Wired! Philippines Leo Magno: In the Middle of Cyberspace

by smbea <mabelle@msc.net.ph>

Leo Magno has been writing about computers and IT-related stuff since getting out of university in 1992. He's currently the Assistant Editor of the Infotech and Science/Health sections of the Philippine Daily Inquirer , one of the Philippines' leading national broad sheets. He's done everything from attending international IT conventions to rubbing elbows with the bigwigs in cyberspace to sitting right next to Bill Gates. Below is WIRED! Philippines' e-mail interview with one of the country's prominent netizen.

How long have you been on the Internet?

January 1995. The Philippines literally "got hooked" unto the Net sometime in March 1994, but I wasn't able to get there myself till I was taken in by the Inquirer on December 1994...was convincing everyone in PDI to finally check it out also, with me as a guinea pig, but they said no even though IPhil was offering a free trial account. You know how it is with resistance to the adoption of new technologies...

To cut a long story short, I invested in my own modem (P10,000 for a stupid 28.8) and got the account from IPhil. I became my own guinea pig, albeit a good-looking one...hehehehe. And about a month or two later after watching me surf, the Inquirer realized the potential of the net and started getting onto it themselves.

Just how "deep" into cyberspace are you? (i.e. certified net addict, close to being a net guru, net guru, the-I-can't-live-if-my-modem's-off, etc.)

I would call Jim Ayson a net guru, Shery, and I am far from an Ayson. A lot of people think I'm this geek who can't live without a PC, a modem and a phone line. People who know me think I would be worse off if I were to live without brewsky.

I am more interested with industry movements...trying to plot waves of change in the technology industry, and i tell you these happen a lot. When companies start merging or when Bill Gates starts buying this company or other, it's interesting to plot these changes. Andy Grove calls them strategic inflection points. Larry Ellison calls them paradigm shifts. Whatever they are, these are industry movements and issues I want to impart to the Inquirer's readers because they might end up changing the whole IT landscape.

So when you ask me how "deep" I am into cyberspace, I guess the best answer would be no, I am not a geek, I would consider myself a propeller head. A propeller head is sort of like a geek, but the big difference is that a geek doesn't have a date on Friday nights. He stays at home or at the office fingering his keyboard on a weekend...

When you get online, what do you mostly like to do?

 Eat. And eat. Then sometimes I also work....

 Finger foods in front of your 'puter?

Mostly your typical fast food treats -- hamburgers, pizza, fried chicken, inihaw na bayawak....and of course tons of tissue paper. Consequently I also have to have my keyboard replaced every now and then...


Yes, of course.


Nope, I haven't been to chat rooms for a while...kinda gotten tired of it. You would, too, if you used to do it about 10 hours a day for about a year or so...


I love checking out the new browsers (non-IE or Netscape) every now and then...some times new e-mail clients or silly animations to cure boredom...

Where do you surf? at home?

Mostly at the office. At home I just check my mail. Actually I check my mail every now and then wherever there's a phone line. At a friend's place, after a presscon at a hotel...and take quick peeks at news items on the web.....CNN, Reuters and AP via Yahoo ....

Usually what time?

I'm at the office at around 2 p.m., and since I access the net via the network (hooked up to a leased line, so I'm constantly online at the office), first thing I do is read mail and check news...gather data, data, data, info, info, info, until it oozes outta your ears. Man, sometimes even I couldn't believe it. But that's the only way to stay sharp.

After work at PDI is done, I get to check more mail wherever I am. When I get home I take a peek at discovery or when there's a chance, I take a break from sanity for a while and watch Dexter's Lab, Cow and Chicken and Johnny Bravo.

Are you the type of person who spends long hours on the net?

Not really. On and off actually. I just keep myself updated and check mail every now and then. At the office I'm constantly online via the network so the net has practically become like an information tool working in the background. You know it's just there and you'd just get notified when you have new mail. A few years ago the net was like something from outta this galaxy, but now for me it's an information tool which is always there in the background, just a click on the taskbar and you're there.

In other words, the net for me has become unobtrusive. Unlike before when you have to set this and that up, dialup here and there, open this app, open another app for chat or a different thingee...Today it's become right there at the tip of your fingertips.

What's the average number of e-mails you receive in a day?

More than 50. About 40 percent of which are from two professional mailing lists I'm subscribed to, another 40 percent are inquiries, requests and comments from readers, about 10 percent are personal and the remaining 10 percent are junk mail, urban legends and stupid Erap jokes (no redundancy intended).

What're the sites you frequently visit?

For reasons even I do not yet comprehend, all my browsers and accounts, the home page I set to Yahoo. I guess I like the info and news I get there and it's relatively fast because there's not much graphics. There're also CNN, Download.com, News.com...

I must admit I don't even drop by Inquirer Interactive that much coz I get to read the Inquirer the day before it even sees print. I go to online versions of papers abroad coz these are data you can't just get anywhere in the Philippines. Conversely, I hope Filipinos abroad check out Inquirer Interactive because it contains local news they couldn't get from the US or Saudi or Singapore or wherever they are.



I once read an article you wrote in your column all about you seeing Bill Gates. How do you sum up the whole experience?

First saw Gates in San Diego during the WIN Developer's Convention. I was like only 20 feet away from him then, but we never got close. He gave a one and a half hour talk about future windows versions, both the software and the vaporware, after which he slid away from the stage and was nowhere to be found.

Earlier I went to Microsoft's HQ at Redmond, Washington last year. Gates was also supposed to deliver a talk but he was a no-show.

In other words, two of my trips to the States were for the purpose of shaking the wealthiest hand on earth and hope that some of that money rubs off to me, but the closest I got was 20 feet.

A few months later, in March 20, 1998, Gates dropped by the Philippines for a roundtable discussion with a select group of journalists. Little did I know that I would get to actually meet the guy when it was HIS turn to travel halfway around the globe.

How do I sum up the whole experience? It was similar to when I first saw the Golden Gate Bridge. I was full of expectation and excitement. But when we were finally there at the table with him, it felt like seeing the Golden Gate. When I crossed the bridge in San Francisco, I looked up at all the cables and the bridge we were crossing and then I told myself: "This is just a [censored] bridge!" The awe that used to be there suddenly just vanished and then Gates, who was just beside me at the table, looked like any other yank I've seen. The only difference is that when this particular yank sneezes, the entire computer industry catches a cold.

Who're the other biggie-wiggies in cyberspace that you've already met?

Larry Ellison and Scott McNealy (Sun CEO) in LA, John Chambers (CEO of Cisco) in San Jose, Nicholas Negroponte here in Manila, Sun Microsystems President Ed Zander in Korea, Nokia President and CEO Jorma Ollila in China, the top CEOs of SAP in Austria.

You're also the assistant editor of PDI's IT/Science section. Have you always been writing things IT or did you start with other beats? And how did you become an IT writer?

How'd I become an IT writer? During my last sem in UP MassComm, I already knew I had passed all my subjects, so I started looking for a job even before I got my grades and class cards. I never bothered going back to UP to march and do all that stuff. I only went back to UP three years later when, on a whim, I thought of getting my diploma from the registrar's office.

I almost ended up writing for Jovy Salonga who was launching his presidential bid back then (oops, now you don't have to carbon date me anymore to determine my age), but I eventually landed a job as a reporter for Metropolitan Computer Times, an IT trade publication. When I was in college I was already tinkering around with the computer and was dabbling into BBSes. So I thought mixing journalism and my interest in computers would be cool. I would end up doing both of my loves...

Six months later I was already assistant editor of MCT. Then I ended up editing it for the succeeding one and a half years. Then three of us -- myself along with CJ Hiltotin (now an editor at the Saudi Gazette) and Sam Jacoba (now the Business Development Manager of Microsoft Philippines) -- set up the very first IT section in a major broad sheet of national circulation. That newspaper was Teddy Boy Locsin's Today. The section was called Infotech.

The three of us hung on to Infotech for a year, but the idea of having a technology section wasn't popular then and we didn't get much management and editorial support. They saw the computer section in a newspaper as a mere advertising supplement. It's sad to say that some broad sheets still see computer sections this way.

It's a pity since I've seen the computer sections of national newspapers in Malaysia and Thailand, and they were really thick -- a whole section filled with IT-related advertising with tons of information about computers.

When I moved to PDI, there was already an IT section called Third Wave (after the Alvin Toffler thingee). But I eventually had it renamed to Infotech a few weeks ago in honor of the first IT section to come out in a broad sheet -- the Infotech in Today, the one Sam, CJ and myself pioneered.

Nope, I didn't go through other beats...only computers and communications.

Besides the Internet and writing Internet- and IT-related stuff, what other things are you interested in?

Cars. I also handle motoring section of PDI. I get to test drive different cars...take 'em home for a week or two to give my evaluation on the vehicle's performance. So far the best I've driven are the Porsche Boxster and the Volvo T5. In the words of Will Smith in Independence Day: "I HAVE GOT TO GET ME ONE O' THESE!!!"

Books. I have a fetish for hardbound books I get from abroad...the kind you don't see here in the Philippines. The special, limited, copy-only kind of hardbound copies ...from Barker to King to Eco to Clarke.

Despite all these talks about electronic pads replacing newspapers, and portable electronic books unto which you can download entire books, I still believe good ole pulp will survive. There is absolutely nothing like the romanticism of thumbing through a paperback, dog-earing a magazine or placing a bookmark somewhere in your favorite hardcover copy.

I am an advocate of using various consumer technologies, especially wireless, but at the same time I don't believe everything fundamental about the way we live, work and play would have to change overnight because of technology. In the far-off future, perhaps, but not now while I can still smell the homey scent of ink from the printing press and the scent of pulp.

What future do you see for the Internet in the Philippines?

Our telecom rules and government regulations will definitely hamper Internet growth in the country. Not just Internet, but several other technologies as well, including cellular and satellite. The thing is, the government gets jumpy every time they hear the words "Internet telephony" or "data via cellular" or "data, IP via satellite." That's coz these include not only their own services but services which overlap with broadcasting (as in TV), something the NTC is supposed to regulate.

You talk about web casting, or TV shows via satellite straight to homes, or data via satellite-based phones mixed with wide band CDMA technology...These are things which enable people to connect with each other, a promise of having a wired world while being wireless. Unfortunately, government regulation will inevitably hamper all of these enabling technologies.

Regarding the Internet, metering will definitely affect usage in the country unless an amicable settlement, so to speak, is reached by the NTC, PLDT (and other carriers who plan to do metering also, and Digitel which has been metered right from the start) and most importantly, the consumers. And it doesn't stop there. ISPs have been whining about the metering issue, but think about it: the ISPs themselves are basing their pricing structure on a metering scheme also (20 hours a month for a certain amount of pesos, or whatever). They have been metering their service even before PLDT came up with their own metering scheme.

The adoption of new technology usually takes on a slow, painful process. Such is the fate being encountered by the Internet. Without the economies of scale the Internet needs to become a truly viable global means of communication, capitalists will continue having a heyday as far as charging their services are concerned. In the meantime, the ordinary Joe -- or, in our case, the ordinary Juan dela Cruz -- will have to wait.

I think what we should be watching out for is the convergence of different technologies. The way communications companies are positioning themselves alongside network companies, how telephone companies are partnering with other media services, how cable companies worldwide are partnering with content providers and how satellite companies are partnering with basically any other form of transmission medium and content provision.

We could be seeing the creation of new industries here, or the death of some small ones. Twenty years later the IT landscape may be unrecognizable from how we see it today.

One-word comment for each:

P'wede bang more than one?

President Erap? Merely a figurehead.

Bill Clinton? Gets good head.

Bill Gates? No road ahead.

Cyber relationships? Let's make love instead.

Internet censorship? Knock some sense into your heads.

Y2K? Cobol programmers rise from the dead.

Lastly, can you please give me some personal background (not everything!), like how old, where from, IT background, IT training/seminars/conventions attended...etc...

Trainings, seminars, conventions? Geeezzz, Shery, would it sound too mayabang if I said that in a span of seven years, I've been to about 250 or so of them held in more than 14 different countries? If yes, just say that I've been around....hehehehehe.

How old? I haven't hit that age when I start denying my own age, girl. I'm 28. But I guess you would've figured that out after the Jovy Salonga story.

Where from? My folks are both from Muñoz, Nueva Ecija, but I was born, raised and circumcised in Quezon City. I'm a QC kid, really. My folks were next-door neighbors and childhood sweethearts. Even their names are interesting: one is Leonardo, the other is Leonarda -- go figure who the dad is and who the mom is. Hence, I am a junior.

Thanks, Shery.

Ciao and stay alive.

You can e-mail Leo at lmagno@inquirer.com.ph.



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