PROTECT GOD'S CREATION, TAGLE URGES FAITHFUL 

PHOTO: Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle: Be good protectors and caretakers. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO / NIÑO JESUS ORBETA  “Be good protectors and caretakers of the environment.”  Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle made the appeal on Monday at the launch of his archdiocese’s “Season of Creation” campaign at the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, or the Redemptorist Church, in Baclaran, Parañaque City. In a concelebrated Mass, Tagle also urged Filipino Catholics to be more proactive in protecting the country’s national resources. “God’s creations should be given importance, not taken for granted,” he said. “We should be thankful for the sunrise, sunset, flowers, grass and rivers, among others. Sadly, for some people they seem to be ordinary and go unnoticed,” he added. That is why “we should be awed and celebrate all creations of God,” Tagle said. READ FULL REPORT...

ALSO: Scientists re-create ‘spark of life’ on Earth

PHOTO: This handout photo provided by Svatopluk Civis, taken in 2014, shows the Prague Asterix Laser System in Prague. Scientists in a lab used a powerful laser to re-create what could have been the original spark of life on primordial Earth, possibly ignited by a crashing asteroid. They created all four chemical bases that are needed to make RNA, a simpler relative of DNA, the blueprint of life. AP WASHINGTON — Scientists in a lab used a powerful laser to re-create what might have been the original spark of life on Earth. Researchers zapped clay and a chemical soup with the laser to simulate the energy of a speeding asteroid smashing into the planet. They ended up creating what can be considered crucial pieces of the building blocks of life. The experiment produced all four chemical bases needed to make RNA, a simpler relative of DNA, the blueprint of life. From these bases, there are many still-mysterious steps that must happen for life to emerge. But this is a potential starting point in that process. Some scientists were unimpressed by the results, which do not actually prove that this is how life started on Earth about 4 billion years ago, a time when asteroids were bombarding our planet 10 times more frequently than before or after. But the experiment bolsters this particular theory. “These findings suggest that the emergence of terrestrial life is not the result of an accident but a direct consequence of the conditions on the primordial Earth and its surroundings,” the researchers concluded in the study published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. READ FULL REAPORT...

ALSO: It’s Official: Instagram Is Bigger Than Twitter  

PHOTO: Kevin Systrom, chief executive of Instagram, which announced that it now has 300 million monthly active users.Credit Josh Edelson/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images --Instagram announced Wednesday that it now has 300 million monthly active users, up 50 percent in just nine months. That makes the service, a photo- and video-sharing app owned by Facebook, more popular than Twitter, which had 284 million monthly active users as of the third quarter. More than 70 percent of Instagram’s users are outside the United States, the company said. Instagram’s rapid growth, while impressive, is hardly surprising. Visual posts, and especially video, have become the hottest growth area in social networking. Facebook has been changing its news feed over the past year to better showcase video content, and Twitter is focusing more on building up its Vine short-video service. Advertisers are also demanding more video options, and online services are hustling to meet that demand. Instagram users are highly engaged with the service, with users interacting with posts at 18 times the rate they do with Facebook posts, according to a report issued last month by the research firm L2. READ FULL REPORT...

ALSO: Online Deals for Holiday Shopping: Buyer Beware  

On Black Friday, Kohl’s offered what looked like a terrific deal on the Jawbone UP24, a stylish fitness-tracking band the retailer ordinarily sells for $130. In honor of that hallowed national day of shopping, Kohl’s was cutting its price on the UP24 by more than 20 percent, to just $100. The Kohl’s price cut was heralded by dozens of websites that compile supposedly stupendous holiday discounts. Wired even included Kohl’s UP24 sale in its list of Top 50 Black Friday deals. There was just one problem: Kohl’s price — as is surprisingly typical — wasn’t much of a deal at all. Every year, the holiday shopping season is hit by a blizzard of apparent discounts. From the week before Thanksgiving to the end of the year, retailers and manufacturers pump out tens of thousands of so-called deals — limited-time, often extravagant offers that they suggest you’d be a fool to miss. CONTINUE READING FULL MEDIA REPORT....

ALSO: Before Accusations, Uber Taxicabs was a Boon for Indian Women 

NEW DELHI — There is never a bad time to state a plain fact. Uber is a greater friend of urban women in India than the government ever was. Over the past several months, women have taken to the smartphone app with enthusiasm. They grade the drivers and convey to Uber their compliments — and their complaints about bad manners and body odor. Many rate the Uber experience higher than sitting in their own chauffeur-driven cars because the relationship between the driver in front and the female employer in back is often filled with the chauffeur’s melancholic stories about the health of his children, which lead to requests for loans and time off from work. And there is the issue of his judgmental gaze at her clothes and ways. Also, as he spends most of his day playing cards with other drivers, he passes on a considerable amount of information about his employer — information that is sometimes tapped by the neighbors. Uber’s drivers, on the other hand, are transient and have no incentive to whine. And, until Friday night, they were considered very safe. An Uber driver told me that they were considered so safe that boyfriends “could drink and dance with” their girlfriends “all night and didn’t have to drop them home — they just put them in Uber.” READ FULL REPORT...

ALSO: Need a ride? MyTaxi lets you reserve and track your cab 

Finding a taxi in Metro Manila is not always that easy, especially during rush hours, when passengers would compete for even the most dilapidated of cabs. There are fleet companies that accept calls, but that’s not an assurance that you’ll have an available cab, as the dispatcher has to find one near your place. If you depend on taxi service to get to where you’re going, fret not, as Metro Manila is about to get an app-based taxi reservation and tracking system. MyTaxi.PH is the Philippines subsidiary of Malaysia’s MyTeksi, an Android-based reservation and tracking system for taxi cabs. With the system, users can flag down a cab from their current or pre-defined location, define their destination, and have a driver confirm pick-up from their own smartphone. The system even provides an estimated cost for the trip, depending on the distance (although traffic is also a factor that can increase your fare). The service will alert users that an additional PhP 70 (US$1.71) will be charged on top of the meter fare, which sounds fair, considering phone-a-cab services also charge PhP 50 to 70 extra as a dispatcher’s fee. READ FULL REPORT...

ALSO in London. England: Will Uber kill the black cab?  

PHOTO: Cabbies are concerned that TfL (Transport of London) has 'given the nod' to an American app that wants to change taxi ordering not just in London but the whole of Britain and the world. Photograph: Massimo Borchi/Corbis  --Notting Hill in London ---Black cabs – long a quintessential feature of London's identity – are under threat from an American app that wants to change the way we order taxis in the UK and across the globe. So what do the drivers make of it? I once suggested in print that the correct collective noun for London taxi drivers – the drivers of black cabs, that is – would be a "grumble". Pretty feeble, I admit, and a reader wrote in to suggest that a "Nuremberg rally" of taxi drivers would be nearer the mark This is how they are commonly viewed: 20,000 Jeremy Clarksons, motorised barrow boys, ardent free marketeers except when it comes to their own bit of the market and the 300 years of legislation that enshrines their privileges. But this time they've really got the hump. On 11 June London taxi drivers plan to create gridlock on the streets of the capital. The nominal target of the protest is Transport for London and its "fitness as a regulator" READ FULL REPORT...


READ FULL MEDIA REPORTS:

Protect God’s creation, Tagle urges faithful


Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle: Be good protectors and caretakers. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO / NIÑO JESUS ORBETA

MANILA, DECEMBER 15, 2014 (INQUIRER) “Be good protectors and caretakers of the environment.”

Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle made the appeal on Monday at the launch of his archdiocese’s “Season of Creation” campaign at the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, or the Redemptorist Church, in Baclaran, Parañaque City.

In a concelebrated Mass, Tagle also urged Filipino Catholics to be more proactive in protecting the country’s national resources.

“God’s creations should be given importance, not taken for granted,” he said.

“We should be thankful for the sunrise, sunset, flowers, grass and rivers, among others. Sadly, for some people they seem to be ordinary and go unnoticed,” he added.

That is why “we should be awed and celebrate all creations of God,” Tagle said.

He also called for a “change in lifestyles,” from that which had adversely affected the environment.

At the same time, he urged both the government and business to “push for the right kind of development and progress.”

“We have no intention of stopping development, but development projects should be those that are not against God’s wishes… we cannot call projects converting rivers to roads development projects,” he said.

“We should show respect for God’s creations,” he added.

The program launch featured exhibits on various ecological issues facing Metro Manila and neighboring areas, like the planned further reclamation on Manila Bay by various business groups and the administration’s plan to reclaim Laguna de Bay and construct dams in the Sierra Madre mountains.

Late last year, Tagle, his predecessor Gaudencio Rosales and 20 other bishops expressed “deep reservations” over plans to reclaim Manila Bay for nearly 40 real estate projects, saying that earlier reclamation projects “had resulted in disastrous flooding, especially in Metro Manila and Cavite, Laguna, Bulacan and Pampanga.”

In a letter to President Aquino, the bishops had said that “the scientific, legal and moral basis for our opposition echoes God’s message.”

They urged the President to “be with us in responding to the call of Pope Francis,” who has asked Catholics worldwide to be “protectors of God’s creations, protectors of one another and of the environment.”

“Maging Bayani: Mahalin, Ipagtanggol at Pagyamanin ang Sangnilikha” is the theme of the four-week Season of Creations campaign.

Nongovernment groups that took part in Monday’s activity included the Alliance for Stewardship and Authentic Progress, Save Laguna Lake Movement, Save Manila Bay Alliance, Save Freedom Island Movement, Save Sierra Madre Network Alliance, and Advocates for Environmental and Social Justice.–Jerry E. Esplanada


FROM THE INQUIRER

Scientists re-create ‘spark of life’ Associated Press 10:54 AM | Tuesday, December 9th, 2014


This handout photo provided by Svatopluk Civis, taken in 2014, shows the Prague Asterix Laser System in Prague. Scientists in a lab used a powerful laser to re-create what could have been the original spark of life on primordial Earth, possibly ignited by a crashing asteroid. They created all four chemical bases that are needed to make RNA, a simpler relative of DNA, the blueprint of life. AP

WASHINGTON — Scientists in a lab used a powerful laser to re-create what might have been the original spark of life on Earth.

Researchers zapped clay and a chemical soup with the laser to simulate the energy of a speeding asteroid smashing into the planet. They ended up creating what can be considered crucial pieces of the building blocks of life.

The experiment produced all four chemical bases needed to make RNA, a simpler relative of DNA, the blueprint of life. From these bases, there are many still-mysterious steps that must happen for life to emerge. But this is a potential starting point in that process.

Some scientists were unimpressed by the results, which do not actually prove that this is how life started on Earth about 4 billion years ago, a time when asteroids were bombarding our planet 10 times more frequently than before or after. But the experiment bolsters this particular theory.

“These findings suggest that the emergence of terrestrial life is not the result of an accident but a direct consequence of the conditions on the primordial Earth and its surroundings,” the researchers concluded in the study published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Scientists have been able to make these RNA bases other ways, using chemical mixes and pressure, but this is the first experiment to test the theory that the energy from a space crash could trigger the crucial chemical reaction, said lead author Svatopluk Civis of the Heyrovsky Institute of Physical Chemistry in Prague.

Civis said the scientists used a laser almost 500 feet (150 meters) long that for a fraction of a second zapped the chemical soup with an invisible beam. The power was so intense and concentrated that Civis said that for less than a billionth of a second, it was equivalent to the output of a couple of nuclear power plants. It produced what would be around a billion kilowatts of energy for that sliver of time over a fraction of an inch, generating heat of more than 7,600 degrees Fahrenheit (4,200 Celsius), the researchers said.

Some of the earliest life on Earth seemed to coincide with a period called the Late Heavy Bombardment, when the solar system’s asteroid belt was bigger and stray space rocks hit our planet more often, said study co-author David Nesvorny, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Colorado.

Outside experts were divided about the importance of the experiment.

Steve Benner, a prominent biological chemist at the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution in Florida, said it is quite relevant because it produced the starting material that would have been around in an early Earth.

But John Sutherland of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England, said the amount produced of one base was so small that the results don’t seem relevant. Other researchers also downplayed the work.

An alternative theory of early life on Earth says that microbes arrived here from space aboard a comet or an asteroid — a sort of seed theory of life. Civis’ work bolsters what would instead be a fire theory of life. It is a theory of both creation and destruction.

For this whole chemical reaction to work, the extreme energy from the asteroid collision would have had to break down molecules into less-complex chemicals, which then could re-form into the more vital combinations. The type of asteroid impact that might have sparked this process also snuffed out the dinosaurs billions of years later, Nesvorny said.


FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES

It’s Official: Instagram Is Bigger Than Twitter By VINDU GOEL DECEMBER 10, 2014 12:18 PMDecember 10, 2014 12:18 pm 3 Comments


Kevin Systrom, chief executive of Instagram, which announced that it now has 300 million monthly active users.Credit Josh Edelson/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Instagram announced Wednesday that it now has 300 million monthly active users, up 50 percent in just nine months.

That makes the service, a photo- and video-sharing app owned by Facebook, more popular than Twitter, which had 284 million monthly active users as of the third quarter. More than 70 percent of Instagram’s users are outside the United States, the company said.

Instagram’s rapid growth, while impressive, is hardly surprising. Visual posts, and especially video, have become the hottest growth area in social networking. Facebook has been changing its news feed over the past year to better showcase video content, and Twitter is focusing more on building up its Vine short-video service. Advertisers are also demanding more video options, and online services are hustling to meet that demand.

Instagram users are highly engaged with the service, with users interacting with posts at 18 times the rate they do with Facebook posts, according to a report issued last month by the research firm L2.

Kevin Systrom, Instagram’s chief executive, said in a statement that the service was also going to begin verifying the Instagram accounts of celebrities, athletes and brands. Verified accounts will be identified with a badge so that fans know that they are really what they say they are. Instagram is also cracking down on spam accounts, deleting them from the service instead of just deactivating them.

The problem of imposter accounts is particularly serious for brands. About 40 percent of the Facebook accounts claiming to represent the Fortune 100 biggest companies are unauthorized, according to a report released Wednesday by Nexgate, a division of Proofpoint that focuses on social media security. On Twitter, about 20 percent of the purported Fortune 100 accounts are unauthorized.

While those numbers include unofficial accounts created by well-meaning employees and fans, some are created by hackers, spammers and others with malicious intentions, Nexgate said.


FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES

Online Deals for Holiday Shopping: Buyer Beware DEC. 10, 2014 Farhad Manjoo STATE OF THE ART


Photo Credit Stuart Goldenberg


On Black Friday, Kohl’s offered what looked like a terrific deal on the Jawbone UP24, a stylish fitness-tracking band the retailer ordinarily sells for $130.

In honor of that hallowed national day of shopping, Kohl’s was cutting its price on the UP24 by more than 20 percent, to just $100. The Kohl’s price cut was heralded by dozens of websites that compile supposedly stupendous holiday discounts. Wired even included Kohl’s UP24 sale in its list of Top 50 Black Friday deals.

There was just one problem: Kohl’s price — as is surprisingly typical — wasn’t much of a deal at all.

Every year, the holiday shopping season is hit by a blizzard of apparent discounts. From the week before Thanksgiving to the end of the year, retailers and manufacturers pump out tens of thousands of so-called deals — limited-time, often extravagant offers that they suggest you’d be a fool to miss.

Searching for deals online has become an increasingly popular way to navigate the shopping season, according to Google’s data, and this year interest has been higher than ever. But the people who study the holiday discount bonanza say that our knee-jerk reverence for these discounts is misplaced.


A Black Friday deal from Kohl’s offered the Jawbone UP24 fitness-tracking band for $100, but Best Buy and Amazon were selling it for as little as $80.

A Black Friday deal from Kohl’s offered the Jawbone UP24 fitness-tracking band for $100, but Best Buy and Amazon were selling it for as little as $80.
“What surprised me was how many of these deals were bad,” said Jacqui Cheng, the editor in chief of the product review sites The Wirecutter and The Sweethome.

During the holidays, Ms. Cheng turns her entire staff of about 20 writers and editors toward investigating advertised discounts on technology and home goods. “I kind of expected that we would be able to say that 85 percent or 90 percent were bad, but it turns out that almost literally every single one is bad,” Ms. Cheng said.

So far this year, The Wirecutter and The Sweethome have researched 54,000 holiday deals. They’ve found that only a bit more than 300 of them — less than 1 percent — are worth your time. “When we find a deal that we think is good, it’s a needle in a haystack,” Ms. Cheng said. “We’re super-excited when that happens.”

At Best Buy and Amazon.com, for instance, the UP24 fitness band had been selling for as little as $80. What’s more, Kohl’s $130 “regular price” wasn’t quite regular. Though that is the manufacturer’s suggested price, the UP24 has been selling online for less than $120 since late summer, later falling as low as $100, according to Camel Camel Camel, an oddly named but useful price-tracking site. Even now, well past Black Friday, it’s easy to find the UP24 for $100, the price that Kohl’s advertised as some kind of limited-time opportunity.

The explosion of less-than-stellar deals advertised on the web, a medium that has often been held out as a shopper’s best friend, is a bit surprising. Wasn’t it supposed to liberate us from price gimmicks?


“The stuff that’s really good is almost never on sale,” said Brian Lam, the founder of The Wirecutter and The Sweethome. He has studied holiday deals for years. Credit Christopher Michel

“The stuff that’s really good is almost never on sale,” said Brian Lam, the founder of The Wirecutter and The Sweethome. He has studied holiday deals for years. Credit Christopher Michel

“There was this period when people were saying that the Internet was going to usher in a golden age for consumers, where everyone would start comparison-shopping and no one would pay a penny more than they should,” said William Poundstone, the author of “Priceless:

The Myth of Fair Value (and How to Take Advantage of It),” a book about the psychology of pricing. “But we are all busy, distracted, and we have limited time and attention to devote to research, so we all fall victim to these tricks.”

What’s more, researchers say, the very prospect of getting a deal clouds our thinking. “I think an important factor here is that when describing or dangling discounts in front of consumers, retailers arouse in consumers an emotional desire, a passion, or at least an impulse to get a bargain,” Robert Schindler, a professor of marketing at the Rutgers University School of Business, wrote in an email.

That passion can impair our judgment, sometimes so severely that we press Buy without ever bothering to check if the deal holds up.

One of the most common holiday gimmicks is to suggest that an item has been heavily marked down from a “suggested price.”

Ms. Cheng pointed to an example at Macy’s, which, last week, was offering a Breville Smart toaster oven for a limited-time sale price of $280, plus an additional 10 percent off if you typed in the offer code FRIEND when you checked out. That would get you the oven for about $252, which Macy’s suggested is a huge discount off the item’s regular price of $417.

Except that isn’t the normal sales price. According to Camel Camel Camel, a site that Ms. Cheng advises people to check every time they encounter an online deal, Amazon has been selling the Breville toaster oven for $250 for months. Best Buy, Crate & Barrel, and several other national retailers are also offering it for that price. (This week, Macy’s also changed its sale price to $250.)


A Breville Smart toaster

So where did Macy’s $417 regular price come from? Julie Strider Fukami, a spokeswoman, said in an email that Macy’s advertised “regular” prices are “based on many different factors, including the cost of the item, overhead, benefits we offer ... as well as our ability to offer the item at a lower price during sale events.” She noted, though, that as Macy’s explains in fine print on its site, “regular” prices may never have resulted in any actual sales. To me, this looks fishy — posting a “regular” price that resulted in potentially zero sales seems like a tactic meant to make you feel like you’re getting a deal, even when Macy’s sale price is actually more expensive than other retailers’ ordinary prices.

The Breville is one of the best-rated toaster ovens on the market, which suggests another reason to be skeptical of such a deal.

“The stuff that’s really good is almost never on sale,” said Brian Lam, the founder of The Wirecutter and The Sweethome. Mr. Lam has been looking at holiday deals for years, and when he comes upon a genuinely huge discount, he has found that it often comes with a huge catch: The item isn’t very good to begin with, and is usually not worth buying at any price.

Consider the 55-inch, ultra-high-definition Samsung television that Best Buy was selling for just $899 on Black Friday. It had been discounted $500 from its original price, and with a promise of a high-resolution, so-called 4K screen, it looked like it could be the deal of the century. (Best Buy has since raised the price to $1,299.)

But when The Wirecutter staff looked into that model, they found that the Samsung set had a very bad case of “motion blur,” a common effect in flat-panel displays in which images lose their sharpness when they’re in motion. One review found that the Samsung’s “4K resolution only holds true on a static picture; on a moving image you’d be lucky to get 1K.”

Considering that most people like to watch shows with at least a bit of on-screen movement, this low-priced set looked more like a high-priced stinker.

The lesson here: When you spot a deal, do your homework.

“Assume most deals are not good,” Mr. Lam said. “Don’t get distracted by the razzle-dazzle of double-digit percent off. Figure out what you need, and then do the math. Otherwise you’ll get lost in a sea of apparent discounts that are most likely not good things, or not good prices.”


FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES

Before Accusations, Uber Was a Boon for Indian Women By MANU JOSEPHDEC. 10, 2014


Uber Driver in India, Accused of Rape, Faces Other Charges

NEW DELHI — There is never a bad time to state a plain fact. Uber is a greater friend of urban women in India than the government ever was. Over the past several months, women have taken to the smartphone app with enthusiasm. They grade the drivers and convey to Uber their compliments — and their complaints about bad manners and body odor.

Many rate the Uber experience higher than sitting in their own chauffeur-driven cars because the relationship between the driver in front and the female employer in back is often filled with the chauffeur’s melancholic stories about the health of his children, which lead to requests for loans and time off from work. And there is the issue of his judgmental gaze at her clothes and ways. Also, as he spends most of his day playing cards with other drivers, he passes on a considerable amount of information about his employer — information that is sometimes tapped by the neighbors.

Uber’s drivers, on the other hand, are transient and have no incentive to whine. And, until Friday night, they were considered very safe. An Uber driver told me that they were considered so safe that boyfriends “could drink and dance with” their girlfriends “all night and didn’t have to drop them home — they just put them in Uber.”

 All that changed on Friday night. A young woman in New Delhi has alleged that she was raped by an Uber driver.

After her complaint, the police could not figure out how to contact a human from Uber until an officer downloaded the app and used it to hail a car. He asked the driver to take him to Uber’s office. It would be hours before the police got any useful information.

The man accused of rape was eventually detained. It turned out that he had been accused of the same crime at least twice before, but was acquitted in one case and granted bail in the other.

Most of Uber’s cabs in India are run through third-party contractors who own and manage fleets of cars.

They are required by Uber to check their drivers’ backgrounds, a process that mostly involves procuring a certificate from the police stating that the person in question has no criminal record — a largely meaningless exercise because such certification is routinely obtained through bribes of less than $10.

I spoke to several Uber drivers who said their “police verification” was bought in this manner. Some said their backgrounds were not checked at all.

The driver accused of rape had a police certificate that said he was “not involved in any criminal offense as per the records of” one police station in New Delhi. The police have said that the certificate was forged. Even if it were genuine it would not surprise anyone in India.

A rapist’s best ally is the corrupt government official.

The government may be complicit in this alleged crime, but it has pretended that the problem is an app.

On Monday, the Delhi region’s Transport Department banned Uber and its Indian clones and declared their operations in the National Capital Region illegal on various grounds. But I have been riding in Uber cabs since the ban was announced, and even as I write this column on Tuesday the cars are available.

One driver showed me a text message on his mobile phone that he said was from Uber. The message asked him not to lose faith in the service “in these difficult times” and said Uber would continue to operate.

Uber is staying put, and by making it illicit, the government has probably relieved it of the pressure to ensure the safety of its users.

India’s best-known economics writer, Swaminathan Anklesaria Aiyar, told me that Uber “is a company that does not have a moral compass, but it does serve the society.”

For many years, until the recent arrival of radio cabs, taking a taxi or an auto-rickshaw in India was an act of accepting defeat.

The customer was often cheated and the drivers were unruly. So in India, unlike in some American and European cities, Uber does not have to contend with nostalgia. It has been, in a way, a liberator.

Follow Manu Joseph, author of the novel “The Illicit Happiness of Other People,” on Facebook.


FROM E27.COM

Need a ride? MyTaxi lets you reserve and track your cab  NewsMay 7, 2013 By J. Angelo Racoma


MyTaxi Logo

Finding a taxi in Metro Manila is not always that easy, especially during rush hours, when passengers would compete for even the most dilapidated of cabs.

There are fleet companies that accept calls, but that’s not an assurance that you’ll have an available cab, as the dispatcher has to find one near your place. If you depend on taxi service to get to where you’re going, fret not, as Metro Manila is about to get an app-based taxi reservation and tracking system.

MyTaxi.PH is the Philippines subsidiary of Malaysia’s MyTeksi, an Android-based reservation and tracking system for taxi cabs. With the system, users can flag down a cab from their current or pre-defined location, define their destination, and have a driver confirm pick-up from their own smartphone.

The system even provides an estimated cost for the trip, depending on the distance (although traffic is also a factor that can increase your fare). The service will alert users that an additional PhP 70 (US$1.71) will be charged on top of the meter fare, which sounds fair, considering phone-a-cab services also charge PhP 50 to 70 extra as a dispatcher’s fee.

Here are a few features that set MyTaxi apart from the usual phone-based booking:

---You can define your pickup date and time up to seven days in advance.
---You get the identity and photo of your driver in advance, for security purposes.
---You can track the whereabouts of your reserved cab.
---MyTaxi requires the taxi driver to likewise have a smartphone and a persistent data connection, which is used to confirm the pick-up, as well as to determine the taxi’s location.

MyTaxi.PH

e27 reached out to Natasha Bautista of MyTaxi.PH to inquire about the dynamics behind MyTaxi, which is currently in beta.

According to Natasha, the team is not yet being aggressive in marketing the service because they are still in beta testing mode and want to make sure the service provides a great customer experience. Additionally, MyTaxi has to cater to both passengers’ and taxi operators or drivers’ requirements.

“Ours is a two sided platform and we are carefully trying to balance growing demand and supply, but we’ve gotten very good feedback from all our past passengers so far, plus we’ve definitely seen an increase in growth thanks to the tech and startup community!”

Fleets and taxi owners welcome

Natasha adds that MyTaxi is getting into partnerships with taxi companies and fleets of all sizes, which includes independently-owned taxis. “We have partnerships with forward-thinking fleets regardless of size and we are also very excited to work with independent taxi owners – very much similar to how MyTeksi Malaysia does it.”

The only requirement would be for a GPS-enabled Android smartphone with a data plan.

As I see it, this should not be too difficult to acquire and maintain in the Philippines, since an inexpensive but reasonably-spec’d Android device can be bought for PhP 5,000 (US$125). Persistent data can be subscribed to on a per-day basis, at PhP 50 (US$ 1.25) per day.

For MyTaxi, quality is a priority. “Our team, together with our fleet partners, vets and trains all the drivers to maintain quality. For passengers, they will be able to view all driver’s details including his photograph. For additional passenger safety, all bookings are recorded and tracked by our system.”

MyTaxi is a free download for Android devices on Google Play. An iOS version is also in the works. While the MyTaxi page itself is still “coming soon” you can check out the MyTaxi Facebook page for a preview of what’s to come. While the service is still in beta, users can already use MyTaxi to book a cab either for an immediate trip or in advance


FROM THE GUARDIAN, UK

Will Uber kill the black cab? By Andrew Martin Andrew Martin The Guardian, Friday 30 May 2014 23.59 BST Jump to comments (104)


Cabbies are concerned that TfL has 'given the nod' to an American app that wants to change taxi ordering not just in London but the whole of Britain and the world. Photograph: Massimo Borchi/Corbis

Notting Hill in London ---Black cabs – long a quintessential feature of London's identity – are under threat from an American app that wants to change the way we order taxis in the UK and across the globe. So what do the drivers make of it?

I once suggested in print that the correct collective noun for London taxi drivers – the drivers of black cabs, that is – would be a "grumble". Pretty feeble, I admit, and a reader wrote in to suggest that a "Nuremberg rally" of taxi drivers would be nearer the mark This is how they are commonly viewed: 20,000 Jeremy Clarksons, motorised barrow boys, ardent free marketeers except when it comes to their own bit of the market and the 300 years of legislation that enshrines their privileges.

But this time they've really got the hump. On 11 June London taxi drivers plan to create gridlock on the streets of the capital. The nominal target of the protest is Transport for London and its "fitness as a regulator".

The cabbies' big concern is that TfL has "given the nod" to an American app that wants to change taxi ordering not just in London but the whole of Britain and the world. Just as retail booksellers met their Amazon, and coffee shops their Starbucks, now taxi drivers are meeting … Uber.

Uber, which is backed by Goldman Sachs and Google, is on course for record-breaking fundraising that could bring its value to $17bn (£10bn), its chief executive, Travis Kalanick, trumpeted this week. We can imagine it as a blubbery monster that lurched out of Silicon Valley four years ago and began picking fights with taxi drivers. There have been protests against – and sometimes violent clashes with – Uber drivers in New York, Sydney, Toronto, Berlin, Brussels and Paris. Uber was licensed as a private-hire operator in London a couple of years ago, and the fight has been brewing ever since.

All you need to order a minicab through Uber is a smartphone … which I do not actually have, so I asked my better-equipped son to download the app. We registered and gave the details of a credit card. We were invited to enter a destination. I wanted to go from my home in north London to King's Cross. But the app didn't seem to acknowledge the existence of King's Cross railway station, so I selected Euston Road, on which King's Cross stands. We were invited to seek an estimate of the fare, which came up as between £10 and £15. We pressed the order button, and watched the word "requesting" for two minutes. Then came a text: "Your Uber is on its way. Abdel (4.3 stars) will pick you up in 13 minutes."

Abdel (I have changed his name) was a nice man in a nice, new Prius. He was uncertain about my destination, which it seemed I hadn't properly specified. He said: "What is the postcode of your destination?" I said: "I don't know offhand." Tapping at his satnav, Abdel counselled politely: "You should always have the postcode because London is a very big city, you know." And as he spoke those words and performed that action, I thought of all the dead black-cab drivers turning in their graves.

I asked him whether he worked full-time for Uber. He did, but many of their 3,000 registered drivers do not. Uber sees itself as part of the "sharing economy". Like Airbnb, which allows people to rent out rooms in their houses for short stays, Uber allows anyone who owns a good car – and can pass the regulatory tests – to make money as a minicab driver.

When we reached Euston Road, Abdel pressed a button marked "end of journey" on what I will call a device. He said that if I was interested to see what the fare was, I could wait a minute and it would appear on the device. Either way the fare would be deducted from my card. Being naturally distrustful, I waited: the fare was £10. Reasonable enough, but at times of high demand (a Tube strike) Uber will implement what it brazenly calls "surge pricing", and higher rates apply. There was no question of a tip. The app had advised me not to give one, and Abdel was obviously fine about that, being happy with his 80% of the fare. Uber would be taking the other 20.

The transaction just described has infuriated not only the black-cab drivers of London, but also the non-Uber minicab drivers. Steve McNamara, of the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association, which represents black-cab drivers, said: "For the first time in 40 years, we agree with minicab drivers on something." The objections go back to the legal agglomeration enshrining black-cab rights. McNamara accepts that many of those laws are redundant. So we're not talking about how the taxi driver must always carry a bale of hay. We are talking about Section 11 of the Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998. "No vehicles to which a PHV Licence relates shall be equipped with a taximeter."

McNamara contends that the device in Uber cars is a taximeter. He argues that it calculates the fare by a combination of distance and time "exactly like our meters. If it looks like a duck, and walks like a duck, it is a duck." The LTDA announced this week that it will be launching private prosecutions against Uber drivers on the grounds of the illegality of their meters.

Travis Kalanick Uber Technologies CEO Interview
Travis Kalanick, chief executive officer at Uber Technologies. Photograph: Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images
I sensed a certain opacity from McNamara about why nobody else should be metered. I suppose one possible answer might have sounded mercenary: a meter compensates for traffic. If a taxi falls below a certain speed, the meter keeps ticking – on the basis of time rather than distance. The meter is also a badge of the prowess of black-cab drivers. Only they are trusted to be summoned directly – to be hailed; only they can carry someone across London with a fare calculated as they go. The meter is their office and they carry it with them. They have earned this trust by having passed the notoriously difficult Knowledge exam. They know every street, and everything on every street, in a six-mile radius of Charing Cross.

In the case of the minicab driver – the driver, that is, of a "private hire" vehicle – there can be no immediate consummation with the passenger. The minicab driver cannot be "hailed". Foreplay is mandated or, to continue this bawdy strain, three-in-a-bed is compulsory. The passenger must deal with the driver via an intermediary, namely a licensed operator working from licensed premises: the minicab controller. It is sometimes thought that the destination must be agreed in advance. That is not actually a requirement. So it doesn't really matter that when, having turned from King's Cross, I made an Uber request for a taxi to Timbuktu, the app blithely responded with a quote of between £6,528 and £7,659.

But, to repeat, the licensed office is a requirement. This is why all minicab firms, in London or elsewhere, have shelled out for their licensed offices. They are proud of their organic local connection. I mentioned Uber to the highly effective – if outspoken – controller in my own nearest minicab office, and he said: "All these apps are used by young computer-minded …" and here he paused, searching for the right word, "twats." Any intelligent person sources a decent minicab firm. If they've got a mobile phone they've logged our number on it. But we don't want their bank details," he said with disgust, "and if they have a problem they know where we are."

Now does Uber have a licensed controller, or was I dealing directly with Abdel? There seemed to be no human being between us. There was some software. The professional rivals of Uber consider that in summoning Abdel, I had in effect hailed him just as surely as if I had been a Guards officer raising a furled umbrella. (It is said that Guards officers carried their umbrellas for no other reason than to hail taxis.)

On this question of intermediacy, Leon Daniels, managing director of Surface Transport at TfL announced with satisfaction this week that: "Uber have a base within the territory, and that has warm bodies inside it." As to whether the Uber device counts as a meter, TfL are referring that to the high court. Mr Daniel thinks it is not, since it "operates independently of the vehicle".

TfL, Mr Daniel said, has subjected Uber to its "largest ever compliance investigation, and found it meets the current requirements on record keeping … its drivers hold the relevant licenses and insurance." There are some technical aspects of Uber's operating model that are "being addressed". But TfL is too well-disposed to Uber for the liking of the taxis and minicabs of London, and both are talking of legal action against TfL. According to McNamara: "TfL is scared of Uber's money." So the chances of their being unlicensed were nil.

As of last month, Uber is also operating in Manchester. Max Lines, general manager of the Manchester operation, says: "The growth has been incredible. The ultimate mission plan is for Uber to be present in every British town." Uber may not be so strongly resisted outside London, where minicabs are allowed to be metered and there are fewer hailable taxis (Hackney carriages, in the jargon).

Jo Bertram, Uber general manager for the UK and Ireland, says Uber is "bringing competition to an industry that hasn't evolved in years". But the black-cab drivers say they have modernised, and they have an app of their own: Hailo, which "works with London's 23,000 trusted black-cab drivers" under the slogan "Back to black". Or it did, because the cabbies have got the hump about that as well. Hailo recently announced it will apply to become a private hire operator extending its services to minicabs, presumably in a way that passes the test of intermediacy. Its London HQ was daubed with the word "scab" and many cabbies have now "come off the app". One driver told me he thought Hailo had gone "a bit tits up actually" as a result of this backlash. Whether this is true, I can't say because a representative from Hailo would not speak to me.

My conversations with taxi drivers this week were mainly about Uber, but I seemed to hit a freak strain of perfectly equable cabbies. The first one said: "To be honest, fella, I only read about it in the taxi press and that's bound to be a bit biased, isn't it?" Another one went so far as to concede the usefulness of GPS technology. "Late at night, you'll get a guy in the back who's had a few, and you'll say: 'Just give me your postcode mate, then you can relax, have a little kip.'" He thought the Knowledge was still relevant, but primarily as a symbol of achievement; of character. I thought of Jack Rosenthal's very amusing TV play of 1979, The Knowledge. At the start, two aspirants, "Knowledge boys", are talking in a caff. The first peremptorily demands of the second: "French Embassy to Fulham cemetery." "What?" says the second."'What do you mean: 'what'?" says the first. The second man responds: "Try me on Woburn Square to North London Polytechnic, I know that one." The first man then leans towards the second and says with disdain: "It's your mother what asks you the ones you know. Them sadists up the road asks you the ones you don't know."

Uber's Bertram magnanimously added: "London black taxis are iconic, and I'm sure they're here to stay." But who can say that anything is here to stay with Uber/Google on the march? Pedals, steering wheel, driver … all are absent from the driverless car unveiled by the company this week. There is a passenger, of course, and soon we will all be passengers, numb sightseers on the great Google highway.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi
© Copyright, 2014 by PHILIPPINE HEADLINE NEWS ONLINE
All rights reserved


PHILIPPINE HEADLINE NEWS ONLINE [PHNO] WEBSITE