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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Globe to restore mobile coverage Tuesday night

Cellular operator Globe Telecom, which has taken flak in recent days due to its poor or lack of mobile signals in areas hardest hit by typhoon “Ondoy," said it expects to fully restore its mobile coverage late Tuesday night.

The company’s technicians are working overtime to re-establish cellphone signals in the eastern part of Metro Manila and Rizal province, particularly in the town of San Mateo, Caridad Gonzales, Globe’s head of corporate and regulatory affairs, said.

“Our cell site near Sta. Lucia went underwater during the flooding. This is one of the reasons that caused some of the outage because it’s a big cell site that also serves a big portion of that area," Gonzales said.

Repair was delayed due to the difficulty in reaching the site’s location.

The company brought new equipment and is now almost done fixing the facility, she said.

Other sites were damaged by Ondoy, Gonzales said but she was unable to identify them. However, she said these are now being repaired as well.

Other than those areas directly ravaged by the typhoon, Globe said its service coverage in Metro Manila is now back to normal.

Rival Smart, meanwhile, did not report any signal disturbance and even stressed that it was the only telco whose communication signal remained strong during the typhoon’s aftermath.

In a statement, Smart said set up free call centers at the Barangka Barangay Hall in Marikina City, Ever Gotesco Mall in Pasig City, and at the Cainta Municipal Hall to enable affected residents to make free calls.

An additional free calling facility will also be set up in San Mateo, Rizal.

In addition to free calls, charging of cell phones are also accommodated at the Smart Libreng Tawag centers, it added.

Globe has also put up similar free calling stations in the affected areas.

Dell launches high-end, thin business PC

Dell Inc on Monday unveiled its latest high-end, ultra-thin personal computer, bringing some fresh design appeal to its enterprise models.

Dell called the new Latitude Z the world's thinnest and lightest 16-inch laptop, at 4.5 pounds and less than one inch thick.

However, the Latitude Z does not come cheap, starting at $1,999. Dell, the world's No. 2 PC maker said it is targeting the PC at what it calls "impression makers," such as creative professionals.

Thin and light is undoubtedly a priority for PC makers this fall, in both consumer and business segments. Technology advances are allowing PC makers to cram ever more performance into a shrinking form factor.

Dell launched its premium consumer ultra-thin PC, the Adamo, earlier this year.

"We're seeing thin and light spread throughout our portfolio," said Todd Forsythe, vice president in Dell's commercial client product group.

Dell said the Latitude Z is the first laptop to offer wireless docking and "inductive charging." It can be recharged without a power cord just by placing it in a special docking station, in the same way many electric toothbrushes charge. The docking station is sold separately.

The Latitude Z also comes with an always-on function that allows instant access to email and the Internet, and offers a screen frame that is touch-sensitive and can be used to launch applications and scroll through Web pages.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Cybersecurity done the ant colony way

Sometimes it's truly curious who or what inspires us to achieve our best.

There are those sports teams who, sadly, sing "Wonderwall" by Oasis before entering the arena.

There are artists whose muses turn out to be more Pamela Anderson than Laurie Anderson.

And now, according to the Telegraph, some rather honest scientists from Wake Forest University confess that they have been inspired to create rather progressive cybersecurity software by staring at ants for a very long time.

I've never realized this when I've stood on a few hundred of them heading for my kitchen waste basket, but ants are apparently quite clever at defending themselves.

They use something called swarming intelligence.

It seems to be a little like the strategy the police use when confronted by protesters at an event like the G20 conference. Once an ant senses a danger, he is joined by more and more ants until the threat is repelled.

A team at Wake Forest was so inspired by this approach to antagonism that it wondered whether it could create security software in which digital "ants" could call for reinforcements the minute they sensed the unwanted presence of a disaffected Swedish 14-year-old.

Professor Errin Fulp told the Telegraph: "In nature, we know that ants defend against threats very successfully. They can ramp up their defense rapidly, and then resume routine behavior quickly after an intruder has been stopped. We were trying to achieve that same framework in a computer system."

The Wake Foresters believe that this new software will allow for much quicker detection and return to normal computer function.

Glenn Fink (what fine names this research team seems to enjoy) told the Telegraph: "Our idea is to deploy 3,000 different types of digital ants, each looking for evidence of a threat. As they move about the network, they leave digital trails modeled after the scent trails ants in nature use to guide other ants."

This Fink and Fulp ant idea seems rather clever to me. If only I could use it to repel people on the street who ask me to sign petitions, give money or offer directions to the Hustler Club.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

8th Philippine Robotics Olympiad at SM North

Some of the brightest students from over 300 public and private schools nationwide went head-to-head at the 8th Philippine Robotics Olympiad (PRO) Wednesday and Friday, showcasing a wide array of robots that could perform a variety of tasks – from singing and dancing to braiding and etching – and that also looked good too while doing the tasks.

Held at the SM North Annex in Quezon City, the PRO encouraged students to come up with robots that were not just functional but also aesthetically pleasing, with points awarded to robots that performed tasks with “a synergy of artistry, ingenuity, and scientific flair."

“The students have been able to bring a lot of creative elements into their work," President and CEO of FELTA Multimedia Mylene Abiva said. “This comes at a very good time for the country, because the Philippines has been privileged to host the World Robot Olympiad in 2010," she added.

FELTA is the main organizer of the PRO in partnership with the Science Education Institute of the Department of Science and Technology (SEI-DOST) with support from the Department of Education (DepEd).

All the robots in the Olympiad were assembled from mostly just Lego blocks and Lego’s own Mindstorms robotics parts and software. Lego Mindstorms is a highly popular educational tool used to teach kids the basic concepts of robotics.

The system features a programmable central processor that can be linked to a variety of sensors and motors, enabling the construction of robots that are able to actively interact with their environment.

The Olympiad featured a grueling Iron Robot Triathlon for elementary school students and a Robot Match for high school students, featuring robots that could navigate obstacle courses with uneven terrain, throw balls, and carry light cargo.

In the Iron Robot Triathlon, Claret School of Quezon City brought home first place with a perfect score. Grace Christian College and Nemesio Yabut Elementary School won second and third place, respectively.

In the Robot Match, first place went to Philippine Science High School in Bicol. Second place went to the Science and Technology Center of Cebu (STEC), and third place went to Christian College.

For the Open Category, Grace Christian College and First Asia Institute of Technology and Humanities won first and second place in the Elementary School category. For High School, Doctor Yanga’s College took home the grand prize with a top score of 93.44%, while second place went to Makati Science High School.

All the first and second place winners of the 8th PRO will be part of the Philippine Robotics Team, and will represent the country at the prestigious World Robotics Olympiad 2009 in Gyeongbuk Pohang, Korea, this November.

Friday, September 25, 2009

National finalists for 3rd Philippine Blog Awards announced

With Filipino bloggers scattered across the country and all over the world, not just one but three awarding ceremonies for the 3rd Philippine Blog Awards (PBA) will be held this year.

"This will reflect the theme which is One Blogging Nation," PBA official Juned Sonido said in a press briefing on Thursday, where he announced the list of national finalists.

In Luzon, the awards will be held at the Peta Theater in Quezon City on October 9. For the Visayas, the awards will be held at the Cebu Business Park in Cebu City on Oct. 18 while in Mindanao, it will take place at the Pearlmont Hotel in Cagayan De Oro City on Oct. 24.

Recognizing the diversity of bloggers, Sonido said a special category for expatriates residing in the Philippines and non-Filipinos who blog about Filipino-related topics has been created.

More than one-fifth of nearly a thousand blogs that joined this year’s contest made it to the shortlist. The 208 finalists are vying in 20 categories, as well as four special awards for design, foreign blog, Filipino abroad, and Filipiniana. The regional finalists, who are competing for 12 more awards, have yet to be announced.

Among the national finalists are:
[To see the complete list, click here]

"I think for most bloggers who got involved in this, (we) would like to showcase which one is the best in blogging, which one is noteworthy," Sonido said.

He said the blogs would be judged through their eligibility, content, and design. Judges for the winning blogs will be announced during the awarding ceremony, he added.

Acknowledging the rising number of bloggers, Sonido also encouraged them to be more responsible in their writing.

"I think it’s in the best interest of all bloggers to write responsibly. Kasi in the end … you are more open to legal suits if you don’t blog responsibly. Your reputation might get tarnished if you are not careful with what you write," Sonido said.

High shipping costs repel online buyers: PayPal

High shipping costs, security concerns and lack of convenience are leading many online shoppers in the United States to abandon their purchases, research conducted by PayPal revealed.

The PayPal Checkout Abandonment Study showed that 46 percent of US shoppers cited high shipping charges as the primary reason why they discontinued their online purchase. While nothing could have prevented one-third of shoppers from abandoning purchases, the survey found that providing shipping costs upfront might have influenced 40 percent of the survey respondents to complete the purchase.

Thirty-seven percent of online shoppers said they backed out of a possible online purchase because they wanted to compare prices in a different online store. Another 36 percent said they lacked money to complete the transaction while 27 percent said they wanted to look for a coupon.

Twenty-six percent of respondents in the PayPal survey said they wanted to shop offline while 24 percent said they couldn't find a preferred pay option.

To help merchants encourage shoppers to purchase, PayPal has announced a new Express Checkout feature – which includes PayPal Instant Update API. By integrating the new API, merchants can show order details earlier in the process including shipping options, insurance choices and tax totals.

"To get shoppers to complete their purchases, it is critical that merchants make the checkout experience easy and costs transparent," said Mario Shiliashki, General Manager of PayPal Southeast Asia and India. "Our new PayPal Instant Update API will help merchants get customers the information they need upfront to drive sales."

The survey also uncovered signs that the economy still has shoppers wary about clicking the "purchase" button. More than one-third of respondents abandoned checkout because they didn't plan for all of the expenses; while more than 25 percent left the site to search for a coupon. However, one-third of shoppers later returned to the same site to buy. Twenty percent of those surveyed eventually went on to purchase the items at a physical store or at a competitor's website.

“Besides the cost factor, merchants who aim to sell to a global audience need to remember that online shopping needs to be a hassle-free and safe experience for the buyer,” added Shiliashki.

The PayPal Checkout Abandonment Study was conducted by comScore among active shoppers who had recently abandoned a shopping cart. In the United States 553 people participated between May 12-15, 2009. All respondents were asked about their most recent abandoned session, regardless of the site involved.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Angara seeks stricter policy vs Internet piracy

Sen. Edgardo Angara on Wednesday sought amendments to the Intellectual Property Code to battle the upsurge in Internet piracy.

In a statement, Angara said the Intellectual Property Code has not kept pace with advances made in the area of intellectual property rights infringement in e-commerce.

He said the proposed amendments in the IPC should give recognition to the rights of performers, phonogram producers and broadcasters as accorded authors of artistic and literary works "by acknowledging their right to control or be compensated for the various ways in which their works are used or enjoyed by others."

"With the Philippines' ratification of the WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT) and WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT), there is a need for amendments to the IPC to contain the additional obligations imposed by the provisions in said treaties," said Angara who chairs the Committee on Science and Technology.

"While our Intellectual Property Code was shaped with a consummate vision at the time of its enactment, its provisions have not kept pace with the advances made in the area of intellectual property rights infringement in E-Commerce.

He said that IPC amendments must address the technological measures provisions in Article 11 of the WCT and Article 18 of the WPPT; and the rights management information provisions (Article 12 of the WCT and WPPT) of the Internet Treaties.

Angara shared that since 1980, the Philippines has been a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) which seeks "to promote the protection of intellectual property throughout the world through cooperation among States."

He said Senate Bill 880 seeks to impose more stringent penalties for rights-violators, while immediate judicial relief and alternative options are proposed to be accorded actual and potential victims of copyright infringement.

"The overriding goal of this proposal is to provide an Internet environment where it is safe to distribute and license protected material. Because in an increasingly global arena, nothing less than a global effort will ensure the effective protection and development of intellectual property," added Angara.

RP IT competitiveness drops, ranks 12th in Asia-Pacific

The Philippines fell four places to rank 51st among 66 countries worldwide in terms of IT competitiveness in 2009, results of new study by the Business Sofware Alliance Economist Intelligence Unit revealed Wednesday.

From its 47th rank in 2008, the Philippines slid to 51st this year as its score also dropped from 29.8 to 28.5. The study assesses and compares the information technology industryenvironments of 66 economies to determine the extent to which they enable IT sector competitiveness.

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, six factors work together to create a sound environment for the IT sector: an ample supply of skilled workers; an innovation-friendly culture; world-class technology infrastructure; a robust legal regime that protects intellectual property; a stable, open, and competitive economy; and government leadership that strikes the right balance between promoting technology and allowing market forces to work.

The study said the Philippines' IT sector improved significantly in the IT Infrastructure category and advanced slightly in research and development in 2009. On the other hand, its score declined in support for IT industry development and in the human capital area.

The United States topped the global list with a score of 78.9, followed by Finland and Sweden. At the bottom of the list was Iran.

In the Asia Pacific region, the Philippine ranking fell two notches from 10th in 2008 to 12th in 2009.

"In today's economic climate, it is critical that the Philippine government continue to support the growth of a strong technology sector. The IT sector remains an important engine of economic growth. It is essential for the government to support innovation and take steps to stimulate technology sector output which can help attract investors and accelerate the country's economic recovery," said Claro Parlade, Director for software policy, Asia Pacific of the Business Software Alliance.

"Challenges for the Philippine government and other Asia Pacific countries remain. With broadband access becoming a prerequisite for many parts of the IT sector, economies with pervasive broadband penetration have a big competitive advantage over those where the infrastructure is lacking," Parlade said.

The Philippines ranked 42nd in terms of business environment; 58th in IT infrastructure; 44th in IT human capital; 61st in research and development environment; 47th in legal environment; and 45th in support for IT industry.

Among the key study findings for Asia Pacific is that coordinated efforts among governments, universities and IT firms are needed to improve the quality of technology training and expand the pool of potential hires.

Asian economies continue to produce large numbers of IT employees but lag behind North America and Europe in providing well-rounded technology education, it said.

Facebook to end Beacon tracking tool in settlement

Facebook is shutting down its much-maligned Beacon marketing program, launched nearly two years ago amid fanfare only to generate a storm of privacy complaints over the tracking of user activities at partner Web sites.

Facebook agreed to end Beacon and create a foundation to promote online privacy, safety and security as part of a $9.5 million settlement in a lawsuit over the program. A federal judge in California still must approve the terms.

Meanwhile, Facebook is teaming up with the Nielsen Co. to help advertisers grab the attention of the hordes that are spending more of their time at the Internet hangout. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, is expected to unveil the new marketing program, called "Nielsen BrandLift," at an advertising conference Tuesday in New York.

Facebook thought the Beacon marketing program would help users keep their friends better informed about their interests while also serving as "trusted referrals" that would help drive more sales to the participating sites. Sprinkled in with status updates and photos were alerts on what items their friends had bought or reviewed.

But users complained that friends could learn of holiday gifts they had bought at the online retailer or learn of the mindless movies for which they had purchased tickets through Fandango.

Users were able to decline tracking on a site-by-site basis, but not systemwide — at least not initially. Many users simply didn't notice a small warning that appeared on a corner of their Web browsers; the box disappeared after about 20 seconds, after which consent was assumed.

After an uproar, Palo Alto, California-based Facebook ultimately let users turn Beacon off, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg publicly apologized for it.

The service never really caught on, though, and Facebook said late Friday it agreed to end it as part of the proposed settlement.

The lawsuit was filed in August 2008 on behalf of 19 users against Facebook, as well as Blockbuster Inc., Fandango, Inc. and other companies that used Beacon. It claimed the defendants disclosed users' personal information for advertising purposes, without their consent.

"We learned a great deal from the Beacon experience," Facebook spokesman Barry Schnitt said in a statement. "For one, it was underscored how critical it is to provide extensive user control over how information is shared. We also learned how to effectively communicate changes that we make to the user experience."

While Beacon was unsuccessful, out of the experience grew Facebook Connect, which lets the online hangout's 300-million-plus users access other sites using their Facebook log-ins and share with Facebook information on activities elsewhere.

Unlike Beacon, however, Facebook Connect gives users, rather than Facebook and advertisers, control over the information they share.

The multiyear partnership with Nielsen marks Facebook's latest attempt to persuade advertisers to spend more money promoting their brands on the site. Among other things, Nielsen will develop opt-in polls that attempt to measure Facebook users' responses to the ads that show up on their pages.

Facebook's huge audience already has been luring more advertisers to the site. The company is expected to bring in more than $500 million in revenue this year, according to Facebook board member Marc Andreessen. The rising tide of money cascading into Facebook is now enough to cover the 5-year-old company's operating expenses, a major milestone for startups.

Want to read all about it online? It may cost you

With their advertising revenue drying up, newspaper publishers spent much of the spring and summer debating whether to cut off free online access to some of the material they run in their shrinking print editions.

It looks like the talk will turn to action this fall, when some large newspapers are expected to put up Internet toll booths.

They'll be testing readers' willingness to pay for information and entertainment that mostly has been given away online for the past 15 years. That happened largely because most publishers could afford to subsidize their Web sites with profits from their print franchises. But now those profits have crumbled, just as the prices for online ads are tumbling, too.

A recent study by the American Press Institute found 58 percent of the responding newspapers are considering online fees. Of that group, 22 percent expect to introduce the fee before the end of the year. The findings drew upon 118 interviews of newspaper executives in the U.S. and Canada.

The free-to-fee transition likely will occur in tentative steps rather than bold leaps that would lock all online content behind a pay gate. Publishers are taking this cautious approach because they are still trying to devise online payment plans that will generate more revenue without alienating too many of their readers.

For instance, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, a newspaper with a weekday circulation of about 206,500, recently launched a Web site that includes coverage and commentary on sports, politics and entertainment that isn't in its printed product or free online edition. The service costs $36 annually or $3.99 per month.

Other newspapers that have talked up subscription plans remain reticent. Newsday of Long Island, New York, still hasn't rolled out fees for its Web site, even though the newspaper's owner, Cablevision Systems Corp., said it was going to do so this summer. Newsday spokesman Paul Fleishman declined to comment.

The conundrum facing publishers: It's hard to figure out how much, if anything, readers will be willing to pay. Internet search engines and digital communication tools such as Twitter and Facebook ensure people still will be able to find and share plenty of free content.

But running totally free sites hasn't been paying off for most newspapers. Even before the online market began to slump this year, Web ads were generating only a small fraction of the revenue that print ads do. The disparity has made publishers realize they need more ways to make money on the Internet, but few of them have been able to figure out how.

"This is like a four-dimensional chess game. It's really complex," said former newspaper editor Alan Mutter, who is now an industry consultant when he isn't writing "Reflections of a Newsosaur," a free blog.

The Associated Press also has been part of the online fee movement. The not-for-profit cooperative, which is owned by newspapers, is setting up a system that will track the usage of its stories. It's a crucial piece of a plan that could improve the AP's ability to run ads next to news stories and perhaps even lead the AP to charge readers to see major scoops or other "premium" content.

"The value of content has to rise," said Tom Curley, the AP's chief executive. "We are all looking how to make that happen."

Even as newspapers mull just how much to commit to charging readers, a competition is already brewing to provide the technology to enable it.

Four of the world's largest technology companies — Google Inc., Microsoft Corp., IBM Corp. and Oracle Corp. — have expressed an interest in developing an online payment system for publishers. Mutter also has been promoting his own approach to Internet fees, a concept he calls ViewPass.

Separately, more than 1,000 newspapers and magazines have signed nonbinding letters of intent to join an Internet fee system being assembled by Journalism Online LLC. It intends to begin collecting money on behalf of publishers before winter.

Backed by former leaders from Court TV and The Wall Street Journal, Journalism Online wants to run the cash register for a digital news smorgasbord. Readers will be able to buy stories from a wide range of participating publishers without having to repeatedly provide their credit card numbers and other personal information at each Web site. The content would be distributed on the Web and electronic reading devices, with each publisher dictating its own terms. As a commission, Journalism Online plans to keep 20 percent of the revenue collected through its system.

Although he isn't jumping on board with Journalism Online, News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch is sold on online fees.

News Corp. already owns the newspaper industry's most successful Internet subscription model in The Wall Street Journal, with more than 1 million customers who pay for online access. The annual rates vary from $103 for an online-only subscription to $140 for a package that includes delivery of the print edition too. Now, Murdoch hopes to make online fees pay off for his other publications, which include the New York Post and The Times of London. Murdoch hasn't provided a timeline or specifics about his plans, however.

The New York Times is considering charging online readers a membership fee, with more details promised in the fall. It's a road the newspaper has been down before, only to reverse course after management concluded that the online subscription it required to read the Times' top columnists was crimping its Internet ad sales. The subscription service, which cost $50 per year, was scrapped in 2007 after a two-year run. It had 221,000 customers when the Times tore down the toll booth.

These days, the printed versions of newspapers are suffering so much that publishers appear determined to find a way to get readers on the Internet and mobile devices to pay something, even if it's just a few bucks per month. The question is mainly which publisher will jump off the sidelines first.

"There's still a lot of 'wait-and-see' attitudes out there," said Randy Bennett, senior vice president of business development for the Newspaper Association of America. "I think a lot of publishers would like to see some empirical evidence of what happens to other publishers who dip their toes into the water."

In a worst-case scenario, imposing online fees would drive away so much of a newspaper's Web audience that publishers would lose more in Internet ad sales than they would gain in new revenue.

In a best-case scenario, newspapers charging their online readers would still retain enough of the audience for their Web sites to remain attractive marketing channels. What may be even more important, the fees might make readers more willing to pay for the print editions if the same content isn't on the Web for free, especially if print subscriptions include free or discounted Web access.

Preserving the value of their print franchises is one of the main reasons for publishers to charge for Web access. That's because newspapers still get most of their money from print ads, which accounted for $35 billion of the industry's revenue last year. Newspaper print ads are on pace to fall below $30 billion this year.

Online ads, in contrast, contributed just $3.1 billion in revenue last year. And while that category had been growing until this year, it wasn't fast enough to offset the erosion in print ads. From 2005 through 2008, the industry's annual revenue from print ads dropped by $12.7 billion. Meanwhile, newspapers' annual revenue from online ads increased by just $1 billion.

Journalism Online's co-founder, Steven Brill, believes newspapers can still hold on to most of their online readership by charging for only their best work — information, images and audio unlikely to be found anywhere else on the Web. This presumes publishers will be able to prevent the content from being copied and pasted or even just summarized at other sites, a potentially daunting task.

Some publishers still have no intention to charge for online access because they have concluded online fees are bound to backfire on the newspaper Web sites that adopt them, Mutter said. The American Press Institute study found 44 percent of the respondents don't think Internet fees will provide a significant lift to newspapers' future revenue.

"The guys who hold off (on Internet fees)," Mutter said, "could have a huge windfall in new traffic."

Mayweather vs Pacquiao: Twitter fans weigh in

A day after Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s complete domination of Juan Manuel Marquez, subscribers to the popular microblogging service Twitter urged boxing promoters to finally seal a money fight between "Money" Mayweather and the current pound-for-pound champ Manny "Pacman" Pacquiao.

A Reuters article noted that Mayweather's victory over Marquez left a feeling of dissatisfaction after many noted that the American was several pounds heavier than his opponent. "Marquez weighed in at 148 moments before the fight but Mayweather, cynically although probably rather shrewdly, refused to disclose his own weight," the Reuters story said.

Clamor for a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight has grown steadily after the American's victory over the Mexican pugilist. Even Mayweather acknowledged that boxing fans want to see him fight Pacquiao but declined to commit himself to the bout.

"People say Pacquiao is number one. I don't have to rate myself. I know what I can do. Pound-for-pound is an opinion. I was a professional for 11 years, and I was a world champion for 10 years. I went away for two years, came back, I fought the number two fighter. I didn't rate him, they did. I am a critic of myself. I want to be the best I can be," he said.

In a Twitter thread Monday, film23jay @surroundsoundud noted: "I want [Mayweather] to fight Pacquiao. I want Mayweather to whoop his ass. I'm not a Pacquiao fan. He's overhyped."

Tcomputer RT @BoxingDawg also commented: "I know this will bother the Mayweather-haters out there, but Floyd Mayweather Jr. is the best pound-for-pound boxer. I know Freddie Roach won't admit this, but the only boxer that can possibly beat Mayweather is [Shane] Mosley -- and not Pacquiao."

"With that, I cannot see Mayweather ever wanting to fight Mosley. He'll fight Pacquiao next. That's if Manny gets past [Miguel] Cotto," he added.

Pacquiaovs noted that there were "real danger signs for Manny Pacquiao from Floyd Mayweather." Another tweet from maniark read: "I have never seen a more complete fighter than Floyd Mayweather on early Sunday morning. Superb dismantling of Marquez!"

Enishiate, who watched the fight a day late, said he was dissatisfied with the bout. "Finally got a chance to watch the Mayweather/Marquez fight. Very anti-climatic but just shows how surreal Floyd really is."

ClintonV noted that while everyone is talking about Pacman-Mayweather, "Pacman has the small matter of Miguel Cotto to get past. He's bigger and can bang. Dangerous."

One Pacquiao fan, however, said he wants the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight to happen soon. "Just hope that our own Pacman shuts up Money Mayweather," posted Twitter fan champie08.

Facebook user welcomes Belo libel suit

Activist-lawyer Argee Guevarra, who was sued by doctor to the stars Vicky Belo for allegedly maligning her in his Facebook account, yesterday welcomed the move, saying it was “an opportunity to invite public attention to the hazards of cosmetic surgery clinics performing surgeries with untrained and unskilled medical practitioners and advertising such services as safe.”

“We hope to ring alarm bells at the Health Department against the proliferation of such colorum clinics, which is destroying the country’s medical tourism industry and earning for the country the moniker of being Asia’s No. 1 Chop Shop,” Guevarra said in a statement sent to The STAR.

Belo and the Belo Medical Group filed the suit against Guevarra at the Office of the City Prosecutor in Taytay, Rizal.

Belo protested Guevarra’s shoutouts referring to her as “Reyna ng Kaplastikan, Reyna ng Kapalpakan” (Queen of False Pretenses, Queen of Incompetence) and updates calling for a national patients’ boycott of Belo clinics in his Facebook account.

Facebook is a popular social networking site.

Guevarra is the counsel of Josefina Norcio who sued the Belo Medical Group for botched butt augmentation procedures using the banned substance Hydrogel.

Belo, previously involved in a video sex scandal, operates swanky plastic and cosmetic surgery clinics frequented by the elite. She also owns various offshore clinics and booking offices in Thailand, South Korea and the United States.

She, however, is not licensed by the Philippine Association of Plastic Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (PAPRAS) to perform cosmetic surgery procedures.

The suit is the first Facebook libel case in the world where Belo does not even belong to the defendant’s network of Facebook friends, Guevarra said.

A previous Facebook libel case was, however, filed in the United Kingdom where businessman Mathew Firsht sued a former school friend over a false personal profile status on the site, which included private information about him and untrue allegations about his sexual orientation.

The libel suit against Guevarra was commenced through Dr. Belo’s general manager who managed to add herself to Guevarra’s network of 1,472 friends.

More than this, Guevarra seeks to defend himself all the way to the Supreme Court in order to elicit jurisprudence regarding internet-based libels.


Guevarra remained unfazed by Belo and reacted about his latest legal battle in his Facebook status update and referred to Belo as a “wannabe mortician.”

“A wannabe mortician masquerading as a cosmetic surgeon will never be able to stitch up the difference between formalin or botox, between free speech or slander when suing for libel a Facebook user for his shoutouts and status updates. Such surgical stupidity results in mistaking Facebook for Erasebook.”

For his part, Guevarra’s counsel J.V. Bautista pointed out the suit’s material defects, saying it would not prosper because there’s no such thing as Internet libel.

“The alleged defamatory statements are privileged communication and are per se, not libelous. Said statements of Atty. Guevarra fall under constitutionally protected exercise of free speech,” Bautista said.

“Finally, the analogous libel case of Alfonso Yuchengco/Pacific Plans vs. Philip Piccio, arising from a blog written by Mr. Piccio against Pacific Plans, was ordered dismissed by the Department of Justice which ruled that there is no such thing as Internet libel since Art. 355 of the Revised Penal Code strictly provides that libel can only be committed by means set forth therein (writing, printing, radio etc.) and does not include the Internet. Furthermore, criminal statutes are construed strictly in favor of the accused.”

The STAR tried to contact Belo’s counsel Adel Tamano through his cell phone, but he was not available for comment.

The preliminary investigation is set on Sept. 24 at the Taytay Hall of Justice, Rizal before Asst. City Prosecutor Cheloy Garafil.

Free to play model alters online gaming industry

Young Filipinos were once referred to as the “the Ragnarok generation," a reference to the immense popularity of the Korean online game that captivated local gamers.

But that was five years ago, when Ragnarok was still the rage and online gaming was just beginning to enter the public consciousness.

In the meantime, the advent of free-to-play model has since altered the online gaming terrain dramatically.

Now, game titles such as RAN Online is lording over the scene primarily due to this free-to-play setup. Ragnarok, once the industry’s top dog, has also been forced to adopt the same model.

Free-to-play, sometimes abbreviated as F2P, allows players to try out a game without paying.

If a player wants to “level up" or go to a higher stage, he or she must then pay for a subscription fee or buy in-game items.

“The free-to-play model has really been a game-changer," said Gil Edeza, president and chief operating officer of IP E-Game Ventures Inc., during the recent launch of another free-to-play online game called Runes of Magic.

E-Games is the gaming division of local technology conglomerate IPVG.

According to Edeza, the huge success of its online games has allowed E-Games to contribute 40 percent of the overall revenue of IPVG.

The company also disclosed impressive statistics regarding its online gaming community.

Eduardo Pasion, vice president for marketing at E-Games, said the game has 10 million registered users, 2.5 million of which are active players.

“At any point in time, there are about 80,000 users playing our games online," said Pasion.

The audience turnout, as well as the profits, has been enormous that E-Games has followed up the launch of its newest free-to-play MMORPG (multiplayer online role-playing game), Runes of Magic, with another free-to-play FPS (first person shooter) online game dubbed OP7.

The OP7, however, is a game title under being offered under X-Play, the
joint venture company between E-Games and GMA New Media, the digital arm of broadcast firm GMA Network.

For Runes of Magic, the IPVG subsidiary teamed up with Tahadi Games for the rights to promote and operate the game in the country.

Developed by Taiwan-based Runewaker Entertainment for more than three years, Runes of Magic is a new fantasy MMORPG that conveys an absorbing story through more than 1,600 quests in a fantasy world.

“Players can choose between six main classes and combined with a secondary class, choose to create a character from 30 character class combinations," it said.

OP7, meanwhile, is an online FPS game that targets a different genre –male audience, particularly Counterstrike players. The game was created by Korean game development company Mgame.

Edeza, who also serves as COO of X-Play, said OP7 is several notches up in the FPS ladder.

“It is undeniably the next step in the evolution of the FPS world. The game is geared towards the creative thinkers who know the artistry required in gun modification."

In OP7, guns can be modified in a wide selection of parts such as Dot Sights, Scopes, Kobs, Silencers, Gun Body, Barrels, and more to create a gun unique to each player.

In addition to gun customization, OP7 also allows players to customize the appearance of their avatar as the game progresses. It also uses maps based on real locations which offer an interesting insight into how combat unfolds.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Israel reiterates offer to lend infra expertise

The State of Israel has reiterated its offer to share its expertise in infrastructure development in the Philippines, in partnership with various local government units (LGUs) in the country.

Israel Ambassador to the Philippines Zvi Aviner Vapni emphasized the need for the Philippines to augment its water infrastructure technology, and he believes that Israel could largely help in this area.

Already, Israel has already done partnership with the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA), in some water projects in Cebu and Baguio City.

“We would like to [further] share our expertise and intensive information on the field [water technology],” said Vapni adding that aside from partnering with the LGUs, some private companies in Israel which are into providing water technology are also interested to partner with Philippine-based water solution companies.

In Israel, where water is scarce, it has developed a good technology that would preserve water efficiency, how to use every drop of water—not waste it, the Ambassador said.

In Cebu particularly, wherein water shortage is foreseen, LGUs as well as private water technology firms will have to act now, in developing good technology that will augment the water supply available for the province.

Now, that Israel has recently opened its Cebu Consular office headed by Emily Benedicto-Chioson, Vapni hopes that stronger partnership in terms of trade and technology transfer will be started.

The looming water shortage in Cebu in the next few years is now one of the concerns expressed by existing and potential investors in Cebu, especially in the tourism industry.

Pursuing a career in IT requires passion for the job

This was revealed by technology career expert Ms. Gina S. Duminy.

"IT is an ever changing field and we should try to erase this misconception that it is exclusively for those who understand its jargon. That is not always the case," Ms. Duminy told students at the 7th Philippine Youth Congress in Information Technology (Y4iT) in UP Diliman last week.

Ms. Duminy, president and CEO of, an online career resource for technology professionals, said that the field is a "multifaceted discipline" focused on providing business solutions.

"IT is a challenge in organizing people, solving issues and problems through better process and organization. Its emphasis is on business problem solving," she said.

Ms. Duminy, a European languages graduate, outlined career options for future IT professionals, which include business operations, database development and administration, security and compliance, networking design and administration, technical support, and Web development and administration, among others.

Aside from career growth, a good compensation package is also in store for these professionals.

Research firm ZDNet Asia in 2008 through its "IT Salary Benchmark Philippines" showed that the country’s top five IT skills received salaries ranging from P495,000 to P600,000 a year on average.

The following fields are: application development, desktops/software, Web development, database management, and systems administration.

The continued growth in the business process outsourcing (BPO) sector is also an indication that the demand for IT professionals is increasing, said Ms. Duminy.

An official from the Business Processing Association of the Philippines said in a separate interview that the local outsourcing sector planned to corner at least 10% of the global BPO-IT market by 2010.

For that matter, Ms. Duminy told students to improve on their craft, master at least three competency skills in IT and avoid being a "jack of all trades, master of none."

"IT is exciting. The technology profession presents limitless opportunities for those who want to excel. This profession entails continuous acquisition of new skills and learning... you have to work hard at it," she added.

Ms. Duminy said that it is sometimes hard to screen fresh graduates due to their similar backgrounds, but what makes one stand out are the training and skills acquired in college.

Still, she said that a passion for the job is key.

"Pursue what you are good at and that should be accompanied with discipline, an openness to learn and good communication skills," she said.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Amadeus, schools ink IT accord

AMADEUS has forged partnerships with some educational institutions in training their students on the use of the latest information-technology platforms for the travel and tourism industry.

Amadeus Philippines general manager Albert Villadolid said through this venture, travel agencies in the country will have competent talent readily available from school.

Amadeus Philippines, he said, entered into long-term agreements with De La Salle–College of Saint Benilde, Far Eastern University, Lyceum of the Philippines University, San Sebastian College, University of the Philippines and University of San Jose Recoletos.

Under the agreements, Amadeus Philippines will provide all the partner-schools with its wide range of e-learning courses that will be used in the training of college students on the intricacies of the travel and tourism industry.

“We expect our partnerships with some of the country’s leading schools to create a steady pool of globally certified travel professionals, trained in using the most widely deployed global distribution system in the world,” Villadolid said.

He said this will also keep the major schools in the country on track with the breakthroughs that Amadeus is achieving in its research and development, to make available to all stakeholders in the tourism industry the most efficient technology.

The Amadeus platform, he said, is the popular choice among travel agencies, airlines, hotels, cruise liners, car rental companies and insurance firms.

Enderun Colleges, the Philippine affiliate of Les Roches International School of Hotel Management in Switzerland and the Alain Ducasse Formation in France, also entered into a partnership with Amadeus Philippines for the training of its students on the use of the Amadeus Property Management System (PMS).

The Amadeus PMS is directly linked to the Amadeus Global Distribution System and includes its inter-hotel chain communication capability and e-mail confirmation facility.

Amadeus started Philippine operations in 1997 and its patented technology is now being used by more than 2,000 travel agencies, leading domestic airlines and hotels.

AOC introduces new LCD monitors

Taiwan-based Admiral Overseas Corp., maker of the top selling AOC widescreen LCD monitors, updated its product portfolio in the country with the introduction of the AOC 36 series.

All the 36 Series models — 936Sw 19-inch widescreen, 2236Vw 22-inch widescreen and 2436Vw 24-inch widescreen — feature a high dynamic contrast ratio of 60000:1 to show images’ finest details and depth and soft-touch control keys that are part of the exterior’s streamlined shell texture design.

The new 36 Series complements AOC’s existing line of LCD monitors that were launched in the market a year ago.

Although 16-inch LCD monitors still have the lion share of the local market, AOC executives believe consumers are also becoming more discerning in finding the best value display technology that they also look beyond aesthetics and price, said Richard Ching, chief operating officer of Glee Electronics Inc., the official Philippine distributor of AOC monitors.

The fact also that there has been a shortage of 16-inch LCD monitor in Asia during the last three months opens an opportunity for Glee to make a stronger push for the 19-inch and bigger models.

Ula Ladrillo of Glee said AOC aims to get a quarter of the local market share and end its race with Samsung for the No. 1 brand.

The new 36 Series has won the EPEAT Gold Award for setting the highest standards in “green” monitors. EPEAT is a system that evaluates electronic products through its environmental attributes so that purchasers may be able to assess their respective product choices.

AOC monitors require low energy consumption. When switched to Power Saving mode, they only use 50 percent of the power, thus saving up to 104,000W per year. Using a 936Sw model, for example, can save up to 75 percent in electricity compared to CRT monitors.

Meanwhile, AOC’s market leading i-Bright technology reduces backlight CCFL for lower power consumption and less mercury substance.

All three new models feature a USB connector and D-sub and DVI-D inputs. The 22-inch model is also wall-mountable, while the 24-inch model has a movable glass that adds a layer of protection to the screen.

The 936Sw costs P7,499; the 2236Vw, P8,999; and the 2436Vw, P10,399. All AOC monitors are available from nearly 800 Glee dealers nationwide.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Google gives insights to RP online search trends

Ever wondered what Filipinos are looking for online every week?

According to Google Insights for Search, the top two rising search terms among Internet users in the Philippines for the past seven days were the sinking of the SuperFerry 9 in Zamboanga on September 6 and Malacañang's declaration of a nonworking holiday on September 7.

Weather also seemed to be a top-of-mind topic for Filipinos lately as it was the third most searched term for the week while weather bureau PAGASA was the fifth most searched term recently. The Fil-Am dance sensation Jabbawockeez also garnered a lot of online attention recently as it placed fourth on the list while the US Open placed sixth.

Even the popular Facebook application Restaurant City continues to get lots of Google searches lately, particularly for ways on how to cheat the game. Other rising searches in the top 10 list are GMA News, ABS-CBN News and Noynoy Aquino.

Jay Trinidad, regional product marketing manager for Google Asia-Pacific, said Google Insights for Search allows users to compare search volume patterns across specific provinces and time frames. He said the tool allows marketers to adjust their ad campaigns and business strategies as market interest shifts.

"This is a free online tool that uses the intelligence of crowds. It aggregates searches and normalizes the data to show rising search trends," Trinidad told reporters in a Makati forum.

He said marketers who use Google Insights for Search can actually gauge the overall sentiment of the Internet-using public at any given time. For example, he said the onset of the global financial crisis actually led to an increase in searches for "discounts" and "coupons." He also noted that Goldman Sachs actually priced their Coach bag products lower after noting a decrease in online searches for the brand.

In the Philippines, online searches for beaches start in early March and peak in April according to Google's yearly search query patterns. With that information, resort owners, hotels and even airlines can anticipate demand and make the necessary adjustments to advertising budgets, staffing and even inventory.

One thing that Google Insights does not show is the actual number of searches done for a particular topic or term. Trinidad said Google "normalizes" the data and filters out the searches that have experienced significant growth in a given time period.

This could be quite tricky for local ad campaigns as Google does not state how many searches are needed for a particular term before it starts making a dent on Google stats. Even more important, some areas barely register a blip on Google graphs because "there is not enough search volume to show graphs."

To illustrate, I tried to compare search trends for the word "yogurt" in Manila, Davao and Batangas to see if online searches actually coincided with the launch of several frozen yogurt stores in Metro Manila recently. Google Insights failed to show graphs for the last 7, 30 and 90 days because there was insufficient volume of searches done for that particular search term in all three subregions.

For the past 12 months, however, Google Insights showed that online searches for "yogurt" had been increasing in Manila, particularly in Makati, since March of this year while it made nary a blip in Davao and Batangas. This means that there is some interest for yogurt in Manila and Makati but not in Davao and Batangas, at least according to Google.

Offline events affect online behavior

Trinidad said search trends are often affected by offline events such as Manny Pacquiao's boxing matches or the death of former president Corazon Aquino. He noted that in the US, online searches for candidates John McCain and Barack Obama increased dramatically in the last few months before the 2008 election.

He said online interest for a particular political candidate can be gauged through the number of searches tracked by Google Insights.

"I would say that it offers them something valuable. It allow them to know what some people are interested in. What we hope to show is the relative number of searches over a number of time and compared to the other search terms. In much the same way that you go to Nielsen to get the numbers, it's one of the places you visit before you mount a campaign," he said.

A comparison on search trends for Noynoy Aquino, Manny Villar, Joseph Estrada, Mar Roxas and Noli de Castro for the past 90 days showed Villar clearly leading online searches compared to the other four candidates until August. Online interest for Noynoy Aquino, however, has been rising since his mother's death on August 1 and peaked recently after his announcement that he would run for president next year.

Online searches for Mar Roxas skyrocketed on September 1 after he announced that he would withdraw his presidential bid and support Aquino.

Motorola unveils Android-powered smartphone, the Cliq

Motorola on Thursday unveiled a new smartphone, the Cliq, powered by Google's Android software which the US handset maker hopes will help turn around its flagging fortunes.

Motorola co-chief executive Sanjay Jha previewed the touch-screen phone, which is to be available through US carrier T-Mobile, at the GigaOm Mobilize09 event in San Francisco.

"Android gives us a platform to innovate and enhance user experiences," he said.

Described as "the first phone with social skills," the Cliq is heavily geared toward social networking with easy access and features built around sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.

For example, Jha said, caller ID on the phone will display the name of the incoming caller, their latest profile picture and latest status update.

The Cliq also features a camera and video camera and a full complement of Google mobile services such as Google calendar, Google maps and built-in GPS.

Jha said the Cliq was one of two smartphones Motorola expected to release by the end of the year running Google's open-source Android operating system.

The other device would be unveiled "in the coming weeks," he said, and both would hit store shelves in time for the holiday season.

"We expect (the Cliq) to be one of our hottest-selling devices in the fourth quarter," said T-Mobile chief technology officer Cole Brodman, who appeared on stage with Jha.

Google and T-Mobile released the first so-called "Google Phone," the T-Mobile G1, which is manufactured by Taiwan's HTC Corp., in October of last year.

US wireless carrier Sprint Nextel and HTC announced plans last week to release a touch-screen mobile phone in October, the HTC Hero, powered by Android.

Motorola enjoyed success with its popular Razr phone launched in 2005 but has been losing ground since to Apple's popular iPhone and Research in Motion's Blackberry as well as other major cell phone makers such as Nokia, Samsung and Sony Ericsson.

Switzerland bans civil servants from using Facebook

The Swiss government has banned its employees from using Facebook after failed appeals for them to reduce time spent on the social networking site, a statement said on Thursday.

"Workers who need to access the social network for professional reasons can request a special dispensation," said a statement from the federal government.

Of the government's seven ministries, only the foreign ministry will still allow employees to access the site once the ban comes in next week.

Government workers were asked in May to "show moderation in private use of the Internet, notably of Facebook," the statement said. Such use did decrease slightly, but Facebook remained one of the four most popular sites.

Facebook to let users tag friends in status posts

Facebook will soon let users "tag" their friends in their posts, similar to how they already can with photos.

Product manager Andrew Huang said the status tags — coming over the next several weeks — are "all about engagement." He said Facebook wants to let users reference their real-world connections in their status posts.

For example, if a status update mentions having lunch with a friend, the user can tag the post with that friend's name. That'll make it easier for someone to pull up all status posts mentioning that particular friend, regardless of who made the posts.

It's similar to how someone can now easily pull up photos of a friend, regardless of which user had taken and shared the image. People will also be able to reference brands and businesses that have Facebook pages, as well as events, groups and applications.

To use the feature, users will have to type the "at" symbol in their post. This will activate a drop-down menu, from which users can select the friends to reference. The "at" symbol won't appear in the post itself; only a link with the person's name will show up.

DepEd urges private sector to support ICT-enhanced education

Education Secretary Jesli Lapus has enjoined the private sector to work closely with the department in promoting learning systems enhanced with information communication technology to improve teaching and learning outcomes.

“Enhancing the curriculum with ICT is the only way for our public school children to meet the challenges of 21st century learning,” Lapus said as 40 Intel Classmate PCs were turned over to public schoolchildren in Concepcion, Tarlac recently.

Lapus said, “We thank our partners in Intel for investing in education, and for supporting our major thrust to introduce technology in education. This intervention would not have been possible without their support to DepEd through the Adopt-A-School Program.”

A Classmate PC includes two gigabytes of memory storage and Microsoft Office. It is internet-ready, portable, and user-friendly for children.

To date, 280 Classmate PCs have been turned over by DepEd’s Adopt-A-School Program to public schools in Pampanga, Baguio City, Sagada, and Taytay, Rizal. Some 400 Classmate PCs are scheduled for turn-over to other DepEd elementary schools in different divisions nationwide.

Lapus added, “This partnership with Intel is geared towards building the ICT Enhanced Elementary School Model, which puts a premium on ICT-enhanced education. We hope to achieve this goal and turn every public school into a space where teaching and learning outcomes are improved by technology.”

Aside from Intel, collaboration is ongoing with Aralandesk.Net for the creation of the ICT Enhanced Elementary School Model. Together with these partner institutions, DepEd ensures full utilization of ICT facilities to improve the teaching and learning process in public schools.

A workshop on mapping digital resources in English is being conducted with support from Aralandesk.Net at no cost to DepEd. The department is also heavily investing in the drafting of a Digital Learning Resource Management Guide that will serve as standards for identifying and harvesting digital materials, and matching these with the curriculum.

The Adopt-A-School Program is DepEd’s venue for cooperation between the government and the private sector. Since it was relaunched by Lapus in 2006, more than PhP12 Billion worth of assistance to public schools have been committed by the private sector. Private groups and individuals can support DepEd’s education initiatives in exchange for up to 150% tax incentives.

Private sector assistance ranges from technology support to supplementary learning materials, from literacy programs to physical infrastructure and facilities to feeding programs. Companies and individuals may also extend direct assistance to public schoolchildren in the form of school supplies.

The DepEd Chief added, “I urge other companies to invest in education through Adopt-A-School and join us as we say Edukasyon Ang Solusyon. Our initiatives in education would not have been successful without our partners’ all out support. ”

Friday, September 11, 2009

Study reveals major shift in IT development, growth

While network and internet infrastructure companies are investing money to provide connection even to the remotest place in the Philippines, IDC-Digital Universe study revealed that a fundamental shift in the areas of information growth, security, compliance and management is seen in the next few years.

The IDC study revealed that over the next four years, the number of information-generation technologies and interaction will increase dramatically. Mobile users will grow to 600 million in four years time, as more people will become Internet heavy users.

Non-traditional IT devices such as wireless meters, automobile navigation system, industrial machines, RFID (radio frequency identification) readers, and intelligent sensor controllers, will grow by a factor of 3.6.

Because of the increasing high-technology generation, interactions between people via email, messaging, social networks, and others, will also grow dramatically.

Moreover, more of the world’s economic stimulus efforts will also increase the amount of digital information created, the result of increased access to broadband communications, electronic patient recorders, smart electric grids, smart buildings and autos.

By 2012, IDC projected that 850 million people will buy and sell products and services on the Internet and twice as much, Internet commerce will take place versus 2005.

Also in the same year, Internet commerce will become a US$13 trillion industry, mostly involving sensitive business-to-business commerce.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company (PLDT) earlier announced that it is spending a total of P27 billion in expansion investments, including its plan to roll out “fiber-to-home” technology in the middle of this year, and its ultimate goal in providing “broadband-for-all.”

The company incurred P25.2 billion in capital expenditure in 2008. This year, despite the volatile economic conditions, PLDT is increasing its capex allocation by P3 billion more.

“The 2008 capex level reflects PLDTs continued investment in the business, an outlook sustained in our forecasted capex of P27 billion for 2009. We are looking beyond the near-term uncertainty and positioning for the long-term when global situation stabilizes,” said PLDT president and chief executive officer (CEO) Napoleon L. Nazareno

The introduction of “fiber-to-home” technology will provide Filipinos with much reliable and faster internet connection. Although this may cost a little higher compared to ordinary connection, it is considered as the “ultimate” in fixed line infrastructure.

PLDT, the largest telecommunication provider in the Philippines, reported that Internet traffic has grown at least 80 percent year on year since 2006. Broadband subscriber based continued to grow robustly, and approached one million by year-end.

Total broadband and Internet service revenues for the company grew 45 percent to P11 billion in 2008, which now represents eight percent of consolidated service revenues from six percent in 2007.

Asian social networking sites profit from virtual money

By selling an array of virtual products from avatar clothes to e-furniture, Asia's social networking sites appear to have solved the conundrum of how to leverage big profits from their extensive user bases.

It's simple, they say, the money might be virtual but the profits are all too real.

Chinese university student Tan Shengrong spends about 20 yuan ($2.90) per month purchasing outfits for her pet penguin avatar or playing games on QQ, an instant message portal on Qzone, China's most popular social networking site.

It might not seem like a hefty sum, but every fen, or cent, is money in the bank for Tencent Holdings, which owns Qzone and saw an 85 percent increase in its second quarter net profit this year compared to 2008 despite the economic downturn.

"They keep growing even though the economy's bad because they keep making millions from cents from millions and millions of people," said Benjamin Joffe, head of Internet consulting firm Plus Eight Star.

From virtual clothes to e-pets, Asians spend an estimated $5 billion a year on virtual purchases via websites such as Qzone, Cyworld in South Korea and mobile-phone based network Gree in Japan, according to Plus Eight Star. That's about 80 percent of the global market for virtual products, it says.

"Social networking is just a way to get people together, but if you want revenue you have to sell them something. What they found was that people were happy to pay for content related to emotion, status and entertainment," said Joffe.

Of the virtual sales in Asia, about 80 percent comes from the sale of such items as equipment for online games such as rods for GREE's fishing game Tsuri Star 2. The rest comes from purchases for avatars on social networking sites.

Such is the success of virtual sales on Asia's most popular social networking sites that Myspace and Facebook are starting to look with a fresh eye at the potential of virtual money to generate cold hard cash.

Qzone's Tencent Holdings made over $1 billion last year with just 13 percent coming from advertising revenue. In contrast, Facebook and Myspace depend on advertising to fund most of their revenue.

The evolution of virtual money on social networking sites in Asia is partly due to a less developed online advertising market which drove Asian web businesses to seek new ways to profit.

Cultural issues are at play too. Gaming is popular among adults in Asia, whereas in the West it tends to be only for kids.

East Asian societies are also very status conscious. Players are loath to be the only avatar without the latest gear and Asians are perhaps more willing than counterparts in the West to buy virtual products to update their avatars or social space.

Asia's social networking sites tend to be country specific but they have very active user bases.

Qzone had 228 million active user accounts for the second quarter of 2009, although it won't give out monthly visitor figures. Meanwhile, Cyworld, which says that 90 percent of South Korea's 20-somethings are members, had 23 million unique visitors per month at the end of the first quarter of 2009.

Virtual rentals

Like their Western counterparts, Asian social networking sites allow their users to chat, play games and share photos.

There is also some advertising, but the sites earn most of their revenues from their users. Members are represented by avatars and acquire virtual currency from the sites to buy digital goods, game packages or upgrades.

The model has taken off abroad but there is still a long way to go until the West catches up with Asia.

Habbo, a social networking site for teenagers owned by Finland's Sulake Corporation, sells virtual clothes and furniture. Meanwhile, games such as Pet Society which is available on Facebook and allows users to raise virtual pets, sells goods such as virtual pet accessories and e-food.

Playfish, creator of Pet Society and other social games, says it has 47 million active users per month playing its games.

With seven million or so inhabitants, the virtual world Second Life offers a range of e-wares for sale for Linden dollars. Some are mundane and others are controversial such as guns and virtual phalluses with price tags based on the size.

Asia is also a playground for a range of virtual business models such as rentals. For example, Cyworld rents background skins of popular South Korean baseball players for limited periods. Such rentals drive repeat sales and tap into trends.

Lost in translation

The success of these East Asian sites contrast sharply to the frustrated social media landscape across the Pacific where despite immense popularity, Facebook and Myspace are yet to fully harness the profit potential of their massive user bases.

Facebook, the world's biggest social network with close to 300 million visitors per month, is on track to bring in more than $500 million in revenue this year, mostly from advertising, but its focus is on growing its user base rather than making money.

Still, a recent New York Times article suggested signs of an exodus from Facebook as disillusioned users leave due to privacy concerns or complaints of rampant commercialism.

Rupert Murdoch's MySpace has been unusual among the major social networks in turning profitable through advertising sales, although is now undergoing a major overhaul, including ousting its CEO and firing hundreds of staff, in the face of worrying user metrics.

Meanwhile, both Facebook and MySpace are eyeing the virtues of virtual money. Facebook, which sells virtual goods mainly in the form of 'Facebook gifts' through a credit system, said in March that it was looking at offering a common virtual currency to third-party application developers.

At the Web 2.0 Summit late last year, Myspace's recently-departed chief operating officer Amit Kapur mentioned that that the firm was also seeking to develop a payments and virtual goods system.

Meanwhile, Internet entrepreneurs are coming to Asia to pick up on innovative web business models.

In June, 32 venture capitalists and Internet entrepreneurs visited Japan and China under the banner "GeeksOnAPlane," to learn about local success stories such as DeNA, video hosting website Tudou, and gaming website PopCap.

"They were all blown away even though some of them already knew about what was going on here," said George Godula, founder of Shanghai-based consultancy Web2Asia. "They (Asian social networking sites) are quite nimble at finding out business models or ways of how to make money," he told Reuters.

It's official: Supreme Court upholds automation of 2010 polls

The Supreme Court upheld yesterday the legality of the automation of next year’s elections.

In dismissing the petition of a group of concerned citizens to void the P7.2-billion automation contract, the SC said the Commission on Elections and Smartmatic Corp.-Total Information Management Inc. did not violate Republic Act 9369, the Poll Automation Law.

Voting 11-3, the SC justices ruled that the automation deal was properly documented and that the petition of the Concerned Citizens Movement had no factual basis.

The SC said the law’s requirement for the Comelec to automate in at least 12 areas “was not a prerequisite for the automation of next year’s elections.”

Republic Act 8436, as amended by RA 9369, indicates the legislative intent for the May 2010 elections to be automated, regardless of whether pilot testing was done in the 2007 elections, the SC added.

The SC took into consideration the Senate’s position that the law does not require the system chosen by the Comelec to be tested in a local election.

It also upheld the government’s argument that Congress has allowed the full automation of next year’s polls even without pilot testing.

Chief Justice Reynato Puno concurred with the majority decision.

In his separate opinion, Puno said: “Absent any capricious and whimsical exercise judgment on the part of the Comelec, its determination of the appropriate election technology, as well as the procedure for its procurement, should be respected. The fear of automation failure should not overwhelm us.”

The nine other justices who concurred with the ruling were Consuelo Ynares-Santiago, Renato Corona, Minita Chico-Nazario, Antonio Eduardo Nachura, Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Mariano del Castillo, and Roberto Abad.

Associate Justices Antonio Carpio, Conchita Carpio-Morales and Arturo Brion dissented.

Senior Associate Justice Leonardo Quisumbing was on leave during deliberations last Tuesday.

The SC decision was written by Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr.

Comelec ready to pay Smartmatic P360M

Following the SC decision, the Comelec is ready to initially pay Smartmatic P360 million for the counting machines.

Comelec Chairman Jose Melo said they will pay five percent of the P7.2-billion contract, although Smartmatic is asking for 10 percent.

“We were unable to pay them for a long time so we would release our budget for our initial payment within the week,” he said.

Melo said the Comelec did not release initial payment for the automated machines last July because of the case filed before the SC.

“They were expecting payment on time and was counting on the good faith of the government,” he said.

Melo doubts petitioners will file a motion for reconsideration to stop next year’s automated elections.

“The chances of reconsideration before the Supreme Court are (almost) nil because the justices have thoroughly discussed the case before coming out with a decision,” he said.

Melo: I did not leak decision

Melo belied allegations that he had leaked the SC decision upholding the legality of poll automation next year.

“I don’t have a copy of the decision so how could I leak it,” he said.

In a statement, Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said Melo was reacting to news reports in the Internet that the SC had already rendered a decision favoring automation.

“There was no leak, and we did not leak the news,” read the statement.

“Chairman Melo was merely verifying reports that we have been receiving from various sources, including queries from the members of the media.”

Jimenez said Melo did not leak the information to the public or the media.

“It is unfortunate as it is in error to imply that Chairman Melo was privy to the deliberations of the court,” read the statement.

“We were on tenterhooks just like everybody else.”

Jimenez said the poll automation case should not be portrayed or compared to the case of retired SC Justice Ruben Reyes.

Comelec all set for automation

A Comelec adviser is confident that it would be “all systems go” for the automation of next year’s elections.

Science and Technology Undersecretary Fortunato de la Peña, a member of the Comelec Advisory Council, said starting November, the Smartmatic-TIM will begin training information technology-capable persons from the Comelec and Department of Science and Technology to operate the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines.

The Comelec representatives will also train 160,000 personnel nationwide who will operate the machines, he added.

De la Peña said the training will be conducted simultaneously from March 1 to April 1, 2010.

“Those who would be trained would have to undergo preparations and certification from the DOST,” he said.

The Office of the Solicitor General said the poll automation contract did not violate Republic Act 9369, the Poll Automation Law.

“The only condition imposed by Congress in RA 9369 for the automation of the 2010 elections is that the AES to be procured must have demonstrated capability and must have been successfully used in a prior electoral exercise here or abroad,” the OSG said.

Last June, the Comelec awarded the automation project to Smartmatic-TIM, which would provided 82,200 PCOS machines to automate the counting, canvassing, and transmission of votes from precinct to board of canvassers.

Preparations for the project were delayed after a group of concerned citizens asked the SC to void the poll automation contract with Smartmatic.

It prompted the Comelec to go slow on its preparations in anticipation of a temporary restraining order.

However, the automated election in 2008 in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, which used both PCOS and direct recording electronic units that served as electronic display ballots, was enough testing ground for automation, De la Peña said.

IT careers ‘rewarding,’ says expert

YOU NEED not be a graduate of a computer course to land a job in the expanding field of information technology (IT), according to a technology career expert.

"IT is an ever-changing field and we should try to erase this misconception of seeing this profession [as being] exclusive to those who understand its jargon, and that it’s boring. It is not always the case," Gina S. Duminy told students at the 7th Philippine Youth Congress in Information Technology at the University of the Philippines in Diliman yesterday.

"It is wrong to generalize that IT professionals are techie gear heads with little interest in anything outside of technology. We also pursue other interests and hobbies," she added.

Ms. Duminy, president of, an online career resource for technology professionals, explained that the field is a "multifaceted discipline" that is focused in providing business solutions, adding that an ideal IT professional "is somebody who understands business."

"IT is a challenge in organizing people, solving issues and problems through better process and organization. Its emphasis is on business problem solving."

Ms. Duminy also outlined career options for future IT professionals, which include business operations, database development and administration, security and compliance, networking design and administration, technical support, and Web development and administration.

Aside from career growth, the field offers a good compensation package. Research firm ZDNet Asia’s "IT Salary Benchmark Philippines" report last year said the country’s top five IT skills received salaries ranging from P495,000 to P600,000 a year on average. These are: application development, desktops/software, web development, database management, and systems administration.

The continued growth in the business process outsourcing (BPO) sector is also an indication that demand for IT professionals is increasing, said Ms. Duminy. The Business Processing Association of the Philippines expects to corner at least 10% of the global outsourcing and IT market by 2010.

She reminded students to improve on their craft and master at least three competency skills in IT. A student should avoid being a "jack of all trades, master of none."

"This profession entails continuous acquisition of new skills and learning. You have to work hard at it."

She noted that it is sometimes hard to screen fresh graduates applying for a job due to their similar backgrounds. But what makes one stand out from the others are training and skills they acquired in college, she said.

"It shows how diligent and dedicated a student is to the field. If he has undergone good skills training then it would be a plus Employers have their own set of expectations depending on what the business is all about, the goals, the competency requirements for the job, among others."

"Still, the minimum is passion. Pursue [things] you are good at. That should be accompanied with discipline, openness to learn, and good communication skills," she said.

Automated merchants

NEED A QUICK hot cup of coffee or snack to go? If there is one store that could satisfy such cravings minus the hassle of making your own, it would be the friendly vending machine.

Consumers’ benefits aside, the vending machine is an almost non-stop, labor-free retail business. All that is needed is an ideal location and the right combination of merchandise to get started.

A brief history

Vending machines date as far back as 215 B.C. when a holy water-dispensing device was identified in the temples of Egypt by Hero, an Alexandrian mathematician. Asia also had its vending machine prototypes: In China, for example, coin-operated pencil vendors had been recorded to have existed in 1076 B.C.

In the 1700’s, coin-operated tobacco sellers appeared in English taverns. Vending machines in the United States started in the late 1800s. In 1886, several patents for coin-operated dispensers were granted in the US, leading to the installation of Thomas Adams Company’s Tutti-Frutti machines on New York elevated train platforms in 1888.

Since then, more products were added to the shelves of vending machines. There were vending machines for stamps (circa 1905), commercial cigarette (1926), bottled soda machines (1930s), and even supposedly fresh foods like sandwiches and milkshakes (late 1950s). It has evolved to accommodate advances in technology, such as the addition of bill acceptors, microwave-oven furnished machines, glass-front machines, and even credit card devices.

In the Philippines, vending machines started in the 1960s with the introduction of automats or cafeterias where food was served from machines. It did not, however, proliferate until the 1970s as the coins back then were irregularly-shaped and could not fit into the coin slots of the imported vending machines.

Nevertheless, the creation of round coins marked the return of the vending machine business in the country, which was led by a Filipino entrepreneur who introduced gum-ball machines. Soft drink vending machines later proliferated. More recently, the introduction of bill-acceptors also led the way for more innovative vending machines in the country.

Vending categories

The National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA), a US-based trade association for vending machine business, defines four major categories in the industry. The most basic machines offer the so-called “4Cs” — an abbreviation for coffee, cup soda, candy, and cigarettes. From this basic definition emerge the four major categories:

“Full line” refers to operators selling food and refreshments other than the 4Cs, such as hot canned food, canned soda, refrigerated food, and the like.

“Specialty” is focused on one particular type of product. For example, OCS, or Office Coffee Service, provides equipment and kits that are all focused on coffee and coffee-related items. Bulk machines, a common sight in supermarkets, dispense unwrapped gums, candy, novelties, and the likes, which are a common sight in supermarkets.

“Music/game” refers to coin-operated amusement devices such as music machines and video games.

“Street” refers to the combination of specialty, full line, and music/games vending. It is more often used as a description of the place where the machines are installed; that is, public places such as restaurants, taverns, resorts, etc.

Vending in the Philippines

During its boom phase in the late 1990s, five players led the automated vending business: Sam’s Vendo Corp., Philippine Vending Corp., Vendo King, American Vending Machines Trading Systems, Inc., and Vending Specialists, Inc. These firms operate differently from one another. Sam’s Vendo, Vendo King, and American Vending sell the machines, while Philippine Vending operates automated machines instead of selling them and Vending Specialists is both into selling and operating bulk machines.

As of date, Philippine Vending Corporation is reportedly the leading player in the automated vending industry. Philippine Vending is the only full-line vending company that serves more than 100,000 consumers a day, operates more than 3,200 machines, and serves 600 establishments.

The company covers many regions in the country such as Central Luzon, National Capital Region (NCR), Southern Tagalog, and Cebu. Tri-East Philippines, Inc. is also an industry player involved in vending machine distribution.

Issues and prospects

There are several issues to note about this industry. For one, automated vending is a capital-intensive industry that exhibits economies of scale: that is, an entrepreneur can own and operate more than one or two machines to earn profit. This is the reason why Philippine Vending does not sell machines but rather operates them by itself. In 2000, Vending Specialists president Manuel E. Pangilinan said that this kind of business is all about numbers and building economies of scale.

Automated vending also has other advantages. Vending is an all-cash business; all sales transactions are in the form of cash and thereby provide liquidity. Vending machines, in general, also require low maintenance, and a prospective entrepreneur only needs to make sure that his installation location is vandal-free.

Vending machines also can work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week without the need to hire employees. Finally, minimal overhead costs allow the entrepreneur to sell the merchandise at competitive prices. (As a side note, vending machines can also serve as a channel for advertising. That is, a vending machine not only can dispense canned sodas but can also be a mini-billboard.)

Location is an important factor in this business. An entrepreneur should be able to find a feasible location for his machine to enjoy maximum profits. An area should have constant foot traffic, such as sidewalks or offices. It should also be safe from vandals. The most important consideration is that the machine should complement the market profile of the area. For instance, a coffee machine is best suitable in offices.

With the fast-paced lifestyle nowadays, more people find convenience in everything that is quick and almost hassle-free. As this kind of market profile grows, we can also expect automated merchants to expand further to cater to the demands of the fast-paced Filipino.

Comelec should review automation plans again

Before the Commission on Elections (Comelec) moves into the next stage of its mandate which is the process where candidacies are filed and accepted for posting on the electoral ballot for the 2010 elections, it must pause and seriously review how the automation of the election will proceed.

It is true that the Comelec has bidded out and chosen the supplier of equipment and the method of electronic counting. It is also true that the supplier has confidently said that all systems are go and the end result will be a smooth and timely counting of the votes that will result in definite nationwide election results within three to five days, or even earlier. It is also true that the Comelec official designated to explain the intricacies of the process including the software security, speedy counting and canvassing, has confidently said that there will be no problems that cannot be solved satisfactorily using the automation technology that the Comelec has selected. In other words, those credible, accurate and timely results will be the end product of full automation of the election process.

Yet knowledgeable and experienced computer and systems experts are not so sure and in fact, are becoming increasingly nervous about the precipitate automation programmed for nationwide coverage. There has not been enough testing to remove the glitches that can occur in the upcoming Philippine elections which by themselves are a gargantuan, unique and consuming process. It must also be mentioned that the accompanying software is particularly worrisome at this point for the vagueness about its security, a suspect part because of the possibility of manipulation by those who would have ill intentions.

This unease on the part of experts may annoy the Comelec for revisiting what they feel they have moved forward from with the choice of the supplier and the method for automation. But complex Philippine electoral conditions are like nowhere else. The names on our ballots can get to the hundreds, the ballot paper itself will be 20 inches long, the inexperience of the ordinary voter in the non-traditional intricacies of choosing from so many names using special writing or marking implements, machines that will have to process long pieces of paper without jamming and other unknowns (for not having tested the machines extensively enough or given the voters the necessary trial exercises) are fraught with perils of glitches.

The cry and compulsion for modernization of our elections come from the delays in the results which allow for cheating. The cheating occurs far from the precinct level where the votes are cast, but in the distant realm of the canvassing. At this level, it is not penny ante dishonesty but wholesale manipulation of large sums. From past elections, the electorate knows that the cheating here can reverse the will of the electorate as evidenced by the discrepancy of results counted on the precinct level compared to the purported canvassing results. It has been pointed out time and time again to the Comelec that on the precinct level, there is little opportunity for cheating for the many witnesses present during the manual counting. The watchers of candidates, the voters of the precinct, the nongovernment organizations, the election watchdogs, the media, are all present in full force here during the tabulation. In such an open and witnessed manual counting which may take time, but not inordinately (not days but hours at most) cheating is quickly detected and sanctioned. It is true that precinct level cheating can occur in some places where warlords rule and the public is not allowed to witness the counting, but that becomes obvious and therefore discredited ab initio. Again, we reiterate as public opinion knows, it is in the canvassing where massive cheating takes place, with the large numbers that it deals with, enough to result in reversals of precinct level results. Here is where fail safe automation should be first used.

Thus, time and again knowledgeable quarters have requested the Comelec to go slower on the other stages of automation and concentrate first on the canvassing process. There may be some glitches which will have to be addressed there and then. But if that is the first and limited stage of initial automation, the Comelec and its suppliers can deal with it without having to address other glitches at other levels, a possibility that arises from automation of all stages of the electoral process. It need not be said that the security of the software for the canvassing must be above suspicion so that credible and acceptable results emerge. At this point it has to be proven to the public that it is so and identify to responsible quarters the people who will ensure its ultimate security, neutrality and credibility so that the public can be free from doubt. Responsibility must be pinpointed and accepted.

The latest group that has raised its voice to the Comelec to review the automation process and go less precipitately on the automation by modernizing solely the canvassing at first is the Former Senior Government Officials Association in a letter expressing their discomfort and worries about sudden, untested widespread automation. Comelec should take their stand seriously and dialogue with them for the purpose of addressing their concerns. While it is true that the election automation law authorizes the Comelec to fully automate the election process, Comelec must also seriously consider the provision in the law that mandates it to choose the “most appropriate” technology in the automation process. The gradual step-by-step way is again recommended by those who have the knowledge and experience as the least dangerous under the circumstances. Right now experts who know the requirements of Philippine elections (multiple names and choices, millions of inexperienced machine voters, underpowered precincts, inadequately trained and untested precinct level staff for automation, new and by far also inadequately tested machines) fear there are too many perils and occasions for glitches when automation is precipitately applied at all levels. Worst-case scenarios must always be taken seriously and analyzed closely to come up with solutions in instances of going into new territory. If automation is rashly put in place, worst-case scenarios can become realities which will mean errors, disorder, panic, chaos. No need to elaborate how this can spread to the entire system. Any and all of these can cause an anarchic situation that will lead to a worse, not a better way of running elections.

Comelec must listen once more to outside neutral experts. Since the machines have not as yet been delivered, it can still hold the order, perhaps for the next elections after extensive testing and training of the voters on their use, and meantime concentrate only on the canvassing of votes. For its own better management and confidence, it must study all the facts and adjust to them, accepting that those who wish to help, do so because all of us have a stake in the electoral process and would like it to be credible and efficient. We plead for Comelec to have an open mind and open itself to review its automation plans one more time.