Tuesday, September 21, 2010

2-cent's worth on Amazon's New Kindle wifi

Now that I have it in my hands, must say the Kindle [even the wifi only version] is really a great device, and, considering the price, a really good buy.

Apart from being able to read e-books with ease [sans the usual headache and dry eyes I get from reading from glaring LCD screens], the experimental features are worth checking out. 

You can't read in the dark with it, but you also can't read plain paper books in the dark and maybe that's the whole point. Reading in the dark = LED lights = glare?

The web browser speed is fair. You can zoom a page up to 300 percent of size and adjust the orientation as it suits you [from portrait to landscape]. 

The new Text to speech program is a great feature. If you get tired of reading, you can basically make the Kindle read the text for you. Haven't tried how it will interpret Tagalog text. =) 

I am looking forward to the software update that will enable the built-in microphone. Will they allow us to take dictations or record interviews on the Kindle by then?

With so many free Philippine history sources from manybooks.net, can't help but wish that this device was already available as I was doing my theses! Used to spend hours inside the UP library poring over heavy tomes of Blair and Robertson. Now they are all available for download.

Of course manybooks.net and Gutenberg press already made them available for downloads many years ago. However, reading books from a computer screen can be so tiring to the eyes. And printing the pages can be so costly. Reading on the Kindle though, feels like you're reading the actual physical book. It has the added advantage of allowing you to resize text, depending on how good or bad your eyesight is.

Friday, August 6, 2010

P-Noy's measly paycheck, brain drain, and why corruption persists

The other day, the dailies reported that Pres. Noynoy Aquino finally got his first paycheck -- amounting to an unimpressive P63,002.17 net of taxes.

Some people seemed to appreciate this and even use this as a way to shame executives in GOCCs who have been vilified for the many perks they receive. 

I am not saying I support the salaries and perks that many GOCC executives have rewarded themselves with.

But it got me thinking. After all, in an ideal world, salaries should be reflective of depth of responsibility, skills and performance.

The country's president, you might say, is like the CEO of the biggest corporation in these 7,100 islands. He is responsible for a budget of over P1 trillion annually. He is supposed to creatively use that budget to stimulate economic activity nationwide so that within these borders, around P9 trillion worth of products will be produced annually.

His clients consist of over 80 million Filipinos (not sure of latest NSO data) and counting, many of whom think that it is part of his responsibilities to ensure that they eat daily, are able to send their kids to school, and lead healthy, happy lives. 

It's a daunting task. It's beyond 24/7. Surely, he deserves more than P63k a month. Your average restaurant manager will probably earn more.

Now there are those who believe that by working in government, one actually chooses to serve the public. Therefore, one should not expect to be paid well. 

Yes, public office is public service. To some extent, serving in government should indeed be dictated by a sense of altruism.

But we should not forget that government officials are also normal people with normal needs.

I'm quite sure that the President, being the scion of a well-to-do family, is not dependent on his salary as president alone. Many politicians are not. But many of our civil servants are dependent on their salaries. 

And many of them have rent or mortgages to pay, kids they need to send to feed and send to school, elderly parents who may need hospitalization from time to time.

Your sense of altruism can be sorely tested when you are unable to pay your electricity bills; and when you are confronted by material responsibilities to your own kin.

We are not even talking yet of what you must feel when your college pal shows you his nice new Fortuner and his equally flashy iPad.

If the president receives only P63k, net of taxes, every month, what could his underlings earn? 

How much will the cabinet secretary earn? Down the line, how much will the teacher, the geologist, and the ordinary soldier earn?

Former Civil Service Commission chair Karina David used to emphasize the "accordion effect" of setting the president's salary too low. By doing this when they enacted the salary standardization law, Congress effectively reduced the potential salaries of all other officials in government. [The GOCCs and other favored agencies are another matter.]

The way things are going, many good and decent civil servants only use government as a spring board for more lucrative positions later in life in the private sector. That is what happened to the meteorologists and the geologists who left PAGASA and the MGB.

Geologists in private companies could earn as much as P150,000 a month compared to P25,000 in government. It's not surprising then that the MGB has already lost 83 geologists since 2006. Would you blame them for seeking greener pastures?

Then there are those who take advantage of the other "perks" of public office. The ability to say "yes" and "no" can be a very expensive commodity. The price of a signature quickly increases depending on what's at stake.

Temptations can be very difficult to refuse, particularly if one has very little to loose anyway.

Previous studies on corruption and why it persists have stressed time and again the following imperatives to curbing corruption in government: (1) reduce the opportunities for corruption [by reducing red tape]; (2) higher probability of being caught [lifestyle checks, etc.]; (3) improve salaries.

You would think twice of committing a corrupt act if you know that there is a high likelihood that you might get caught and you have too much to loose, such as a steady source of respectable income.

I'm not saying P-Noy's salary should therefore be the same as that of Manny Pangilinan, and the salaries of cabinet officials same as that of executives at San Miguel Corporation. We cannot afford that as a people. Even President Obama does not earn as much as Wall Street moguls do.

Public office is still public service. Serving in government should still be attended by a sense of altruism. But we should pay our public servants enough to enable them to lead respectable lives.

Many of them deserve it. 

Monday, October 26, 2009

Can technology save us from disasters?

Three years ago, I sent this email to the only email address I saw posted in the website of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration, the institution better known to the public by its acronym, Pagasa.

I might as well have sent the message to the void as I never received any response. (The email under the contact us page of the Pagasa website has since been changed.)

I thought about this email while participating in last night's ANC forum, Wired for Disasters.

The Pagasa has been saying that the reason they cannot predict weather patterns, particularly rainfall, accurately is because they lack the necessary equipment. But I am beginning to think it is not just that.

There are available technology waiting to be exploited. All you need are people willing and able to use it to the best advantage.

As a regular visitor of the Pagasa website, I am often dismayed at the fact that it is severely outdated. It is a static website that simply does not suit the needs of an agency whose function is supposedly to provide the public with real time information as well as forecasts about the weather.

The Pagasa does not even email their advisories regularly. Following Ondoy and Pepeng, I checked my email for anything coming in through the ABS-CBN Newsdesk egroup from Pagasa. It's a big NADA.

Our staff at News.com was later told by the Pagasa staff that they email their advisories to the NDCC and let NDCC make the announcements. Duh!

Of late, I noticed a slight change, with the posting of this announcement:

SMART subscribers can now receive announcements and advisories thru SMS
More details

Needless to say, I immediately subscribed. Well, it has been a week since. The Pagasa has made a number of announcements about weather disturbances. But no text yet coming in through this service.

Anyway, here is my three year old email.

Date: Wed, Aug 8, 2007 at 8:18 AM
Subject: how about offering rss and weather update email subscriptions from your website?
To: natcruz@pagasa.dost.gov.ph


I frequently visit the PAG-ASA website whenever there is news of a storm just to check on the weather status. I hope you don't mind me sending you this unsolicited advice.

What I noticed for sometime is that your website does not offer any email or rss (site feeds) service. This actually surprised me as I believe this is a must for websites nowadays and more so for a website that provides weather information. With so many websites to visit out there, people just don't have the time to go visiting so many websites only to find there's nothing new there. RSS and email updates are a convenient way of informing people (at low cost) that new information has been posted on the site. (You have to post the content online anyway.)

This will tremendously increase your ability to disseminate information about the weather as it will also enable most news websites and blogs whose content management systems are able to parse rss content to easily display updated information from PAG-ASA on their site.

Weather systems are very volatile and change constantly. This is why it is critical for your website to offer services that allow people to subscribe to updated information without needing to visit your site. This makes RSS and mailing lists a must for a website concerning weather.

Speaking from the point of view of one who started a website for an independent news organization which has very limited resources, I can also tell you that this service need not be costly at all. (Most content management systems have this feature and, if yours don't, then it is probably totally outdated.)

A mailing list service can be done easily through Yahoo! Groups. And it need not be very labor intensive. You only have to copy and paste information posted on your website to the message to be posted on Yahoo! groups.

I hope this small suggestion from a concerned citizen who value the service your organization provides will be taken well.

Thank you very much.