Disc-o-vering Jay: Odyssey’s Jay Fonacier

Local music retailing store stalwart Odyssey’s top guy Jay Fonacier shares his spin on life in the biz of trading tunes

On Work:

I juggle twenty things in a day, It’s my personality and also my skill, I wouldn’t be happy just doing one thing. I’m way too hands on. In fact I wish I were doing some work right now.

On Music:

I’m a real music guy, growing up I used to spend my entire allowance on records. The love of music keeps me going because retail is really challenging. You have to get fulfilment from hearing about new bands, going to concerts, and seeing hit artists fly off the shelves.

On the Digital Future:

Being a child of the 1980s I’m not totally digital yet, CDs are still my favored medium, But I have a kick-ass vinyl collection and I still have the mix tapes I made for high school girlfriends.

Besides piracy, our greatest challenge these days comes from digital downloads. We try to make the store and the products more attractive so people keep coming in. But I’ve been spending a lot of my time preparing for a digital future. We’re putting up our own download site and introducing these interactive digital kiosks into our stores. Now you can listen to an unlimited amount of music before you buy. It’s the start of an evolution to an age where everything’s more digital.

I look forward to a future where a customer would come in and he could browse through the whole catalog, choose whatever he wants, and we produce the CD for him. Since it’s all bits and bytes, it really does away with our problems regarding inventory. We could have a fantastic store where we just beam music into your portable music device.

Worst case: Nobody buys physical product anymore and they’re all downloading it for free. Nobody pays for anything digital

Best case: We’ll be there with the most popular format that the market consumes music and media in the future

On Piracy:

I think that the pirates have a pretty comprehensive offering. They’re quite creative and resourceful, I have to give them that. They have a good idea, it’s convenient. But we want to improve upon that, to offer something that’s more exciting, but legal. As the Philippine economy progresses, there should be less tolerance for piracy.

If I had my way I’d crush them under a steamroller with me driving while wearing a hardhat. They’re freaking playing dirty. I’d bury them under all the fake CDs they’ve produced. Or I’d force them to listen to really bad 1980s heavy metal, hairspray American guitar rock like Poison and Nelson.

On the Music Business:

The market is really primarily a hot hits market, it’s not very deep or into multiple genres. There are times when we tried all these titles, but they wouldn’t sell. We really have to focus on our high inventory, high turnover popular products.

A major record label may have a total of around 20 new releases out in a month, but they’ll only let 3 or 4 trickle down to the Philippine market, the rest will never hit our shores because of shipment issues. I’d like it to be more like the book industry where you can release a greater variety of material and see what really catches on. The bottleneck is the distribution policy of the major labels. Being able to release more product for the ears is what I’d really like to change.

We don’t have many niche radio stations. With the internet hopefully more people get to hear more kinds of music and the labels will be ok with trying out more vanguard, exotic titles and categories, and there’d be more radio stations for the independent listener. Hopefully they make it easy for us retailers to show them this variety. We’re only reacting to their policy that we have to keep it mainstream.

I’m happy with how some of these local indie record labels have been coming up. People have been asking after them. We want more bands of that ilk to succeed.

When there’s a certain title we really want to push, we’ll rack it out and make sure that even a blind person won’t be able to not check it out. Sometimes we’ve been successful.

You gotta support local artists. There’s this whole OPM resurgence. People think that these corporate juggernauts make so much money but that’s not really true. These guys take a lot of risks, I respect what they do. They take a bet on twenty artists and only a couple will bear fruit. Digital sort of takes out the risk in that. It’s important to show bands our support through legal means, whether physical or digital. If you guys love your music you should take a stand. Keep the ecosystem going.

Profits aside, if I could go crazy I’d just stock the stores with so many genres. Let them be a place where anybody could come in, from the coolest Brit bands to all these Brazilian samba labels. I’ll just pack them in with everything, with something for everyone.

-interview by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in Manual magazine, 2007

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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

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

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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