GIVE ME WI-FI - OR GIVE ME DEATH

MANILA, March 12, 2006
 (STAR) PENMAN By Butch Dalisay - Offering yet more proof of how we’ve been spoiled rotten by technology, I can’t think too highly of a place these days if it doesn’t have access to a wireless network – or "wi-fi" to the tech-savvy, the modern equivalent of radio waves over which you can not only receive, but also send out, messages using your computer. That computer could be a laptop, a smartphone (a cellular phone with some computing capabilities), or a personal digital assistant (if you’re going to pay five figures for anything the size of a pack of cigarettes, it might as well have a name like that).

The term "wi-fi" is, of course, a throwback to what your old folks knew as hi-fi, or high fidelity, except that the "wi" now stands for wireless. For a brief history and overview of this technology, let me turn you over to the ever-useful Wikipedia, which (slightly edited) tells us that:

"Wi-Fi (also WiFi, Wi-fi, Wifi, or wifi) is a set of product compatibility standards for wireless local area networks (WLAN) based on the IEEE 802.11 specifications. New standards are currently in the works and offer many enhancements, anywhere from longer range to greater transfer speeds.

"Wi-Fi was intended to be used for mobile devices and local area networks, but is now often used for Internet access. It enables a person with a wireless-enabled computer or personal digital assistant (PDA) to connect to the Internet when in proximity of an access point. The geographical region covered by one or several access points is called a hotspot.

Wi-Fi was invented in 1991 by NCR Corporation/AT&T (later on Lucent & Agere Systems) in Nieuwegein, the Netherlands. Initially meant for cashier systems, the first wireless products were brought on the market under the name WaveLAN, with speeds of 1Mbps/2Mbps. Vic Hayes, the inventor of Wi-Fi, has been named ‘father of Wi-Fi’ and was with his team involved in designing standards such as IEEE 802.11b, 802.11a and 802.11g."

So now we know that this wonderful means of letting computers talk to each other and to the Internet over the airwaves has been around for 15 years. To avail yourself of this marvel – aside from the aforementioned computer or PDA – you’ll need a wireless card, already built into most new digital devices. To these, add a vacant table at Starbuck’s or Seattle’s Best, a frothy cappuccino, a look that says "Don’t mess with me, I’m moving millions of pesos between my accounts with each keystroke" even if you’re just pretending to be some perky teenager on Friendster.

I suspect that it’s that pose that draws a lot of people to wi-fi – the impression you give off of somehow being inextricably engaged with the world out there, of being umbilically connected to something larger and vaster than yourself. In a lifestyle that prizes connections and connectivity, wi-fi is the ultimate tether to the Great Digital Beyond.

In what’s become an odd downside to wi-fi, people in cafés now talk less to each other where there’s wireless to go and a laptop to play with. As happens in many of our PhilMug "wala lang" meetings, half a dozen geeks might trot out their machines on a long table, order drinks, and start chatting with absent friends or even each other – on wi-fi. As tech writer Jayvee Fernandez notes in one of the best-produced tech blogs to have emerged recently at http://www.theaftermac.com/, "WiFi as a social concept, at least here where I’m from, is null and void. On many occasions where my friends bring portables to a coffee shop, the buzz of conversation dies down, replaced by the muffled clicking of their trackpads. I guess the best place to start is going wireless in a pizza joint. Social food is always good. That’s Adel and myself with our PowerBook and iBook chatting, downloading stuff and sharing photos while waiting for our pizza."

Taken that way, wi-fi sounds like a perfect prescription for losing a date or even a mate, and I can just see the term "wi-fi widow" gaining currency in the years to come, followed by the inevitable "Wi-Fi Anonymous" for the hopelessly addicted.

Unfortunately, like all presumably good things, wi-fi doesn’t come cheap. Aside from all the cappuccinos, you’ll be paying for airtime (about P100 per hour) using a prepaid card, if you do wi-fi in the malls. At home, you’ll need broadband (just think of it as a high-speed, high-volume Internet connection) and then a router to scatter the signal to your kitchen, your garden, or wherever else you may prefer to work.

Some places are rich, blessed, and generous enough to offer free wi-fi, There are some such corners here in Metro Manila, if you know where to look. (For a guide to these free hotspots, visit my blog and look for the link to Philmug’s Wi-Fi Hotspot thread – all 61 pages of it.) Elsewhere, whole cities are gearing up to make sure their citizens have no excuse to be out of the loop. In its most recent issue, Newsweek reports that Taipei is "on track to become the first major world city to attain geek nirvana" through a "WiFly" project that will wire – or unwire – all of its 272 square kilometers. Wikipedia also informs us that "some smaller countries and municipalities already provide free Wi-Fi hotspots and residential Wi-Fi internet access to everyone. Examples include the Kingdom of Tonga or Estonia which have already a large number of free Wi-Fi hotspots throughout their countries."

The ultimate question, of course, is what’s one to do with all that access and connectivity. Don’t you guys have a life – meals to cook, nappies to replace, exams to grade, cars to tune up, laundry to wash? (Reality check, hotel in Nagoya, November 2005: "I need a hotpot… No, no, not a hotspot, a hotpot – for cooking my noodles!") Well, sure, maybe… Just as soon as I check out that iPod on eBay, and count how many blog hits I’ve racked up on CQ Counter.

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Since prospective beneficiaries will have less than a month to avail themselves of this opportunity, let me put in a word for my friends at the Philippine-American Educational Foundation (PAEF), which is in charge of administering the Fulbright scholarship program in the Philippines.

As it has for over 2,000 Filipinos to date, a Fulbright scholarship changed my life 20 years ago by giving this island boy a chance to study in two of America’s best universities (Michigan and Wisconsin). That started with a Xeroxed advertisement I came across on some bulletin board in the lobby of UP Diliman’s Arts and Sciences building, followed by an application sent in through the post.

Today you have the advantage of reading the notice below and then downloading the forms from the PAEF website. Having served on the selection committee a couple of times, let me tell you that the process is extremely competitive; your grades, your track record, and the quality and sense of your proposed plan of study all count, as well as how clearly and persuasively you make your pitch, should you get as far as the oral interview. Simply put, you have to be the best or one of the best among your peers in your field of study, and you have to convince the committee of the value of your work to Philippine society at large, and of your commitment to return and to serve the Philippines.

That said, give it your best shot, and good luck! Here’s the official announcement:

"The Philippine-American Educational Foundation (PAEF) is pleased to announce the opening of competition for Fulbright student scholarships for school year 2007-2008. The scholarships are granted competitively to Filipinos who wish to pursue degree in MA and PhD and non-degree (doctoral enrichment/dissertation research) studies in US universities. Applications will be accepted from faculty of Philippine universities and professionals from other sectors. The Foundation encourages applications from qualified faculty who are enrolled in doctoral studies in the Philippines and would like to do six to nine months of doctoral enrichment or dissertation research in the United States. Faculty from CHED-MAEP institutions (in Mindanao) can apply for non-degree doctoral enrichment or dissertation assistance under the Fulbright-CHED/MAEP Scholarship Program.

"Application forms may be obtained directly from the PAEF office at 10/F Ayala Life-FGU Center, 6811 Ayala Avenue, Makati City, and can be downloaded from the PAEF website www.paef.org.ph/scholarships.asp. The forms can also be obtained from colleges and universities, the regional offices of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and the Department of Education, Culture and Sports (DECS). Complete applications must be received by the PAEF office on or before March 31."

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E-mail me at penmanila@yahoo.com and visit my blog at http://homepage.mac.com/jdalisay/blog/MyBlog.html


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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