Europe, and that France’s courageous stand will be widely supported.”

The Obama administration had no immediate comment on the legislation itself, but a senior aide noted, “Mr. Sarkozy is a good friend to America, and we’ve valued the good will of the French people since the time we worked together so closely in the 1940s. We will address any concerns we have at the next G8 summit in 2011 (which coincidentally, will be held in France).”

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Holy Week in Pampanga, Philippines 2010

Holy Week dawned with the usual summertime heat here in Pampanga, Philippines. Roosters crowed, dogs barked, and the sun came up as usual in the general direction of the volcanic Mt. Arayat to our east.

We set off at 7am for the Immaculate Conception Parish Church in Balibago, Angeles City. One trike ride and three jeeps later, we arrived shortly after eight. As with most mid-size Catholic churches here, it's a white, Spanish-style building. It holds a couple thousand worshipers.

The first mass of the day was already in progress, and we joined the few hundred people milling about in the sun. Dozens of small vendors were offering the same palm fronds; we bought three for a little more than a dollar.

Soon enough, we joined the crush of people waiting to get inside. It was a civilized crush, this being the affable Philippines. Most were clearly distressed by the heat, a ceaseless aspect of life here, but there were no elbows thrown or sharp words exchanged (even uttered) as people pressed toward the side entrance we had chosen.

Upon hearing the measured applause that accompanies the end of Mass here, the crowd surged a bit. The doors opened, a mass of people started to leave, as a second mass entered simultaneously.

We suddenly felt a blast of cool air. The long-advertised "aircon program" had been put in place, and the church sanctum now offered a welcome respite from the diabolic sun one grows to hate here at 14 degrees latitude.

Once inside, I counted 24 new LG aircon units, each about eight feet in height. My rough guess says several million pesos went into this project. They were set between 79 and 82 degrees fahrenheit, an improvement of at least 20 degrees from the normal climate inside this church. It felt wonderful.

As the mass began, people quickly surged forward, waving their fronds, approaching the clergy to get a splash of holy water onto their palms and on themselves.

A Philippine mass is a modestly cheerful affair. Bible passages are read quickly but enthusiastically, and the short sermon in tagalog and English unfailingly makes a simple point with a touch or two of humor. Respectful applause follows it as well.

After the mass, we surged back outside, as the next group surged in. Masses would continue throughout the day. We headed back south to our barangay in San Fernando.

The City of San Fernando, Pampanga is well-known for its extreme observance of Good Friday. Known as "Maleldo" here--a contraction of the local-language words for "bad" and "day," but more properly translated as Holy Day--the Friday before Easter features processions, flagellants, and crucifixions that are reported worldwide.

Church leaders have urged people to refrain from the scourgings and crucifixions, noting that they seem to be staged to hustle tourist dollars as much as they represent devotion. The city's website promotes them, and the federal government's Department of Transportation ran a press release in local newspapers celebrating them.

As a bishop in Metro Manila said,"It is enough to remember the life and death of Jesus Christ during Holy Week through fasting, abstinence, prayer, reflection, and almsgiving," according to an article in the The Manila Bulletin.

Even in fasting, the church urges moderation, defining a fast as one normal meal and two small ones. Ironically, this is more than millions of Filipinos can afford on the best of days.

I decided to skip the gory spectacles. This is not Spain, I am not Hemingway, and it's not the 1920s; anyone who wishes to witness this stuff can find it easily enough on YouTube.

The Week Progresses
As Holy Week begins, schools have been let out for the summer, which runs here from March through June, when the monsoonal rains are due. Thursday and Friday were national holidays. The malls were closed, as were most small stores and government offices.

The thousands of ferries and hundreds of thousands of buses were full of people fleeing Metro Manila to return to their home provinces.

The churches, Catholic and others, held their Maundy Thursday services in the evening and their Good Friday services in the morning. Many people flocked to grotto services at dawn on Friday.

Saturday was also a slow day, albeit one in which you could again buy manok (chicken) for dinner or some Red Horse for a family get-together.

No newspapers, though, because even ink-stained wretches got the day off on Friday.

Many people in the Philippines will awake Sunday morning to "salubong," an hours-long ritual and procession in which the risen Jesus greets his mother Mary. It is a uniquely Filipino ritual; this one is favored by the Church, as it reflects maternal fidelity and celebrates the joy of Easter.

As with most gatherings here, it will be simultaneously respectful and cheerful. The Pampangan Maleldo's theatrics are an unfortunate aberration that do not reflect the character of "ordinary Filipinos," as people refer to themselves here.

Heavy Faith, Worn Lightly
It is my impression that although the Philippines is a heavily Catholic country, it is one in which most people wear their faith lightly.

This country now numbers 92 million souls; maybe 85% of them profess to be Roman Catholic. To be sure, the presence of a sizable Muslim community, a few million Protestants, the homegrown Iglesia ni Cristo, a tiny Jewish community, and other faiths here makes little impact on The Church's influence.

Divorce is not allowed, birth control uncommon, and legalized abortion unthinkable. The Church recently got into a terrific row with a government leader who favored the use of condoms.

Yet family trumps even religion in this conservative place, and the daily struggles of life tend to center people around what is concrete rather than what is spiritual. So this week has been one of family members getting together--whether traveling hundreds of miles to a home province or a few kilometers to a neighboring town or barangay.

Music is played, food is prepared, and copious amounts of "tsismis" (gossip) exchanged.

Laughter is found in abundance anytime two or more Filipinos gather. Since being alone is the worst thing imaginable to people here, laughter is always found in abundance; during Holy Week, even more so.

Friday, March 26, 2010

I Won't Vote for Richard Gordon

I was riding around greater Manila today setting up a couple of interviews and dealing with a visa issue. It's approaching mid-summer here, and is just insufferably hot most of the day.

As I was riding in a very crowded jeepney (just called a "jeep" by locals), we suddenly came to a stop. Not unusual, the traffic can be horrendous, and this was late Friday afternoon, just as schools and many offices were letting everyone out.

But we sat. And sat. and sat. The people here are extraordinarily patient by Western standards. Life is hard and people typically just accept things for how they are. "Bahala na" goes the saying (something between "whatever" and "god (little g) willing."

But this was silly. After a while horns started honking, and looks of genuine anger started to appear. If you've traveled anywhere in Asia, you know that the typical protocol goes from placid to homicidal in a flash. There is no steadily escalating anger and threats as in the US and other Western countries. Here, people stay calm...until they aren't.

It turned out that the root of the problem was a political parade. A big one. Supporters of presidential candidate Richard Gordon, in concert with the local police, had blocked the main highway in my area, so that hundreds upon hundreds of cars, SUVs, jeeps, and trikes could proudly parade through a very modest neighborhood in search of votes.

The election is May 10. It's starting to be crazy time here. Daily talk of new conspiracies involving the current president, of a possible military takeover, of why talk of a takeover is so responsible as to cause one, and on and on. Most of the major candidates are color-coded: leading candidate Noynoy Aquino uses yellow (the color of his mother's People Power campaign in 1986); second-place candidate (according to the polls) has countered with orange; Gibo Teodoro, running under the flag of the current ruling party, is in green; and Richard Gordon is red.

(Another candidate, former President and movie star Erap Estrada, also uses orange, but he gets along fine just being Erap.)

Richard Gordon is supported primarily by wealthier voters, according to polls, so I doubt he won any today. He certainly didn't win mine! (That is, he didn't win mine if I were able to vote here.)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Willie Nelson, God, and Cloud Computing

Hard to restrain one's self 24/7/365, know what I mean?

http://bit.ly/c90Y2T

I was actually a bigger fan of Waylon, who sung with Willie on the song I reference in the above link. But Willie sang the specific lyric that I mention, so I had to go with him.
Putting him in front of God in the headline is not meant to make offense; it's just that the storyline followed the three subjects in the head in that particular order.

I've been reading about and writing about Cloud Computing non-stop for awhile, and am gearing up for the Cloud Expo in New York, at the Javits Center April 19-21.

www.cloudcomputingexpo.com

There could be 5,000 people there, which would make it by far the largest cloud event produced to date. There is a surge behind cloud, precisely because it's not "the latest, greatest thing." Nothing new to see here, gang.

But it's the fruition of so many trends of the past decade or so. The genius with Cloud--at least with Enterprise Cloud--is how it takes many recent and great technological developments and combines them into truly a new and revolutionary way to run your IT department, and your business.

The idea of the Consumer Cloud, ie, "all your software are belong to us," is much more controversial and untested. But the Enterprise Cloud--in which resources are turned over to third parties, but still owned and strategically managed by the original owner--is a Big Freaking Deal, as Joe Biden might say.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Laos On the Economic Radar Screen

Laos looks to be the next Southeast Asian to start experiencing rapid economic growth. Its 2009 GDP growth rate was tops in the region, at 6.4 percent according to the World Bank (or 7.6 percent according to the government.)

Laos (which is actually pronounced "Lao"--it's a semi-long story) has been experiencing an average of 7-percent growth for the past five years, and is expected to continue on this pace in 2010. The country mines copper and gold (the two minerals are often found in the same places), and sells a lot of it to China. Its tourism sector is also strong.

What intrigues me is its growth as a producer of hydroelectric power. Investors from adjoining Thailand have in mind to create 8,000 megawatts of power. Agreements have already been signed to export this juice to Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

About 1,000 megawatts of that just went online today, as generators at the Nam Theun 2 dam began cranking. Laos has designs on becoming the so-called "Battery of Asia" with its hydroelectric potential.

Could there be server farms in the future of Laos?

The Nam Theun 2 dam was built at a cost of almost $1.5 billion US. Meanwhile, the Russians are coming, too, investing in a series of four dams that will generate 1,200 megawatts by 2013 at a planned construction cost of $1.7 billion.

Compare these numbers to the GDP of the entire country of about $5.4 billion and you get an idea of the ambitions of the investors, not only from Thailand but also Vietnam and China.

Despite the economic progress of the last five years, Laos remains in the bottom third of GDP per capita, at a little more than $2,000 per year in local buying power. This is only 60% of the Philippines, for example, which is hardly a wealthy country.

But with a population of less than 7 million, Laos does not face the crushing pressures that face many Southeast Asian countries. Perhaps it can become a sort-of Canada of Southeast Asia--a low population sustained by abundant natural resources and beauty--without those pesky nine months of winter.

Cloud Computing By Any Other Name

I posted a long article about the key difference between the Enterprise Cloud and the Consumer Cloud on my website.

My main idea is that while both are inevitable, today's discussions about Enterprise Cloud are technical and tactical, while The Big Debate over Consumer Cloud has only just begun.

With Enterprise Cloud, table-thumping discussions will ensue about security and may ensue about public v private v hybrid, whether a private virtualization really cloud, etc.

With the Consumer Cloud, there is a major issue of handing over all of our information to a big company, which more than likely will hand it over to an evermore intrusive government if "requested."

The full story is here.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

AP: You Are Guilty Until Proven Innocent

I was working on an article about making the distinction between Enterprise and Consumer Cloud Computing, in which I offered the viewpoint that the current issues involving the Enterprise Cloud are matters of implementation, while the main issue with Consumer Cloud is one of ideology.

Enterprise Cloud discussions are about public v private v hyrid, virtualization v real cloud, and what metrics are used to justify or reject a Cloud Computing initiative or strategy.

But the main Consumer Cloud discussion is whether we should do it all. Shall we turn over all of our personal information to a big corporation, which is very likely to cave into governmental "requests" to see that information?

Just after I finished the piece, I saw the breaking news about how a Freedom of Information Act request by the Electronic Frontier Foundation revealed the latest snooping by the FBI, sometimes in concert with local law enforcement, to detect and prosecute criminal behavior. Facebook was prominently mentioned.

The Orwellian idea of Feds camped out on popular websites, trolling for double-plus ungood thoughts and actions, is chilling enough. But I think most of have grown to expect fascistic behavior on behalf of men and women with badges. Certainly, an intrusive, paranoid federal government didn't start or end with the George W. Bush administration. (After all, the FBI works out of the trans-cendant J. Edgar Hoover building.)

What really set me off was the headline for the Associated Press report on this story: "Break the law and your new 'friend' may be the FBI."

While this headline is factually correct, it obliterates the notion, which should be implicit in this story, that an FBI that trolls Facebook and other social networking sites will not necessarily be going after convicted criminals.

This genie, once out of its bottle, will consider anyone a suspect; or in the words of Ronald Reagans' Attorney General Ed Meese, "if you're not guilty, then you wouldn't be a suspect."

Nice to see the AP being so compliant with Newspeak 2.0. I look forward to its future reports on how war is peace and how we've always been at war with Eastasia.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

GMA Coverage of Pacquiao-Clottey Fight a Disgrace

The good news is that people are able to watch Manny Pacquiao's fights here in the Philippines free of charge, on the leading broadcast television network, GMA. The bad news is that GMA shamelessly fills its coverage with enough commercials to choke an elephant.

Estimates of poverty in the Philippines vary, but it's realistic to say that 40% of the country's 92 million people fall below a poverty line no matter where it's drawn. Another 20% or so struggle to have more than one meal a day. About 25 million fall into an emerging "middle class," but this is a middle class along the lines of the US in 1963.

So even though the pay-per-view theaters and coliseums were full today with fans of Pambansang Kamao (the National Fist), generally paying between $5 and $20 apiece, the reality is that the vast majority of people here watched the fight on GMA.

And GMA was utterly disgraceful, in my opinion, in loading its coverage with commercials. The pre-fight and undercard stuff started at 10am, with four hours devoted to covering about 75 minutes of fighting.

The main event then started at 2pm, more than half an hour after the result had been announced on a rival network. GMA then layered in more than 100 minutes of commercials against the 47-minute duration of the actual fight, and a continuous stream of banner ads at the bottom of the screen during the actual fighting.

To me, this is exploitation. I would remind GMA that the federal government in the US had to step in against the avaricious networks in the 70s to put limits on the number of commercials they were allowed to run.

At the time, the networks had no clue that one day they would be abandoned as cable channels brought them real competition and as rising affluence allowed viewers to tune them out.

Living in the Philippines is often like living in the US in 1963, good and bad.

The good is that this is still a polite society, conservative of dress, absent of the crass sluttishness that has come to characterize the US. Newspapers (and to be fair, GMA and its rival ABS/CBN) take political coverage seriously, as do the candidates. Traffic, while chaotic, is mostly absent of the self-centered aggression found in the US. Popular singers have real talent.

But, on the other side of the coin...only now are people cracking down on smoking, birth control remains highly controversial, employers are allowed to mention specific age groups and a desire for employees to be "good looking," and the food companies push a non-stop cornucopia of sugar-laden cereal and "smart food" for anxious parents trying to do the best for their children.

And the leading broadcast network thinks it can run about three times a decent number of commericals during an event that defines "must see" for a nation with precious few international heroes.

In other words, the people here are great; some of the companies that serve them, less so.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Rain, Blessed Rain, Comes to Luzon, Philippines

What passes for a cold front in this part of the world came through this afternoon, bringing with it the first rains of the year.

A blackout quickly ensued, but we didn't care. Rain, glorious rain, probably less than an inch, but still something to give people here some hope that the El Nino drought won't last forever.

The Philippines has been damaged badly, truly, by the lack of rainfall these past three months. It's normally dry-ish in the eastern provinces during this part of the year, but not rainless. And the western provinces typically experience year-round rainfall coming off the South Pacific.

In addition to crop damage, the lack of rain has caused reservoirs to dry up and put severe crimps into the country's ability to produce hydroelectric power. One can easily argue that there should have been more reservoirs and dams built in the first place. But this country isn't exactly in the world's rich-man's club. And the same argument is made in California, a state with plenty of resources.

The Philippines has no oil, the good news being that the country's government cannot skate by with the phony wealth that oil generates, as in Nigeria, Mexico, and Venezuela. But when you're stuck on one of these islands, you realize there is very little likelihood of the cavalry coming to rescue you when you run out of oil, water, or rice.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Summertime in the Philippines and the Livin' Ain't Easy

El Nino in the Philippines means no rain and hot weather. Hotter weather, I should say.

We're now into March, the first month of the Philippine summer. Schools will be letting out soon, and it's the height of the dry season in the western, monsoonal parts of the country.

Each day feels a little warmer, a little more humid. The trend will continue until mid-April, when most days will be truly intolerable without air-conditioning, something that most people do without, intolerable or not.

Yet even so, the Philippines needs about 6,700 megawatts of power, equal to that of, say, the State of Wisconsin and on a par with Chile and Portugal.

Fish Are Dying, Not Jumping
It is missing much of this power now, due to a fairly serious El Nino drought that has dried up the reservoirs that feed hydroelectric plants; reports of 80- to 90-percent cuts in power generation have circulated. There have been brownouts in the southern provinces of Mindanao and throughout Metro Manila as well.

The dietary staple tilapia is dying by the millions in dry reservoir beds. Farmers throughout the country are losing their crops. The government has ominously spoken of the "special powers" it may need to address the situation. Many provinces have been formally designated as being in "a state of calamity," the phrase used here that's roughly equivalent to the "disaster area" designation in the US.

There's never much rain during the traditional dry season in the monsoonal western provinces. But on the eastern side of the country, which directly faces the Southern Pacific Ocean and its year-round humidity, rain is normally uniform throughout the year.

Not this year. The dry areas are drier then ever, and the wet areas have seen very little rain. All we can do is wait until May and hope the monsoonal shift brings in blessed precipitation.

This picture of the Philippines may seem ironic, given the inundation and tragedy brought upon Manila and surrounding areas during last year's twin typhoons, Ondoy and Pepeng.

But I've found nothing ironic in the Philippine character; resignation and resilience, yes. Irony no. Life is simply too hard to spark the optimism that is needed as ironic commentary's fall guy.

The Election Approaches
The drought and government rumblings are occurring in the context of the upcoming presidential election, to be held in May.

The two leading candidates, Noynoy Aquino (son of icons Nino and Cory) and Manny Villar (a self-made millionaire who was born in a shantytown), seem to have a commanding lead. Two other candidates, ex-defense minister Gibo Teodoro (running on the incumbent party ticket), and Erap Estrada (an actor and former overthrown president) maintain their presence on the radar screen.

Politics is a game of fluid movements in the Philippines. Recent innuendo has cast Villar as the "secret" candidate of current president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (known as "GMA"), who remains unpopular with media pundits and in political polls. An association with her is widely believed to be toxic.

Yet Noynoy does not seem unassailable. He is frequently derided as having "famous parents" as his primary positive quality. He presents a difficult personality, seemingly very shy but also a bit rigid and stubbornly proud about engaging in the messy business of reaching out directly to voters.

Villar, on the other hand, portrays himself as a man of the people, so much so that he was seen giving out 20-peso bills to children the other day, a move that was not popular with commentators. (The bills are worth about 50 cents US). Vote buying was alleged, something Villar quickly rebutted by saying that children don't vote and he was just trying to help them buy a local treat that he used to enjoy when he was a poor kid.

Erap, the TV and movie star, has always been a people's candidate as well; his recent gaffe was to give a 200-peso note to a woman pleading with him a few days ago to help her disfigured son. (He apparently didn't realize the gravity of the woman's plea, and his handlers later brought her son to a hospital for diagnosis and possible treatment.)

But hey, Erap has already been overthrown once, in what is known as the EDSA 2 revolution. It seems unlikely that he will be given the keys to the presidential home, Malacanang Palace, again.

People Power, EDSA, and More
Noynoy Aquino was an undistinguished senator until the recent death of his widely beloved mother, who was elected after the original EDSA revolution and the overthrow of Ferdinand Marcos. Her funeral, attended by hundreds of thousands and watched by tens of millions here, put EDSA, People Power, and Noynoy into a very bright spotlight.

Noynoy has said that he doesn't even want to live in the Palace if elected, as it gives its inhabitants delusions of power. He'd rather retire at the end of his day to his home. His security detail may overrule him on this should he win.

A notoriously frumpy dresser, Noynoy is at least savvy enough to be seen often enough clad in the yellow associated with his mother's revolution. To me, there is nothing phony about this; he and his sisters (one of whom is a very popular TV star) are justifiably proud of their parents' legacy.

EDSA, for those of you keeping score, is a major thoroughfare in Manila; its unabbreviated name is Epifanio de los Santos Avenue. I've had an epiphany or two on EDSA, sitting on "ordinary" (un-air-conditioned) buses for hours in the implacable traffic jams that plague it.

But in 1986, EDSA was jammed with millions of Filipinos, fed up by Marcos, his seemingly tacit approval of Ninoy Aquino's assassination on the international airport's tarmac upon his return from exile, and the dictator's "win" in a consequent, snap election. (The airport was later named after Ninoy, and his face appears on the 1,000-peso note, the largest note in circulation).

The EDSA revolution swept Ronald Reagan's good friend out of office, its climax occurring the moment that top military leaders, including future president Fidel Ramos, abandoned the dictator and threw their support to the unassuming housewife Cory Aquino.

Cory's administration was rocked by conspiracies, coup attempts, and her failure to enact the sort of meaningful reform widely seen as needed here to reduce the political and financial stranglehold that a small number of families continue to hold.

To push and enact such reform, however, she would have been opposed to her own class, provided by her birthright as a member of the powerful Cojuangco and Sumulong families.

Cory was followed at Malacanang by Fidel Ramos, and then Erap Estrada. Imagine electing a movie star into a powerful political office! Erap's EDSA 2 deposal in 2001 was bloodless and much less dramatic than the original revolution. It had nothing to do with People Power and everything to do with alleged corruption.

GMA, who was serving as Erap's vice-president, was installed in the palace. She then won a six-year term in 2004, as a compromise candidate from an unwieldy new political party cobbled from disparate elements. That election has remained controversial, although really, no more controversial than George Bush's election to the White House in 2000.

WWGMAD?
Now, as we wait the remaining two months until election time, we sweat. This will be the first election to use automated voting machines, and the potential for benign malfunction and malignant vote-stealing is a daily topic in Manila's lively English-language press.

Questions about the loyalty of the 80 provincial governors are raised; who will support what GMA wants? And who does she really want? And does this matter?

The answer to the last question is probably "yes." as GMA is running as a candidate for the legislature from her native province of Pampanga, located an hour's drive from the outskirts of the capital city. Wikipedia describes the party loyalties of most Philippine federal legislators as "weak."

This is because the parties themselves are weak, having been effectively born only 24 years ago with the overthrow of Marcos. I don't see the day-to-day machinations and bloviations of legislators here as any worse than that encountered in Washington, DC.

Then again, I don't see them as any better, and maybe that's the problem. My hope is that the Philippines can have as clean an election as possible in a messy democracy, and move upward in its efforts to be taken seriously. To do this does not require emulating the politics of the United States, but if I can be idealistic, to create something better.

Aspirations, To Be Sure
The Philippines aspires to be an influential nation economically, politically, and morally. If there is no American-style optimism among the masses of people on a daily basis, there is certainly no shortage of idealism and the thundering speeches and editorials that accompany it.

This country's 12 million or so overseas workers, and millions more hyphenated Filipinos throughout the world--"ordinary Filipinos" as they call themselves--have earned a global reputation for hard work, honesty, and affability.

Meanwhile, a domestic business process outsourcing industry is generating $7 billion annually, revenue that stays here because it's being generated by local services. GMA's administration has been a transformational backer of this industry, and one would expect government support to continue, regardless of who wins in May.

But the day-to-day reality is simply impossible here for many, and quite difficult for most. Official unemployment figures hardly reflect the reality of "walang trabaho" (no work) for millions. So many places out in the provinces still lack electricity and running water.

Factory workers here in Pampanga make about 70 cents an hour. If you have the 50 cents or so to take a noisy "trike" or sweltering Jeep to work, great. If not, you simply walk, however long it takes. Ice cream is a very rare treat. Cable television is a luxury, and owning a small motorcycle is a big dream. Car ownership is out of the question unless someone in your family works in the US or some other rich country.

To be sure, conditions for a middle class of about 25 million people (almost 30 percent of the population) are not dire. To me, they are comparable to how most middle-class people lived in the US as the Great Depression was ending.

The lives of another 30 or 40 million people out in the provinces and in the urban shantytowns of greater Manila are not so good, though. There was a recent story about a six-year-old girl from the Visayan region who rescued her baby brother from a fire that destroyed their tiny shanty, incurring serious burns in the process.

She and her two siblings were living there with their mother, a laundrywoman whose husband had left her. A carelessly tossed cigarette from a passerby apparently started the conflagration.

A picture of the girl, hands bandaged, IV in her arm, and an absolutely stoic impression on her badly burned face, brought tears to my eyes. Sure, I'm soft, but this girl's unflinching heroism and humble, impassive reaction to it typifies the character of the "ordinary Filipino" to me.

We Need Real Power
I attempted to finish this piece on a Sunday afternoon, a brownout came rolling through my apartment here in Pampanga--this was not predicted, but could have been expected. Most days, I sit on my little porch and write in the cool hours of the early morning.

Those hours end promptly at 9am, at which time I'm driven inside to the small, air-conditioned room I use as my refuge from the heat. On this day, the brownout drove me back outside, to join the small kids playing in the street and the roosters watching us.

Which brings me back to my current obsession with the power supply here. Gibo recently said the country needs to revive its long-dormant nuclear power program if it has a chance of meeting current needs, let alone advancing economically.

He did not, however, endorse the revival of a never-completed plant north of Manila that Marcos tried to have built in the wake of the oil crisis of 1973. The country blew $2.2 billion on it, was paying contractors for years after it was clear that its location was too shaky, so to speak, to be practical.

The Philippines sits in the Ring of Fire, and Marcos decided to place the plant on an earthquake fault that was also near Mt. Pinatubo, a volcano that famously erupted in the 90s and forced the United States Air Force out of a sprawling base in the area.

Gibo points out that two other nations on the Ring of Fire, Japan and South Korea, have been able to install significant nuclear power capacity, so why not the Philippines?

Everyone here knows why not.

But the spirit of EDSA has been revived here, when Cory Aquino's death from cancer late last year reminded the country that its People Power revolution in 1986 was credited, in part, as a model for similar, mostly peaceful revolutions that tore down Europe's Iron Curtain in 1991.

Whomever wins in May, may he tap into the fierce energy of the masses here to create a so-called EDSA 3, and help give this country a push forward.

It will always be hot here. Most years will bring too much rain sometimes, too little other times. But it's high time to make the living a little less difficult.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Cloud Computing and Global Power Requirements

About three years ago, I wrote an April Fool's story about a very large server farm that was to be built in India, to be powered by three nuclear power plants.

I, of course, thought my story was one of the funniest things ever, even if my opinion wasn't shared by all.

Then today I had a conversation with a friend of mine, originally from India and now working in Singapore, who said that India is working to build 20 very large nuclear power plants by the year 2016.

The plants would average 3,000MW apiece, an enormous amount that is about triple the capacity of the typical facility installed in the 60s and 70s during the first great nuclear power plant building boom.

So my ridiculous story wasn't that far from reality, I guess. This installed power would be twice the power consumed by the country of India just a few years ago.

I'm consumed by this idea of power generation right now, as I think about Cloud Computing and its need for server farms. My Indian friend told me that the sub-continent is being very aggressive in building these farms, despite a serious need for the power to cool them in this very hot country.

I had been musing that perhaps very hot climates, such as found in the Philippines where I'm currently located, would be a serious impediment to the growth of server farms in those regions. "No, just buy more air-conditioning!" my friend admonished.

This is easier said than done. Air-conditioning, notoriously, had the double-edged effect of making Washington, DC habitable in the summer and thereby creating the all-powerful, sprawling, year-round mess known as the federal government.

Now the wondrous invention has spread worldwide, turning Singapore into a global financial power (if not a beacon of democracy), and driving marvelous new world-class business districts in places such as Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, and Manila, and Sao Paulo, Dubai, and Mumbai.

This leads to the question of how much power are we using today and how much will we need tomorrow? I'm relying on Wikipedia for now to learn about global power requirements, so can't be 100% sure of what I am reading. But the numbers are believable enough to me to see a few things:

1. The US is not the global per-capita leader in power consumption, as many would instinctively believe. Our friends to the north in do-gooder Canada, for example, use more.

2. Cold weather seems to drive power consumption up more than hot weather, so don't get too upset, Canada, by my first point.

3. If my second point is not true, then the world is in for a major battle to bring all the hot countries (in which a majority of the world's population lives) up to speed

4. The world average would place the earth as a whole in the category of a developing country. There's a long way to go. A simple arithmetic exercise shows that bringing the entire earth up to middling European levels in a world that is growing at 1 percent a year will require four times the amount of installed power 20 years from now than we have today. This simply is not going to happen.

In any case, I'm looking for good research on data farms, where they are now, where they will be, what percentage of total power consumption they'll use, etc. In my mind there's no such thing as "Green IT," just lesser shades of brown and grey.

I also see nuclear power as the way to go, that is, if the world is to lift itself out of its widespread, endemic poverty over the next 20 to 30 years.

Is this really a Mephistophelian bargain, though? Is there such a thing as a solution that's not some sort of deal with the devil? Does everyone know that wind turbines are major mass murderers of raptors?

What if global warming is not as serious as many portray it, if whatever effect humans have on the climate get seriously trumped by sunspots or volcanic activity or forces and cycles we're either ignoring or of which we're unaware? That still doesn't mean we can burn coal and forever, right? Or, are Saudi oil and Canadian tar sands good to go for another 1,000 years?

I see Cloud Computing as the first step in the final leg of the IT journey, the step in which computing power becomes cheap, ubiquitous, and utterly able to make utopian dreams come true for the entire world.

But we'll need power, not only for the server farms but for all the air-conditioning and accoutrements that will come for newly comfortable masses of people. How will we produce this power? And how many wars will we start in the name of it?

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Cloud Computing and The Philippines

An economist in Manila thinks it possible to double the middle class in the Philippines to 45 million people within a decade or so. This number can be added to the tens of millions of others throughout Southeast Asia, and the hundreds of millions in China and India.

The idea of IT as a service, provided as if it were electricity or water (with data integrity) seems to me to be very appealing to a part of the world that cannot and will not have the capex capacity required to leapfrog itself into the top ranks of the global economy.

But with cloud, maybe so. Just as asking, "what can electricity do?" sounds like a silly question from the Ben Franklin area, asking "what can cloud computing do?" is not the real question. The real question is, "how fast can cloud services be delivered to every corner of the world, and how?"

The electricity grids that span North America can, in theory, deliver juice from anywhere to anywhere, but given the pesky laws of electromagnetism and physics, it's best to keep the supply relatively close to the demand.

What about IT resources? Other than for real-time financial services markets, which fuss over latency issues in the microsecond range, how critical is location for the server farms that will power and empower Cloud Computing?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Meet Pradeep Gupta of CyberMedia

I worked for many years at IDG, the world's largest tech publisher, and a company that's planted in a flag in more than 150 countries and every continent, including Antarctica. The key to IDG's approach to global dominance is entrepreneurialism and compartmentalization, ie, each US publication is run as its own separate business unit, as is each IDG company located out of the US.

That experience has given me an eye for similar entrepreneurs. CyberMedia CEO Pradeep Gupta is one of them. I had a great conversation with him a couple of weeks ago. It was mid-morning in Silicon Valley for me, evening for him somewhere north of New Delhi.

I was in my office, he was in his car, and I could hear the ceaseless clamor of "third brakes" (aka car horns) as he worked his way through what sounded to be typically apocalyptic Indian traffic.

We talked about magazines, the old days, whiskey, back-of-envelope calculations, and the present moment as well.

Here is the interview.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Real Weather Strikes Silicon Valley and the Bay Area

One thing I've always liked about the Bay Area during my quarter-century here is that we occasionally have real weather.

Not to diminish the tragedy that often comes with it, it's exciting to see Mother Nature's occasional wrath. It fills up our reservoirs and has a net positive effect on keeping the dreaded fires away, adding moisture to the grassy carpets that surround us even while nurturing the growth (and therefore fire potential) of them.

I took these shots along Highway 101 during my mercifully short 3-mile commute this morning. (Yes, I was snapping while driving, but not texting, talking, smoking, drinking, fornicating, or even listening to the radio.)

The good news is that the people of Northern California know how to drive in this weather, unlike say, in socal where the first drop of rain on the first windshield induces panic and 30-mile backups that can only properly be explained by wave theory.

Today's storm is the fourth of five that have been forecasted, and let's hope everyone stays safe, the hillsides don't collapse, and the sun returns by Friday!







Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Global Sourcing in the Philippines: Makati and Beyond

I posted my interview with Oscar Sanez (pictured), President and CEO of BPAP, the Business Processing Association of the Philippines (www.bpap.org). Oscar runs marathons, and have I ever mentioned I think it's hot over there? I hope they start these races at around 3am.

He's taking the long-term view of business as well. A P&G exec for almost 30 years, located in all corners of the world, Oscar returned to the Philippines a few years back to apply the full force of his experience and personality to address the challenge of developing business in his native country.

The Metro Manila municipality of Makati City (left), where BPAP is located and where I met Oscar for our interview, is one of the showcase areas of the Philippines and of the global outsourcing industry. Its skyline, greenbelt area, hotels, restaurants, shopping, etc. put it on a par with great urban areas throughout the world, at prices that remain a tremendous bargain even to Americans arriving with their puny, infirm dollars.

Makati is routinely listed as one of the very top outsourcing (or global sourcing) locations in the world, alongside Indian giants such as Bangalore, Mumbai/Pune, and Hyderabad. I've been to all these places, and I can vouch that Makati's infrastructure is vastly superior to that of any Indian city. In fact, even standard-issue Manila infrastructure (a pic I took of jeeps in the Cubao area is below) is superior to anything I've seen in India.











The vibrant success of Makati over the past two decades or so has created a number of improvements in education and social services for its half a million residents--many of whom live the very difficult life common to so many millions in the Philippines and other countries throughout Southeast Asia.

These days, Oscar and many others in the Philippines are working to continue to attract new business to Makati, while also promoting numerous other locations, within and surrounding Manila, and out in the provinces as well.

Cebu City, the commercial hub of the country's central Visayan region, has already made the list of top sourcing destinations in the world--a number of people I've spoke to report a 30-percent discount across the board from prices in Manila.

Names such as Mandaluyong, Pasig City, and Quezon City (all in Metro Manila) will be heard more and more, as well regional names such as Bulacan, Pampanga, and Cavite, and provincial names such as Iloilo, Bocolod, and Davao.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Manila, Metro Manila, Mega Manila

For those of you not in the know, there are three stars on the flag of the Philippines: one for Luzon (dominated by the island of the same name and by Manila), one for the Visayas (which contains several major islands), and one for the southern Mindanao region.

This makes the regions equal in theory, but not in practice. By now, the island of Luzon contains almost 50 million of the nation's estimated population of 92 million. In contrast, there are 20 million-something in Mindandao and close to 20 million scattered throughout the Visayas.

Manila is the big megillah in this picture. Defining precisely what constitutes Manila can be a tiresome exercise, given that you have the City of Manila, the National Capital Region (less formally known as the Manila Metrpolitan Area or Metro Manila), Greater Manila, and the more-recent mega-definition, Mega Manila.

The City of Manila is like the City of London (a smallish place within a very large area that carries its name) and not like New York City, which is a collection of smaller boroughs.

Oh, wait. The City of Manila is not nearly as strange as the City of London, which has a resident population of 8,000 people and has existed since the time of the Romans--and what did the Romans ever do for England anyway?

The City of Manila contains the original city, almost 2 million people, and most of the cool old Spanish stuff, the big cathedral, and the country's presidential palace. It was named after a variety of mangrove tree. There are plenty of mangroves in the Philippines; it's hot there, you know.

Metro Manila is also quite precisely defined, and has an estimated population of about 11.5 million. So-called "Mega Manila" extends up, down, and out from the main metro area as much as 40 to 50 miles.

You can drive north, for example, through a corner of Bulacan province and into Pampanga province, through miles of flat rice fields, only to re-submerge into plenty of traffic and people once you reach the City of San Fernando and Angeles City. Another million or so people are found here, most of them doing hard, physical labor for a few dollars a day and/or waiting for remittances from relatives and friends.

Mega Manila might have 35 million people, in other words, roughly comparable to California in about one-eighth the space. Even so, having some fun with numbers, that equates to only 700 people per square kilometer. Compare this to almost 7,000 per square kilometer in San Francisco and other highly urbanized cities across the globe.

Even so, paraphrasing Wavy Gravy (and no, I wasn't at Woodstock and am not stuck in the 60s), "what Manila has in mind every morning is breakfast in bed for 35 million."

The Philippines and numerous other Asian countries have developed cultures that put much less of an emphasis on personal space than we twitchy Westerners. There is a concomitant much higher emphasis on group dynamics, eg, learning to blend into enormous clots of people and traffic, and not throwing a punch if someone sits on top of you in a jeepney.

Even so, there are severe logistical problems involved in housing, feeding, transporting--and finding work--for this many people in such a relatively small place.