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?

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.

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.

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?