Windows to Well-Being: Microsoft’s Tep Misa

Image representing Microsoft as depicted in Cr...

Image via CrunchBase

As one of 12 winners from among 70,000 employees worldwide, Stephen Thomas “Tep” Misa, Small & Mid-Market Solutions and Partners director for Microsoft Philippines, received the much-coveted Chairman’s Award, Circle of Excellence in 2006

His achievement is made more noteworthy by the fact that out of 230 Circle of Excellence Awardees, Bill Gates himself personally handpicks who gets the Chairman’s Awards. “We were just so blessed that the one chosen for Asia Pacific is, for the first time, a Filipino,” Tep relates. “We didn’t expect it. The nominations come from your peers. It’s not something that you gun for.”

Tep planned such innovative Microsoft Partner Programs as the sales-boosting “Kaakbay”, and “IT Ignite” which helped fire up international opportunities for local software houses.

The live awards ceremonies, held at the NBA Arena, were further enlivened by Tep’s far-from-understated demeanor. “The whole court was the stage, all the winners were in the middle,” he recounts. “When I was called we were shocked. I went to the very front, facing the arena that was full of people. The Philippine team was there. All the winners had a red jacket with a badge saying Circle of Excellence Awardee. But we also had a Philippine jacket. And every time we’d go to a global briefing we’d wear that jacket with our flag, Olympics-style. I took off the red jacket to reveal the Philippine jacket. The crowd burst into applause, even Steve Ballmerclapped. Then I threw the jacket to the team. All the other winners just went up to have their hands shaken. I was shouting Philippines! Philippines!”

Aside from work, accepting awards, and caring for his wife Hazel and twins Gio and Chili, Tep channels his boundless energy into triathlons, tennis, and playing keyboards for the Ligaya ng Panginoon Catholic Charismatic Community. “I have 5 mantras to sustain me,” states Tep. “I shall play, rest, work, learn and pray. If I’m a bit lacking in one, my life isn’t balanced. Not even the riches in the world will be enough to compensate for living and enjoying a well-balanced life.”

Cover of "The 7 Habits of Highly Effectiv...

Cover of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Tep feels fortunate to have found his mission in life back in 1998 while attending a course on The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He resolved to start making a positive difference in other people’s lives and is grateful that working for Microsoft allows him to do that. “The company encourages people like me to be the best that they can be, to give back to their community, help your country, your partners, big and small companies in big ways and small ways,” Tep affirms. “It may sound cliché but it’s hard to accomplish, to find time for your family, work and community, and time to train for physical fitness. But in the end it’s a very rewarding experience. I perform better at work because of sports. You are sharper, better as a human being, because you don’t win every time. Losing forces you to be humble and bounce back.” But the winner in him busts out when Tep waxes effusive about how he enjoys competing as part of the Alterra Men’s Health team. “Before we were nobodies,” he admits. “Then we started winning. So now people are watching us.”

At a dinner with Steve Ballmer, he asked Tep what he was most proud of for being at Microsoft. Tep replied that it’s not because he’s making good money, not because of the cool technology, but because the company allows him to help other people. “I’m surrounded by great, passionate, talented people who maybe have even more passion than I do,” Tep gushes. “Now the bar is higher. When our country succeeds, as an economy, as a Filipino people, so does Microsoft. We haven’t succeeded if our country has not succeeded.”

Two years ago, Tep decided to just go crazy. He realized how unhealthy he was when he saw an officemate, who weighed over 200 lbs, finish a triathlon. Coupled with the Lance Armstrong story of surviving cancer, this inspired him to do a 180 degree turn in his life in terms of health. He then started preparing for a triathlon, motivated by one major factor: three of Tep’s loved ones, two close friends and his mother-in-law, were all suffering from cancer. Tep thought how fortunate he was to be healthy and have the opportunity to live a good life and not waste it. So he vowed: “From here on, with every step, every swim stroke, every pedal, I’d pray to the Lord that my three loved ones would live one day longer. And that really inspired and motivated me. My two friends are still alive. Unfortunately my mother-in-law, who I love so much, passed away earlier this year.”

And although his wife is still a bit saddened by their loss, Tep has still started to prepare her to be a runner, cyclist and swimmer. “All your frustrations, take it out on the training,” he goads . “Make something positive out of something negative.” Tep hopes his kids eventually adopt his outlook on health as well. He’s already bought them bikes to start them off.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in Men’s Health Philippines, 2007

Man in a High Place: HP Philippines CEO Nilo Cruz

Nilo Cruz is a distinguished veteran of the wild world of high-tech mega-corporations. A loyal workhorse for IBM who then turned to running Compaq Philippines, a company he had driven to record growth just before its parent company was absorbed into the HP behemoth, Philippine IT pundits had speculated that Cruz’s chances of staying on top post-merge seemed remote, and so his ascension to HP Philippines chief was quite the stunner in an already surprise-filled saga.

Nilo took this all in his stride without missing a beat. “I never stopped looking back, but I kept on moving forward – so one step forward, two steps backward, review, learn, then move again,” is how he puts it.

It’s this continuous drive to improve himself as a boss that probably makes him such a good one. “You want to further grow, maybe there’s something different in the future,” he stresses. “So you want to prepare for it, but since you don’t know yet what’s coming, you just have to really try whatever you can. It may be products, services, competition, management, new approaches, challenges, whatever is new. If there’s any training in terms of management, I’d like to get it. If I can get hold of it, I will.”

Although most people would think that Nilo has climbed as high up the corporate ladder as one could possibly aspire to, he doesn’t believe in resting at the summit. He feels a responsibility to keep working to uplift the team he leads. “Never stop developing people because they’re the ones that will push you up, rather than pull you down. Aside from my family, they inspire me as well,” he acknowledges.

Nilo is the antithesis of the ivory tower CEO holed up his corner office. “I don’t really stay in my room so much. I’m a cubicle manager, I work with the staff, I share jokes with them, I share problems with them.  They know where I’m coming from. I can be nice but I can also be nasty. But of course, that’s the last thing I want to be.”

Absorbing, interpreting, and sharing knowledge is what seems to be key in the IT biz according to Nilo. “You get training from the companies you work with, you learn from other companies, from other countries. They also try to learn from us because we have a more challenging environment. So over the years I try to apply them. I watch the way the competition works, see how I can learn from their mistakes.”

Nilo was able to spin even the notorious Fiorina fiasco into more of a boon than a bane for HP, somewhat proving the old adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. “Since it didn’t affect our business here, which is my concern, I moved on. But it kept HP in the industry’s mind for a while. So every time I’d go to the doctor’s, or to cocktails and parties, people would come up to me and say that they’d read an article on what was happening at HP, and I’d tell them to check how HP stock moves. And the next day they’d see it go higher. So I’d say: ‘That’s what I’m monitoring more than what I see on CNN or in the press.’”

Nilo remains unruffled by the goings-on at the top ranks of HP headquarters and like all good mentors, is ready to pass on the baton when necessary. “Wherever I am I always try to develop someone who can replace me because I know I won’t be here forever,” he admits. “It’s nice to give back to the company the good graces that they have shared with me and not leave a vacuum. And in fairness to the people who have helped me meet my objectives, I want to make sure that they also look forward to getting a crack at my job. That’s one thing that I’m not going to be selfish about.”

Mr. Cruz’s commitment to HP, or any of his endeavors, really comes across in how he talks about himself and his company. But as the Filipino CEO of a foreign corporation, Nilo’s strongest allegiance is still to his country.

“First you have to remain focused, you have to play a role model, you have to learn how to be a bridge between the country and the regional headquarters,” he explains. “You have to represent your country well, both the business and human resources part.  You have to defend what you believe in, which is unique to thePhilippines.”

As head of the company, he has to make sure that he delivers the company objectives as regularly as possible, quite a challenge given our economic and political situation. But Nilo believes that we all need to rise to the challenge. He relates how at a speech he gave for a commencement exercise, he dared the students to stay here and make a difference. “That’s easier said than done, but you’ve got to make a decision. When you go abroad you either make it or don’t. And if you come back you’ve lost time, you’ve lost momentum.”

He encourages all Filipinos not to go for the easy dollar, to find simple contentment in those so-called greener pastures. “You can’t have it all. You have to accept that. But you can have something better, or something similar. Count your blessings, that’s what I always say,” he counsels.

Nilo hopes to stir the Filipino youth’s entrepreneurial spirit. “You can start small, from a thousand bucks,” he argues. “Those people who are big now, where did they start? They were working students! If you read their histories, they borrowed money to be able to start their businesses and look at them right now.  So if they were able to do it, what is the difference? What sacrifice did they do that our youths aren’t doing right now?”

Nilo singles out for admiration those people who he finds “more balanced”, who spend their time trying to help the country while running good businesses and practicing good governance and social responsibility at the same time.  He wants to challenge more organizations to espouse love of country. “Rather than loving one’s club, region or family, I want it love for the Philippines.  I still have to see – not tourism ads – but messages of loving the country, of pursuing what Rizal died for, or Bonifacio, or the rest that followed.”

However, Nilo also does have a more down-to-earth and not-so-secret pipe dream for himself beyond the business world.

“I’ve been sharing with my friends that one day I’d want to have a farm. I have a green thumb and I like doing gardens.  But I’m only limited to my house garden now.”

So it may not actually be too out of the ordinary to see this CEO trade in his business suit and PDA for a rake and shovel. “They say my skin color’s like this not because of golf. I got burnt in the field.  It’s a joke but it’s true.”

-text by Jude Defensor, first published in Manual magazine, 2006

Wi-Fi Bai! Cebu Gets Hot, Wirelessly.

Political map of Metro Cebu

Political map of Metro Cebu (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dominion Wireless Broadband Access may be the best Philippine broadband provider that you have yet to hear about (if you live in Luzon that is). Based in Cebu, and as of the writing of this feature, still unaffiliated with any of the major manila-based telco or media conglomerates, this lean and spunky outfit may just be able to teach the big boys a thing or two, and if all goes to plan, have them heading for the hills. You can count on the Cebuanos to come up with the magical equation of better service + cheaper rates + seamless wireless = broadband domination.

Dominion’s ultimate goal is to make the entire Metro Cebu area a hot zone. Their venture will be the first in Southeast Asia in terms of metro-scale wireless broadband deployment.

Uptown Cebu City has been their starting point. Dominion launched Cebu’s first wireless-fidelity (wi-fi) zone or “hot zone” at the Mango Square Mall last year. To clarify, a hot zone is not the same as a hot spot. While a hot spot covers an area good for one household, office, or establishment, a hot zone can cover an entire neighborhood. Dominion has mounted only a single antenna on the roof of the Mango Square Mall. Powered by Wi-Max, this transmitter is enough to provide wireless internet access throughout the entire mall, even extending out onto adjacent streets and buildings. Dominion has currently set-up additional hot zones at Cebu’s Capitol Site, Fuente Osmeña, and Banilad Town Center. The rest of the metropolis is soon to follow. “We are now in the final stage of energizing our Network Operations Center (NOC). Once the NOC is up and running, the roll-out shall commence and the delivery of quality service we have committed will be maintained,” adds Dominion general manager Edwin Sanchez.

A member of the Nozomi Group of Companies, a subsidiary of ASA Enterprises, founded  by a group of Cebuano Filipino-Chinese businessmen, with the help of some Manila-based tech people from Protocol Century Inc and American hardware suppliers Tropos Networks and Aperto Networks Inc., Dominion aims to launch a surgical strike into the heart of the broadband market.

Wi-Fi Signal logo

Wi-Fi Signal logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And they’ve got big guns and deep pockets backing them up. Their partners include such household names as IBM, Lenovo, and Motorola. Add to that list Tropos Networks, the proven market leader in delivering metro-scale Wi-Fi mesh network products and services, and Aperto Networks, who develops and delivers the world’s most advanced WiMAX broadband wireless products for service providers. Already there are rumblings about even bigger names jumping onto the Dominion bandwagon.

Aside from gumption, the Dominion boys and girls have got enthusiasm to burn. For their demo spiel, they showed off video streaming from the powerful wireless cameras they had installed around Cebu. Able to rotate in any direction and zoom in on far-away details, we remotely checked in on their servers and technicians from across the street, and even snuck looks at sunbathers from a block away, all in real time! These cameras highlight just how versatile and effective (and fun even) a city-wide wireless network can be, if coupled with the right technology. As an example of this, to aid the Philippine National Police in rapidly responding to disturbances duringCebu’s famous Sinulog Grand Parade, Dominion Wireless deployed wireless security cameras along strategic areas of the Sinulog route. The policemen were so impressed by the technology, they almost didn’t want to return the equipment, and Cebu City Mayor Tommy Osmena has begun seriously considering installing a wireless surveillance system throughout the city. For another demonstration that would do the W?BIC! extreme techies at m-ph HQ proud, we had a picture taken of their wi-fi enabled PDAs displaying the wirelessly transmitted image of me taking a picture of them showing their wi-fi enabled PDAs displaying me taking a picture of them… and so on and so forth like a hall of wi-fi enabled mirrors.

As befits the young Cebuano Turks that they are, their marketing campaigns have been guerilla and unconventional. They distributed plastic streamers to all the establishments within their hot zones. Even sari-sari stores and carinderias have been very enthusiastic about hanging them up, and making their humble businesses look hi-tech without having to install a single gadget. Then they’ve been giving away free prepaid cards to anyone who’s interested. Although, as with other wi-fi providers, they still have a bit of a problem regarding properly educating the participating establishments as to how wi-fi really works and how to deal with customers who ask about it or encounter problems connecting. And of course they also have to deal with their fair share of nay-sayers and pessimists.

Aggressively competing on the two fields where some other broadband providers have thoroughly dropped the ball: price and speed, Dominion is taking no prisoners with their Cebu roll-out. They’re offering a 384 kpbs connection for only 889 pesos per month, 512 kbps for P1,499, and a blazing 768 kbps for P1,999, significantly cheaper and faster than their closest competition. That’s more than enough to get some people to seriously consider moving to Cebu! But hold your horses! Fortunately for us poor overcharged underserved denizens of Luzon, Dominion plans to eventually move up to Metro Manila and start showing the over-complacent broadband providers here how it should be done. For quite some time now, numerous corporations have been testing or soft-launching their products and services in Cebu first, then when they get it right there, that’s when they decide to make a splash in Manila. The success rate of products that do well in Cebu when transplanted to Manila is virtually 100%, and Dominion hopes to be no exception.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in m|ph magazine, 2006

It Pays To Play (online gaming with Level Up! & Ragnarok)

How do you sell a service that basically asks its customers to spend their time and money in exchange for something completely intangible? Although paying for our entertainment is far from a new concept, online gaming takes the business of pleasure to a whole new level. It’s up-to-the-minute by-the-minute fun, thrills by the byte load. It’s this steady stream of gratification that can make addicted subscribers of the unwary, and earn big money for the savvy.

Official Ragnarok Online Icon

Official Ragnarok Online Icon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Level Up!’s popular online game Ragnarok was the local industry’s first killer app. Amassing four million registered users and counting over the past three years. Main man Ben Colayco shares with us some insights as to what it takes to score in the gaming biz.

“In online gaming, 60-70% of the business is content,” states Ben. “Ok content can do great because of marketing. Great content can do terribly if you don’t market it properly. But crappy content never gets a market. So it all comes down to quality and if the local market really likes what you’re offering.”

In Ragnarok’s case, Level Up! exploited the popularity of anime to draw interest to their product. Then they priced their service well within the range of their target market, and made payment accessible and non-intimidating through the prepaid card scheme. Ragnarok established a foothold and gained ground quickly because of the ease of entry it offered. All this sounds logical in retrospect, but it was a groundbreaking paradigm at the time. “When we started the company four years ago, I knew that the only way to make money from video games legitimately was to make them affordable. Everybody thought we were crazy to give away CDs for free. But even piracy helped spread the word about our product,” Ben reveals.

Once the customers have fallen for the bait, the next challenge is to get them to keep coming back for more. “The experience should be so compelling that it makes you give up spending time doing other things. Then you should keep developing new content, new experiences for your subscribers. Tempt them with things they haven’t seen before so that they give you another chance” Ben advises. “We don’t just look at blockbusters, but for gems nobody has even heard of yet. We don’t rely on hype, but we look at the context of the local market.”

Because of Level Up!’s success, the Philippines is actually giving tech expertise to other countries as opposed to the other way around. The growth potential for online gaming in developing markets like the Philippines, India, and Brazil, all countries where Level Up! operates, is huge. Ben believes that online games have greatly improved and helped the growth of broadband infrastructure here and elsewhere. And they’re very optimistic about the expansion and evolution of their company’s services. There are plans to tap into the high-end hardcore market, in addition to their “pang-masa” products like Ragnarok, and their latest offering, Freestyle, an online street basketball game.

With Freestyle, Level Up hopes to dominate the online casual game market, targeting not just those who are into computer games, but the much larger market of basketball fans in this country where the sport is a significant part of popular culture. As Ben has pointed out, this is another example of knowing your market and tailoring your content to fit the context. “Filipinos like to play with Filipinos. And even if we Filipinos speak English and the games are in English, everyone speaks Tagalog when they start chatting.”

At the Freestyle launch, Ben realized that online gaming has started to gear up for more mainstream acceptance. “For the first time here, we had sportswriters covering the launch of a computer game. It really felt like we’re crossing over. And I believe that in a few years online gaming will be a legitimate sport. Today all teenagers play games, whether they’re into sports or science. And eventually, so will everybody”

– text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in Manual magazine, 2006

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The Hot Spot – keeping connected in Boracay

Boracay is as close to a compleat paradise as we can get to without flashing our passports. It’s got everything: white sand beaches, warm sunshine, wild parties, and most importantly, what we techies want – wi-fi! The Hot Spot has hotspots! Yes, there’s yet another reason to brave the planes, boats, and crowds just to scope out our sweet little corner of wireless broadband bliss. After all, just because you’re on vacation doesn’t mean you have to take a break from the net. On the contrary, it’s a really triumphant W?BIC! (Why? Because I Can!) moment to be able to wirelessly surf the web while the sea breeze blows over your face and the waves lap at your feet (and hopefully not at your laptop!).

Over the long weekend we stayed at the idyllic Boracay Terraces Resort, right at the very end of White Beach. Beyond the other things to recommend about the resort, like the huge, lavishly appointed rooms, and in-house spa service, is the fact that they’ve got a really strong and steady wi-fi signal that was a cinch to connect to, and consistently speedy. In fact, some of the resorts in the relatively posh-er Boat Station 1 area seem to be set-up for the requirements of the discriminating jet-set who can’t go half a day without checking their e-mail or see how their stocks are doing. You can walk across most of this stretch without missing a byte, perfect if you need to shanghai some wi-fi! Towards the busier Boat Station 2 area, where the most popular party places are located, wi-fi gets spottier, harder to sniff out, and less liberally shared. There’s supposed to be an unsecured connection throughout the area provided by Globe, but it didn’t seem to work when I tried it. Some places require you to ask for a key from the manager or owner. Boat Station 3 is backpacker central, and as expected, features a respectable sprinkling of hotspots. Basically, for it’s size, Boracay may just be one of the country’s most wired (and wireless) islands, you needn’t stray far to stumble onto a signal somewhere, or in a pinch, you can always jack in at a cafe.

Even when on vacation, easy connectivity can actually become more of a necessity than a luxury when emergencies strike. And in our case, it was a State of Emergency! Through the chaos, the ability to check the latest news reports and keep in touch with friends and family kept this crazy weekend from spiraling out of control.

It’s all in the bags

Packing and preparation is half the fun of traveling, at least I’ve always thought. But bringing your delicate high-tech gadgets with you for an island getaway poses a peculiar challenge. Although it may work for some people to just dump everything into a duffel bag, the prudent techie traveler prizes protection, organization, and security when bundling his gear. So the first order of business should actually be a thorough back up of all your crucial data, be they work documents, contact info, or downloaded porn. You’re never sure what disaster may strike while you’re out and about, and knowing that you’ve got back-up files safe at home can help salvage your trip just in case the worst happens.

Once you’ve banked your software, time to think of bagging your hardware. The heavy black leather-laden bags your laptop probably came with just won’t do. You’ve got to shop around for a lightweight, padded, more casual-looking carrier, one that won’t look out of place on the beach, and maybe with some room for sunscreen or a racy novel. Top-dollar brands like Crumpler and Targus all feature a range of hip gadget-friendly bags, but the budget conscious can get away with any well-constructed messenger bag or backpack plus a little ingenuity. If you’re going the cheapo route, just make sure that your gear carrier has its straps, handles, zips, and clasps securely stitched and fastened, and that the material is of a decent thickness and quality. Bags constructed with waterproof fabric or lining is ideal, padding is a plus. For that added layer of armor, and a nifty way to keep things neat and tidy, go pick up a pack of resealable zip-loc bags. The sandwich-sized ones work well for small gadgets like cellphones, PDAs, MP3 players, digicams and their chargers, the roast-chicken-sized ones are good for power bricks and even small notebooks. For larger gear, garbage bags may do the trick. One bag for each gadget makes them easy to discern when rifling through your stuff, and keeps cables separate and tangle-free. That humble plastic bag could be what provides the precious few seconds before corrosive salt water gets into your gadgets’ circuits as you fish them out from the sea right after you stumble off the boat.

Next, if you don’t have one yet, invest in a lockable security cable for your laptop for the times when you have to leave it behind in your room. Try to figure out a thief-proof way to secure it to something large and hefty, looped around the bed’s headboard and legs works well, and don’t forget not to leave the key lying around !

When on vacation, it’s best to charge as often as you can, since you’re never sure what gimmick or sidetrip might crop up to prevent you from powering up, or you may need to make an urgent phone call or trip research session that may sap your batteries

Hands in your pockets

As a traveler, you’ve got to keep your hands free. It would be rather tiresome to be continuously clutching your phone or camera in either hand when they’re not in use. But if you think it’s just too dorky-touristy to carry your camera, phone, or PDA around on your neck or waist, then you have to invest in clothing with pockets. A gadget vest would be the next less dorky-touristy thing, but considering the heat and the not-too-cool fashion statement you’ll be making, this option is reserved for those guys who can keep from sweating and can pack some serious swagger. So that leaves us mortals with cargo shorts, trunks, or board shorts. Past color, style, and size, pocket quality is another feature you now have to consider. Check for pockets lined with dense fabric and not hole-prone mesh or net-like material. Those that you can zip or Velcro closed are preferred. And of course, your gear has to fit in them. Just using common sense, never let your gadgets out of your sight. Friendly local boatmen or guides may offer to hold your gear or take your pics for you, and although I’m sure that most of them may be honest folk, just be wary of the exceptions who may not be! Executing a regular pocket-pat-down maneuver to check on your gadgets is not a bad little habit either.

Unwire and Unwind

With all these things in mind, don’t forget to actually go have some fun! Let loose, lie down, go wild. Decompress and disconnect yourself from technology for some time. Doing this will make you appreciate it all the more when you plug back in. Anyway, you can always send an SMS when you feel the tech-withdrawal symptoms coming on.

-text and photos by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in m|ph magazine, 2006

Tech and Taste (coffee and wi-fi at Segafredo)

As wireless infrastructure crawls toward critical mass, m-ph plays critic to the front lines of this revolutionary rollout – the café with hotspot. Dodging biscotti and cappuccino froth may be a thankless assignment, but that’s what we’re prepared to risk to find a patch of wi-fi bliss.

Connectivity is the new caffeine. Having a direct link to a world’s worth of borderline useful information, fairly amusing artwork, and semi-coherent ramblings sounds like the perfect perker-upper partner to the venerable bean brew for us plugged-in pod people. Eyes on the LCD and thumbs on the touchpad has begun to supplant idle chatter and huddled brainstorming as the café pose of the new era. But until that blessed day when those artificially intelligent robots evolve to the point where they finally realize the vast benefits to be reaped from hooking us all up permanently to IV drips and VR feeds, we’ve still got to deal with deciding for ourselves where to go and what to order. Bummer, isn’t it? Nevertheless, even the most reclusive hermit with the brawniest rig and the zippiest connection can be smoked out by waving a wi-fi voucher under his nose, yummy cooking aromas optional.

Background on the Brew

@Segafredo

@Segafredo (Photo credit: jetalone)

Segafredo Zanetti coffee, one of the world’s top espresso brands, was introduced to the Philippines by Liberty Ventures, Inc., a subsidiary of the company behind supermarket staples Gold Medal flour, Maya hotcake and cake mixes, and imported Betty Crocker mixes

Segafredo brings with it the history of an entire family, the Zanettis. Think the Godfather with beans instead of bullets. The Zanetti patriarch and his son got things rolling by first trading in green coffee in Italy, followed by the grandson who started his first coffee roasting company 35 years ago. The Zanettis have now gone on to putting up cafés all over the world.

Segafredo Zanetti is the only coffee company in the world with fully integrated operations. They have plantations in Brazil, roasting plants in Austria, the Netherlands, Germany and France, and a state-of-the-art coffeemaker factory in Italy. This allows them to take total control of every element, from the bean to the coffeemaker to the ultimate product – that perfect cup of coffee. In some circles, Segafredo is to espresso as iPods are to digital music players. Segafredo cafes have become an integral part of the nightlife of such hip and diverse hotspots as Miami and Cairo, and command central for coffee-holics looking for that distinct European cafe society flavor.

In a market used to the American way of coffee-making and almost saturated by America-based coffee chains, Segafredo intends to educate the Filipino in Europe’s espresso tradition. The café also serves a variety of authentic Italian and fusion cuisine, from panini, sandwiches, fresh salads, appetizers, soups, pastas, and entrees to desserts. Most of their hot coffee can also be served as iced drinks, which can be either flavored with the syrup of your choice or doubled with two shots of espresso. They’re open Sundays to Thursdays from 11:00 am to 1:30 am, and 11:00 am to 2:30 am on Fridays and Saturdays.

Broadband and the Beast

We at m-ph were taken on the Espresso express by Segafredo Greenbelt’s very personable manager, Signor Joven Paulo Rodriguez. The interiors of grey and Ferrari red, designed by the firm of Lor Calma, could seem a little imposing for just a simple coffee-with-connection break, but you just gotta brush that microchip of your shoulder, slouch down, boot up, and soak in some dolce vita. The wireless broadband may allow you to go ahead and indulge your inner geek, but for Spock’s sake, dress up and disguise your outer slob! Even if you couldn’t care less about the scene, this is indubitably one of Greenbelt’s prime people-watching spots, so mind your mouth breathing. It may not exactly be the place for parking oneself and downloading the latest hot file on bit torrent, but they do get a lot of morning sip-and-surf-ers. In any case, downloading large files is probably not the best thing to do in this setting. The wi-fi connection was easy and quick to set up, and data flowed in and out a decent clip, yet there did seem to be a disturbance every few minutes or so when pages wouldn’t pop up or streams would stutter. Smooth surfing it is not, but it’ll do fine for casual browsing and e-mailing.

Anyway, whatever you’re wearing or waiting for, it helps to hang out with a hot machine at your fingertips. And for the purposes of our test run, the shiny blue Toshiba Satellite M50-P341 was smoking. For a multimedia monster, it’s lighter than it looks. Even its power brick is of a manageable heft. Fire it up and try to stop drooling over its marvelous Clear SuperView 14” wide screen, with its bright, rich colors, and deep contrast. The glossy, glassy surface is a glare and smudge magnet though. Building on the sexy tactile experience, your fingers glide with just the right smidgen of friction over the nicely textured touchpad. Performance-wise this Tosh was snappy and responsive. However, the location of its wi-fi switch may not be too obvious unless you read the manual. We’re admitting that had us stumped for a minute. The paradox of the local wi-fi scene is that there seems to be no middle ground for pricing the service. You go straight from free to expensive, and that there’s the story of the Globe Wiz service in a nutshell. I hope whoever decides on these pricing schemes soon realizes that 100 pesos for an hour of patchy connectivity just doesn’t seem like a good deal anymore.

So far, the Segafredo staff seemed prepared to accommodate our wi-fi hunger. They’re perfectly amenable to refunding your wi-fi voucher following any complaints about sucky or dropped connections. And they have a line to Globe Wiz and aren’t afraid to use it. My previous experience with Globe Wiz was kind of bumpy and this outing was definitely an improvement.

Breakdown of the Basics

For a place that focuses on coffee, they definitely didn’t neglect the food side of the menu. Most of the items have been concocted and tested by the much-admired Maya kitchens (another institution affiliated with Liberty), although they did consult a Japanese chef to help create their fusion dishes. I only wish that they could have been somewhat more adventurous and liberal with their dessert choices. There’s only so much tiramisu and chocolate cake one can take, if you know what I mean. Although their versions certainly don’t disappoint, with a bit more of a kick than most knock-offs. All in all the cuisine was of excellent quality, still fresh and appetizing despite having cooled down a bit after the photo shoot. We started with a salad of mozzarella, basil, and tomatoes. The kitchen showed no scrimping on either the cheese or the pesto. This simple appetizer could actually have been a meal in itself. For pasta we tried their Arrabiatta Penne which was appropriately zesty, rich and filling. Our main course was their Shrimp Dorja, a succulent shrimp dish topping flavorful rice, with just the right sprinkling of spices to keep the tongue interested. Their mushroom pizza stayed crusty and tasty, successfully having fought the brave fight against sogginess while sitting under our photographer’s lights.

The much vaunted Segafredo coffee lived up to their hype and our expectations, richer, with subtler notes, and less bitter than those ubiquitous brews from Washington State. To my palate, the simplest pseudoscientific proof is in the fact that you need only one packet of sugar to sufficiently sweeten a cup. Segafredo’s radical coffee machines rely more on pressure than heat to extract all that potent goodness from the brown bean, thus preserving more flavor. As for price, Segafredo appears closer to the affordable side of Greenbelt’s spectrum.

If the Italians were to design an OS, they’d probably use one of their cafés as a metaphor for the GUI. As long as things run as sleekly and swiftly as one of their sports cars, I could live with that for sure. I hope our future robot masters pick up some pointers from Segafredo. Come to think of it, that high-tech coffeemaker gurgling on their counter would probably make for a pretty benevolent overlord.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in m|ph magazine, 2006

Let It Rip

Compact Disc Logo

Any audiophile will tell you that original audio CDs will always sound better than compressed music. And yet the proliferation of digital music players requires us to sacrifice quality for convenience. However, there are ways to squeeze out every last bit of fidelity from your music in the transition from disc to file.

You don’t need to have a golden ear to appreciate the difference between a badly ripped, poorly encoded file from one that was more carefully produced. For the best possible results, you don’t even need expensive or bloated software, just a few well-honed, lean and mean freeware tools. CD Ripping might be one of the more common tasks performed on PCs these days, but not everyone may be aware that not all CD rippers are created equal. At the very least, you should make sure that the program you are using has some form of error correction to prevent unwanted skips or pops.

Exact Audio Copy Icon

Exact Audio Copy Icon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Exact Audio Copy  or EAC (www.exactaudiocopy.org) is widely recognized as one of the best audio extraction programs. Using an advanced reading technique called secure mode, EAC is able to recover audio data that other programs may discard.

The popular CDex (cdexos.sourceforge.net) also has a Paranoia mode that adds an extra level of error checking to compensate for defects on the CD.

And for iPod users, Apple’s inimitable  iTunes (http://www.apple.com/itunes) also has an error correction mode for importing CD audio tracks.

Vorbis Logo

Vorbis Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For convenience, you should generally rip to the format which most of your devices can play. But while MP3 may be the undisputed leader in terms of compatibility, it definitely lags behind in quality and compressibility. More advanced codecs like Apple’s AAC (the preferred format for iPods and the iTunes music store), Microsoft’s WMA (integrated with Windows Media Player and a wide range of products and services) and the open source Ogg Vorbis (gaining ground among more manufacturers like iRiver, Rio, and Neuros) all offer better-sounding music at smaller file sizes. Aside from ripping to uncompressed WAV files, you can install plug-ins into both EAC and CDex that enable them to encode directly into either MP3 and Ogg Vorbis among other formats. Naturally, Windows Media Player defaults to WMA, while iTunes encourages using AAC.

FLAC logo

FLAC logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For music archiving, you may also consider using a lossless codec that doesn’t toss out any audio data, such as FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec, or Monkey’s Audio). While these codecs work on fewer portable players, they do shrink files up to 4 times smaller with absolutely no quality loss, and you can easily play them on your PC or media center. Both AAC and WMA also have their respective lossless flavors.

But if you want to stick to good old MP3, then you really need to use the LAME encoder to get the best results. LAME properly supports VBR (Variable Bit Rate) encoding, and is constantly under development by dedicated audiophiles.

As to what bit rate one should rip to, higher is indisputably better, but your mileage may vary. For MP3, 128 kbps has long been used as a standard, but you really need to use at least 192 kbps to avoid getting nasty-sounding artifacts. Over 256 kbps, and any improvement in quality is negligible. Using a more advanced codec, you can go as low as 64 kbps and still get acceptable results, although 192 kbps will sound like CD quality for most people.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in PC Mag Philippines, 2005. 

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