Cynthia Alexander

News came last month that singer/songwriter Cynthia Alexander is leaving the Philippines for good. She’ll be heading for Seattle, Washington where I know she’ll be doing great.

There’s a few arguments going around on how Filipinos don’t appreciate our own talent and will wait for others to appreciate them before we recognize the artist. Contrasts between Cynthia Alexander and Jessica Sanchez of American Idol fame has been made as well. Jessica Sanchez is an excellent singer in her own right, but comparing her to Cynthia Alexander’s situation is a bit off.

I’ve been a fan of Cynthia for more than a decade now. I discovered her from NU 107 when her first single from the second album was out, titled U & I. With deep lyrics and a great melody, I had to buy her album, fast. After which I got to memorize all her songs from that album called Rippingyarns. Me and my brothers were lucky to find her first album, Insomnia and Other Lullabyes after years of being out. There was a time in college that I got to see her live at least once every month while me and my brothers trekked all the way to Quezon City just to catch her at Conspiracy. Good times indeed. I already moved to Singapore when she started playing at 19 East, nearer our house, but was lucky enough to get a copy of her album, Walk  Down the Road, from my brothers.

Cynthia has a special place in my musical heart because she is just magnificent. The way she structures her songs, to her deep lyrics and her evolving melodies, her music is just pure art.

People are asking why she’s not famous in the Philippines and why not more people appreciate her songs considering she has won multiple awards in the Philippines and overseas. My personal take is the Philippine market is just not mature for her music. I’m lucky enough to have been exposed to several genres and develop my own taste of music. My aunt, who lived in the states for a while, always blasts 80s music and this gave me my own musical identity. Cynthia’s lyrics are deep, some people don’t get the melody, some just can’t appreciate it and more importantly, people just don’t get as exposed to it as others.

Philippine local music stations has been slammed before for not playing as many local tunes as to songs from the US. I always hear R&B, hip hop and club songs, but not as much Original Pinoy Music (OPM). After the death of NU107, one of Philippines only rock station, knowing more local tunes became much harder. I always thought that music is a great equalizer as anybody can appreciate music but then again, local stations has control on whose music they play and unfortunately most of it is not from the Philippines but from the US. I highly doubt it that we don’t have good bands as I hear them all the time. I guess to be appreciated by the masses, it’s takes more than just talent.  (darn luck :P)

Cynthia Alexander has three studio albums and one live album. You can check out her music at http://www.myspace.com/cynthialexander

If you want some vids, here are a couple of my favorite ones I found on youtube.

I took the picture above during one of her rare gigs here. Such a fitting image for her departure. I know she’ll make it big in the US and I’m happy for those Seattlelites who’ll be catching her gigs soon.

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[book review] Ilustrado: A Novel

I have mixed feelings with Ilustrado.

Winner of the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize, Ilustrado talks about the return of Miguel Syjuco, also the authors name, to the Philippines, to find more about the deceased Crispin Salvador, his mentor. He went back to the Philippines from New York to find out more about his mentor and potentially find his last manuscript that will expose several high flying, influential, and political families.

His journey spans over 150 years of Philippine history all the way from the Spanish occupation up to the recent Edsa revolutions. Here, he discovers a lot about his own family, his interactions with fellow authors and his “society”.

The character of Miguel feels like a reflection of the author. Born of a rich family, having the opportunity to travel the world and studied overseas, he felt as if he was an “Ilustrado” himself. Ilustrado in Spanish means the learned or enlightened one and was used in the Spanish colonization period by Filipinos studying in Spain. They were educated overseas with the goals of changing situations back in the Philippines.

The book was presented as a story within several stories, interweaving several books by both Crispin and Miguel as well as the ongoing story of Miguel’s visit to the Philippines. This format was a bit too hard to read and comprehend as several plot lines were happening. While the author wanted the stories to intertwine, it wasn’t the end result as some of the stories were too far off to remember or not as connected to the main story line as the others.

The story itself is interesting for a Filipino, especially the several metaphors with the current political landscape in the Philippines. It might be a bit hard to comprehend for somebody not familiar with Philippine politics and culture, as there’s a lot of local references sprinkled here and there but it won’t be a big barrier for you to get into the story.

Miguel Sjyuco, in a few of his interviews, mentioned that he didn’t want to be just a Filipino writer but a writer for the world. This didn’t come as strong as it should have through the novel as I felt that the whole book was not here or there. The main plot line was indeed captivating and it got me wanting for more. His exploits with his family and friends, his chronic drug use and his encounters with his new “friend” gave me a glimpse of his life. The main plot line mixes well with some of the stories, but too many things were going on that it lost focus.

I applaud Miguel for writing an honest piece about the Philippines. My hatred for poverty porn has been satiated by his representation of the Philippines. Even though it’s a side that most Filipinos never see, it’s honest and real.

If you have enough patience in you to read this book, you won’t be rewarded with something magnificent but you’ll wake up to a part of the Philippines you rarely see.


Use Zune Pass on Windows 8 Release Preview

Windows 8 is the next iteration of Windows. For those not as familiar, Windows 8 is a radical change as Microsoft is introducing the Metro design for Windows. You can find out more about Metro at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metro_(design_language)

With Windows 8, Microsoft is integrating a lot of its services to take advantage of its several platforms. Windows Phone, Xbox, Hotmail, Skydrive and other consumer services already uses one authentication via Live ID and it makes sense that the new OS will take advantage of this. If you’ve tried the pre-release versions of Windows 8, you can easily see the influence of this even from the login screen.

With this integration, news of rebranding of some services like the Zune are abound and I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens.

Anyways, if you’re using a Zune Pass, don’t fret as you can still access music just like before using the built in music app in Windows 8.

As I wanted to maximize the integration of the services with my new Windows 8. I loggedin using my hotmail account synced with Zune and lo and behold it actually works.

The music app works just like the Zune app but some features are missing like the mixed view. Some of the navigation features are still missing and adding songs to the current playlist doesn’t exist.

not really sure how to add songs to “now playing” and don’t tell me i haven’t tried “add to my music”

I know this is still an app preview so no surprises that these features are missing and I’m guessing that they are focusing on the main features so far.

There’s a bit of getting used to in the Music App. For one, there’s a lot of scrolling and clicking going on. Just to know the individual songs in the album, I have to do twice the clicks compared to the Zune app. Because of the design of Metro apps that has to cater for different form factors like tablets, this limits power users like me to navigate the app like everybody else. Whenever I use an app extensively, I learn as much shortcuts as I can as I want to get to the action as fast as I can. Browsers, email clients, OSes and such allow you to do this, but once an app is designed for multiple purposes it loses this advantage. I know Windows 8 has several shortcuts for you to get to the settings, the app bar, etc, but if you are navigating on the content of the application yourself, the developer has to create shortcuts of their own.

Overall, I’m very happy that the Zune will be continued (either as the Music app or something else) but I hope they empower the Music app just like the Zune. A nicely designed app that shows me what I want to see when searching and exploring new music. Come to think of it, the Zune app was one of the first applications to use the Metro language way back. A nice, cleanly made application that made great use of white space all through out.

If you are using Windows 8 Release Preview and notice any gems like these, please comment on. Would love to know what you think of the apps and how you’ll be using it.

PS. Super happy that Skitch is on Windows 8. Skitch is a photo annotating app on the Mac OS.


Startup Weekend Cebu 2012

I was lucky to have been part of Startup Weekend Cebu that happened over the weekend. Held last May 11, 2012 at University of the Philippines Cebu, me and a few of my team mates came down to explore the startup scene in Cebu. I also helped out the organizers to get some some mentors and a judge for the event.

I’m no stranger to Startup Weekends and I’ve been part of a couple here in Singapore. One thing that I always look forward to is the pitches during the first night. Pitches give me a quick idea of what are the problems that people care about and think of and it’s something worth solving or spending time on.

During SW:Cebu over 40 pitches were given which lasted for over an hour. I love the diversity of crowd pitching. From professionals to students, people from different industries and nationalities. The mixture felt great and more experiences will be shared all throughout the event.

Over 40 participants lined up to pitch

I find that the pitch reflects the problems that the participants face. One thing that I observed was how the expats were trying to solve “first world problems” while most of the locals were pitching solutions for entertainment, solving simple problems, staying in touch with their families and such. Coming from the Philippines, I felt a big difference between the pitches. A couple of pitches that really stood out was one about how he can get the best deals for importing luxury cars to the Philippines and another one about how he can rearrange his DVD collections efficiently. These type of problems just strike me as “non problems” and it was quite interesting to see it being pitched in Cebu. Those type of pitches would’ve had a different reaction elsewhere, but in the Philippines where most of the people can’t afford cars, the pitch would be falling into deaf ears. I guess that’s where knowing your market well comes into play.

As the teams form up, the ideas got polished and everybody starts piling up.I wasn’t able to talk to all of them but I noticed that most of them has a great sense of design. Most of the teams were really prepared and some went there to get mentoring and feedback for their ideas.

Teams formed up and ready

One of the teams I talked to was Codetoki. I love the passion of the founder and how she wants to solve the issue of lack of industry knowledge in fresh IT graduates. Her idea was to provide a platform for students to reach out to IT professionals and bridge the gap between school and the industry. She hopes that students and industry professionals will help each other and increase the competent talent pool of IT professionals in the Philippines.

Can’t help myself take a photo with Swan Hat guy

I also talked to AppsXL. I was really impressed with their design capabilities and it showed through their presentation and product. AppsXL is creating a platform for mobile developers to easily create applications using native code through several ready made templates. A number of apps on the Appstore follow a standard template, so if you are a developer and want to create a quick app for one of your clients, you can just purchase a template from AppsXL, skin the app and you’re ready to go. I can imagine AppsXL being similar to wordpress theme makers like woothemes but for a more niche market. Although their final presentation wasn’t solid, I think there’s a market for the idea. I wasn’t really convinced on how they priced their templates, $100 for a template, as I think it was quite low. Hope to see more from AppsXL as demand for mobile applications is rising.

One of my own personal goals aside from knowing more about the tech scene in Cebu was meeting the community. I have to thank Tina Ampers and Ian Tusil for inviting us and making us feel welcome.

Tina is the founder of techtalks.ph, a technology meetup at Cebu. It’s a great way to meet the tech community in Cebu. Aside from her, I met some awesome guys from PhilDev, DevCon, MorphLabs, Kickstart Ventures by Globe, IdeaSpace by Smart, Microsoft, Google, a few local blogger communities and a lot more to mention.

I was excited to see all the support that everyone put in and I hope the teams that formed will continue building on their projects. From experience, some of the teams in Startup Weekend fizzle out but I hope the winning teams will continue on their projects and ship the products out for the market to try.

The winning teams at the end of the weekend were teams that focused on real problems. The first place winner was team WaitKnowMore. They are trying to solve the problem of waiting in line for common services like paying bills or waiting in line for the doctor. Their system will allow an establishment to inform a customer when it’s their turn in line while allowing advertisers to publicize deals for the customers waiting in line. There are existing systems like this out there, but I haven’t really seen or tried it personally. It’ll be great to see this properly implemented and give relief to waiting customers all over.

Keep yourself updated with the Startup Weekend Cebu team and their follow up events via their site at http://cebu.startupweekend.org/. If you are interested to support technology events in the Philippines, either in Cebu or Manila, feel free to ping me and I’ll try to connect you to the right persons.

P.S. Make sure you stop by Cebu’s natural wonders. We stopped by Matayupan falls and the view was breath taking. You always see waterfalls on TV, but being there in person feeling the breeze of the water in your face is just refreshing. Cebu has a lot more to offer so make sure you explore the wonderful island.


Underground

I go to the city

Look at what I see

People left and right walking around me

I take the escalator up the streets

Just to feel the sun down my cheeks


[book review] Thinking, fast and slow by Daniel Kahneman

I just finished “Thinking, fast and slow” by Daniel Kahneman and this is one amazing book. Kahneman is famous for his work in behavioral economics, decision making, biases and heuristics.

Summary: A definite recommendation. Explore our mind, how we make choices and how we make faults. How common sense is not really common and how our mind fails us in the process.

A rather tome-like book, I was introduced to Kahneman when I started reading a blog by David McRaney called you are not so smart. He explores biases and heuristics such as anchoring, availability bias, sunk cost fallacy, and the like. These of course are bulk of Kahneman’s work thus his name appears frequently in his blog. Another common name in the blog is Richard Thaler who has an awesome book as well called Nudge who Kahneman has worked with.

Kahneman’s goal with the book, as stated in the introduction, is to open a lay man’s mind in others decisions in situations, changes in policy and other topics that are usually discussed around the water cooler. A very simple goal if you ask me, but very relevant and timely as we “know” more about our friends from social media more than anytime in the world. He aims to give us tools to discuss situations in an informed way and to know why certain decisions seem very irrational and yet people still make the mistake of doing it.

Thinking, fast and slow (TFS) is divided into five parts starting with our “two systems”. A part of the book which will be referenced several times as it is the basis on how a lot of us think and process situations. Aptly named System One and System Two, this is a simplification of our thought process. System One is our “gut”, the part of our brain that decides fast and assesses the situation with lightning speed. System Two is our “thinking self” the one that we use when we take time to process situations. When we stop and think, when we multiply 12 by 46. These two systems guide us everyday and make us do what we do. The use of these two systems for me defines a person. Impulsive versus reflective, an analyzer versus a quick doer.

The first section of the book already introduces priming. Where decisions and situations are influenced by the outside environments by priming our System One. Priming is setting up the environment or situation to influence the decision of another to our favor. Whenever you walk into a shop, observe the environment. Everything is there for a reason, which is for you to purchase something. Making it easy for you to make a decision so that you don’t need to engage your lazy System Two and letting System One take care of the rest. Several examples are in the book of which most of us can definitely relate to.

Section two of TFS talks about heuristics and biases and for me was the most interesting section. These are common misconceptions that us lazy humans make sense of in our attempt to understand the world we are living in. Sadly, these pitfalls in our human minds are so hard to detect and figure out for ourselves as we are in the middle of the situation, compared to when we are observing a third party that is falling to the “trap”. Common examples such as anchoring, having a base number over a purchase influences us that there is a discount. Availability bias that limits our decisions to what is only available to our feeble minds. One of my favorites is regression to the mean where we think that there is no where to go but up or a hot streak in basketball is really a “streak”. I really hate our dumb minds.

Section three introduces more biases as it’s named Overconfidence. Hindsight bias the act of looking back and saying “I told you so” and outcome bias are both common in the working world and I was glad to have learned it in this book. Another interesting chapter is our reliance on experts and how, if we should, evaluate experts. Feedback and experience are the two key words here.

The fourth section talks about choices. This is where bulk of Kahneman’s work really shines where he also discuss about his work that earned him the Nobel Prize for Economics. My hatred for understanding math concepts came out but I appreciated the whole section as it again shows our poor understanding of ourselves especially in making decisions. What situations make a person more risk or loss averse. When do we get more value out of our money and how we view gains and losses. How much we value our things through the “endowment effect”. Loss aversion, possibility effects and others make this section another must read (which I will actually re-read soon) as it shows how much we value things either monetary or otherwise. Another chapter of this section talks about rare events, such as getting struck by lightning and the like. How we overweigh and overestimate things. How vivid stories and images add weight to situations and “rare events”. My dabbling with statistics already gave me the tools not to overweigh things but it’s great to see it from another angle. How come we’re more afraid of shark attacks than driving even though our chances of dying to the latter is much more?

The fourth section for me had the most meat and shows how much research has Kahneman put on the topics in the section. My mind was opened with several situations presented in each of the chapters in the section. I have to admit that I fall for most of the situations in this section as my System Two for mathematical situation and analysis is very lazy. Risk and loss aversion, framing losses, disposition effect and other situations where gains and loss has to be calculated is definitely something that I have to improve on. A re-read and a better understanding will definitely allow me to take a step back and see the bigger picture of gains and losses.

The book ends with Two Selves. Our mind is very strange especially on how we see experiences and memories. How we focus on the wrong things and want others. How happiness is perceived and how we strive to achieve it. This chapter is a great end to the book as it analyzes our situation as a whole. How we humans look at ourselves and how we experience, remember and reflect on our own existence and happiness. A great end to a great book.

Thinking, fast and slow gets all praises for me as I enjoy reading books that look into the mind. The best thing about Kahneman’s book is it’s really based on research and not just chewed up and regurgitated paper like a Malcolm Gladwell book. I was a fan of him until I read Blink and realized how much that book wasted my time with his premise going round and round. I realized that he is a great writer and nothing more.

Thinking, fast and slow is an easy read and a great introduction to the world of our mind. A world full of contradictions and biases. A mind full of assumptions and what ifs. If you want to understand others and ourselves, do pick this up. Thank you Mr. Kahneman and Mr. Tversky.

PS. Wikipedia has a good collection of cognitive biases that is worth a look after reading the book. List of cognitive biases


Founder’s Institute Singapore, BizSpark and me in between

Running for 2.7 years now, Founder’s Institute (FI) is a “global network of startups and mentors that helps entrepreneurs launch meaningful and enduring technology companies”. Founded by Adeo Ressi, an entrepreneur himself, FI aims to help entrepreneurs worldwide with the vision of helping launch 1,000 technology companies per year worldwide.

Just finishing its fourth semester, Singapore is one of the first countries to have FI in Asia (if not the first) and I’m lucky to have been part of it.

Founder's Institute Singapore 4th Semester

I formally joined the second semester as I have some ideas that I wanted to cultivate and it was a challenge that I wanted to conquer. Every week for four months, we were introduced to a new founder that will talk about a specific topic. There were tons of awesome founders that I met from really cool startups from the US and VCs from all over the world.

I had the opportunity of meeting Phil Libin from Evernote and Aaron Patzer from Mint. They both had really solid talks and it was great meeting successful people talking about their previous failures. Those are the stories you rarely hear.

Three months pass and sadly, I wasn’t able to graduate as I wasn’t ready to incorporate. Incorporation is one of the requirements to graduate the class and is one of the last milestones. Of course, your idea will be evaluated as it’s one of the first milestones aside from your commitment and dedication to the program.

Founder’s Institute is of course always compared to other incubators or accelerator programs and Adeo himself has a good answer in one quora thread. They have positioned themselves well and it’s really up to you to find out if the program has value for you. For me, it was a good primer in knowing what to consider when forming a company. For first time entrepreneurs, the basics is always something we won’t know especially if we don’t have a business background. The network is another great value that is not so obvious to outsiders. Starting a company is a hard and lonely path; having a circle of supporters and friends is essential in ensuring your success. I’ve seen the FI family grow in Singapore and the diversity of people just makes the stew even more interesting every semester.

Since the second semester, I’ve been supporting FI through my work in Microsoft. Being the lead for the BizSpark program in Singapore, it was just natural to work closely with the guys behind SGFI. Providing them with all the benefits and other cool stuff that BizSpark and Microsoft has to offer for startups.

If you want to know more about FI or BizSpark, check out their sites and if you’re in Singapore and interested to know more, feel free to ping me.