How PhilDev Plans to Eradicate Poverty in the Philippines

After I arrived on time to visit Dado Banatao, I got lost.

Instead of calling from the lobby as I was instructed, I somehow found my way to his floor. The doors opened into an all white utility area that led to continuous concrete, an outdoor patio, and a cluster of solar panels. There was no hint of a path to any office let alone to one that housed one of the most prominent Filipinos in Silicon Valley. I finally gave up and called to be fetched.

When I am old and my memories have blended into the fictions in my mind, I will remember winding through a labyrinth of hidden pipes and electrical boxes, the din of computational spin and a secret elevator door that expanded into private posh offices revealed, as if through parted mists, with a quick hydraulic hiss.

Dado took my meeting without even requesting my agenda, which was to donate Sunpreme solar panels to the Philippine Development Foundation (PhilDev). A plug for Sunpreme: our glass-on-glass panels are much more robust in harsh environments, salty air, and signal 3 storms. The start of the discussion lingered on a thin client solution for schools (computer terminals in which computing is performed remotely, in centralized servers or the cloud). Internet speeds are snail-mail slow, I protested. And he went on to explain a solution—a different WiFi router that separated the operating planes, lifting one of them into the cloud and leaving behind a low cost box. It is a world-class engineering solution meant only for the Philippines, our Philippines, just because.

For twenty years, starting with my early career at Hambrecht & Quist’s research department, I had known of Dado as a prime mover in the semiconductor industry. I knew that he had founded S3, developed the PC chipset and a graphics accelerator, and wisely invested in Marvell. What I had not known was how his story started.

Born to a rural family in Cagayan (not to be confused with Cagayan de Oro), Dado was sent off to school at the age of 11 where, as an antidote to his isolation, he immersed himself in studies that started with math and ultimately led to an intense romance with engineering at the Mapua Institute. It is an unusual story. A single sentence couldn’t do it justice. But it begs a pressing question: about 42 million Filipinos live on less than $2 a day with 21 million of them student-aged or younger. How many potential Dados are in this pool of kids who didn’t get the chance to fall in love with math, go to Mapua, work for Boeing and finally study solid-state physics at Stanford? What if one of them, dazed by the heat on her sun-struck neck, had the key to the grand unifying theory locked in her brain? Or a cure to cancer? Or, most important, eternal youth? A lot of potential genius is left un-mined (about 31,500 geniuses, more precisely, if the bell curve applies).

With the methodical approach of an engineer, Dado has done something about it. Many of us ask the same questions and guess at answers. Many of us have untested solutions and the passive will to discuss these problems over long meals in manicured places. PhilDev has done a lot more than talk and tinker. From its scholarship fund to its school computer program to an entrepreneurial mentorship program, the organization has thoughtfully chosen to

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April 24 Deadline for Google Developers Launchpad

This is timely news. Monday, April 24, 2017 at 9am PDT is the deadline to apply for the next “class” of Google Developers Launchpad. The 6-month program is open to start ups from any of the following countries: the Philippines, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam as well as 11 other countries in Africa, Latin America and Europe. Applications can be submitted through the following link https://developers.google.com/ startups/accelerator/ and requires filling out a short form and recording a video presentation about your company.

“This is a way for citizens of Silicon Valley to spread its magic to other countries,” said one attendee of the APAC Launchpad event earlier this year.

Structured like a non-financial incubator of sorts, Google is looking for “companies that already have traction but need support to go to the next level.”

Google will select the startups with the best prospects for high growth. As long as they are technology based, they can offer products in tech hardware, apps, cloud services, websites, among other things.

The selected participants in “class 4” will be invited to an all-expenses paid 2 week boot camp at Google headquarters, access to Google’s resources, engineers and mentors and the opportunity to work closely with Google for six months. All this in exchange for no equity. Nothing sounds better to a start up than non-dilutive resources.

“I’m thrilled to see that Southeast Asia is on the radar, including the Philippines that had Zipmatch representing the country,” said Christina Rodriguez Laskowski, an attendee of the APAC Launchpad event and President of STAC. STAC has “been actively focused on increasing awareness of the opportunities in Southeast Asia. Although we have an active ecosystem, we don’t have a diversity of opportunities. We’re building out relationships because through collaboration we can build something bigger. The skillsets could differ from country to country. Indonesia is pulling founders from the Philippines (as an example).”

Google has completed its program for class 3 which included Philippine company Zipmatch, billed as the upcoming Zillow of the Philippines. Now I know where to go for my Philippine real estate webshopping needs.

Laskowski was energized by the idea of treating Southeast Asia as a unified region. I asked her what motivated them (Launchpad focuses on several regions, all emerging markets.) “Growth is not going to come from here,” she said. “It’s going to come from Asia.” And elsewhere.

If any hungry Philippine-based start up reads this, we need more servers in our country. Anything to speed up the slow crawl of internet data. Convince Google to locate some of their servers in the Philippines, thereby giving us a faster internet. Better yet, provide your own caching services and charge.

Another notable event…on April 25, Maoi Arroyo, founder and CEO of Hybridigm Consulting will be speaking at 494 Lomita Mall in Stanford. Some of you may know it as the Skilling Auditorium. Her consulting firm tries to bring together skills in business, technology, finance and elsewhere to push for innovations that would eradicate poverty and increase average household income in the Philippines. Her talk, titled Relentless: Forcing Impact Through the Gauntlet of an Emerging Ecosystem, starts at 4:30pm.

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I, Quantum Romantic

In 1935, Albert Einstein wrote a paper with two collegues, Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen, called “Can Quantum-Mechanical Description of Physical Reality Be Considered Complete?” The spirit of the paper was to uncover the defects of quantum mechanics in the form of the wave function. I suppose Einstein had a bone to pick with quantum mechanics, a bone about probability replacing God’s will, more simply. But what the paper brought up has captivated me for the better part of two decades—the phenomenon now known as quantum entanglement.

Einstein, Podolsky, and Rosen did not refer to entanglement as such. Quantum entanglement, as it is now known, postulated the existence of particle pairs (an electron and a positron, for example) that act like a system no matter how far they are apart, even if they are separated by the entirety of the universe. If the pair acts as a system with a unity of spin, then if one particle spins one way, the other particle will always be found to spin the other way. The relationship exists no matter the distance between them, even if it is light years or the width of the galaxy or the entire breadth of spacetime.

This was the subject of my first date with my husband. And the second date. People used to ask me about how our relationship began and I used to answer that it was over the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen thought experiment until I realized how pretentious that sounded. Then I came up with the story of how I met him the week after my rabbit died, which is true. I replaced the EPR paradox with a story about my late rabbit because I was worried about being pretentious. But it is not as pretentious as it seems. In fact, quantum entanglement has to be one of the most romantic ideas I’ve ever heard in science: two particles so attached that the laws of quantum mechanics don’t apply and the speed of light does not limit the strength of their unity. If ever the idea that “love is love is love is love is love” should apply outside living consciousness, this is it.

The EPR paradox paper refers to “physical reality” and “physical theory” but was in fact really three guys in Princeton just thinking. It was a thought experiment. The instruments didn’t exist to verify these ideas in a lab in 1935. Quantum entanglement was not observed until 1972 in an experiment performed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology by Stuart Freedman and John Clauser. Today, quantum entanglement has crossed over to the pedestrian world of applied physics most notably in quantum computing and communications (availing of the superluminal transfer of information). I keep finding articles on the subject in magazines. They bring up an exciting new application or another new lab verification. But I find the lofty concept much more profound than its practical application. Particles so attached that they transcend the constraints of spacetime. How romantic is that? So romantic, it reminds me of my first date with the guy I eventually married.

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One Root of Our Inequality

We’ve heard a multitude of comments over the years about the growing wealth gap in this country. Many have attributed this to high CEO salaries and the growing differential in executive pay vs. average pay. And this can’t be denied. However, I would propose that other factors are at play, factors that have left the typical Trump voter in the middle of the country troubled by an unsubstantiate-able suspicion that the system is rigged. Let me explain. Let me begin with a story.

About two weeks ago, a technologist working on an exciting new area of invention asked me to find a connection to a high profile venture fund that was just launched. Because this discussion is alive and well, I’ll use a fictitious name in the hopes that the webcrawling robots don’t connect the dots. Let me call it BSD Capital. That’s vague enough.

BSD Capital was announced to the media as the big swinging deal in energy investing with $1 billion to play with. It was spearheaded by none other than Bill Gates and had names like George Soros, Julian Roberston, and Jeff Bezos on its board. I would have thought that a fund with such a public profile was intended to fund ideas from well…the general public. You’d think. So when I went to the website, I was a little disappointed to see this:

“As you know, BSD (name changed) is just getting started, so we aren’t considering any unsolicited investment opportunities at this time.

When our team is assembled and we are ready to evaluate proposals, we will post more information on our website about how best to engage.”

It took me exactly 4 days to figure out a workaround to this obstacle. After lamenting my great flaw of losing most of my business cards in my dusty mess, some of which belonged to the Soros-complex, I found a way in. It’s called a network.

I should have been glad, but I was miffed. If a professional or personal network was the most effective way to get an idea in front of BSD Capital, what about the average person who went to school in a square state and yet came up with the brilliant idea of creating clean and infinite power out of (just an example), say, emotional distress. Talk about an infinite source, at least in my life. Square State girl—because it will be a girl—will remain sadly out of the loop, that loop that takes a good idea, adds a little capital, stirs, shakes and gives you odds on your first billion. It factors into why one part of the country is languishing while another is funding missions into outer space. The concentration of the network, the natural cluster of connection in specific geographies, has exacerbated the wealth gap.

There is a reasonable rebuttal to this. This week, I met with an investor who did just this kind of angel funding. He put much more weight on his network, he told me. It is a natural sieve that allows him to depend on the judgment of those he knows. It is reasonable for someone to depend on his network for sourcing investments and very reasonable that private investors should be allowed to source investments by any means they like as long as those means are compliant with the law of the land.

Just wondering…could this behavior change on its own? If these big swingers at BSD Capital thought through the broader effect their clubbishness is having on society, would they make an effort to be more democratic in the way they allocate the opportunities they are creating? After all, if they are trying to change the world by giving society better energy alternatives, wouldn’t they also be motivated to democratize the opportunities they create? Moreover, if public money like CalPers and CalSters and the teachers unions understood the clubbishness of the private equity investments they are funding (this does not apply to BSD as it is private money), would they demand more democratic behavior? I have my all-powerful forward button to help me find out. I’ll let you know in a subsequent column what thoughts are shared back.

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Not Quite a Book Review

In a speech she gave to the National Society for Women’s Service, Virginia Woolf commented on how strange a thing it was that “there is nothing so delightful in the world than telling stories.” This quote made it’s way into a recently released memoir called The Rules Do Not Apply, recommended to me by a coworker at Sunpreme (that's the bifacial solar panel supplier in Sunnyvale).

The Rules Do Not Apply was written by Ariel Levy, an LGBTQ staff writer at the New Yorker. It is a memoir with all the wisdom that 38 years can supply written by a woman of privilege who felt that she lost it all. It is fast, delicious narrative. Most of all, it is shamelessly entitled, so much so that it speaks volumes of how the wealth of the American coasts have created large swaths of microcultures that cling to the notion of misfortune because of its scarcity. Here was a bright, fast living New York woman, receiving food deliveries, writing for a living (a privilege in itself), enjoying the bubble of densely populated coolness that minions like me can only yearn for. She was/is a lesbian and financially independent. Between all the words glowed the pride of her freedom from the shackles of the female past. “Daring to think that the rules do not apply is the mark of a visionary,” she writes. “It’s also a symptom of narcissism.”

For those not familiar with the significance of the New Yorker magazine, it is the intellectual high-brow rag for New York insiders. So much so that the jokes are hard to understand. It is also one of the glowing crowns of arrival for a creative writer to have their kind words formed into print by that rag. It is the epitome of elite New York literati.

This takes me back to the Virginia Woolf quote about telling stories. I have a story about meeting the fiction editor of the New Yorker once. My late professor, Leonard Michaels, had one of his books reprinted by the Arion Press, probably the last functioning printing press in our country. This editor was there. We exchanged a few facts about how we knew the writer (she, obviously, published him) and it turned out that she was a Comp Lit major from Cal. I was an English major from Cal. In age, we might have been one year apart. I left the immediacy of the moment and saw this woman as the path not taken, the pinnacle of the power I could have achieved if I had slogged it out as a writer and settled for editor instead. “What do you think about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” I asked her.

“I don’t,” she said. And there it was, the arrogance of the literati, living off the last of the intangible perks the dying industry has used to make up for poor compensation. “What do you do?” she asked.

“I work at a hedge fund,” I said.

“You probably make a lot less than you used to,” she said (this was after the financial crash.)

I didn’t answer. I thought it best not to engage in this one.

The party was in an old, lived-in apartment in the Upper West. Moisture trapped books lined the wall. Antipasti and soft drinks were offered up in the kitchen. I took my plastic plate and put it down in a spot with more oxygen. In the time it took for me to greet someone else, a German cockroach might have crawled on and off my plate and scurried back down into its netherworld behind the baseboard that didn't quite accommodate the slope of the floor.

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Two Stories

Many decades ago, there was a little boy who saw a man walk on the moon. He was too young to remember but at the ripe old age of seven he already knew what he wanted to be when he grew up. He took matters into his own hands and wrote a letter to MIT. I imagine that it went something like this, “Dear MIT, my name is R…. I want to go to MIT and study to be a rocket scientist. Please let me go so that I can grow up and put a colony on the moon.” They wrote him back, let him know they read the letter, said thank you and told him to apply when it was time. Fast forward 10 years and he did all the things that kids with such dreams might do—his homework, his handmade calculator project out of recycled relays, the dissection of a fetal pig in 11th grade, AP Physics and his college applications. When he visited MIT for an on-campus interview, they started the discussion with that disappointing preamble:

“Well, you have an excellent record but we have many strong applicants,” said the admissions officer, “but something really set you apart….” Out came the letter from first grade, now-faded pencil lead diffused into lightweight wide-ruled recycled paper. They kept his letter all those years and he got accepted into MIT. While he didn’t become a rocket scientist, I understand he’s now raising complex debt instruments for (can you guess) rocket companies.

My second story is not so happy. I heard there was a shooting in the Philippines. This time it was a rich boy who did the shooting. He was rudely blocking traffic and infuriated the driver behind him. They somehow got into a physical fight and the rich boy took out his gun and shot the other driver twice. I did not hear whether the driver died but I assume that his condition is near fatal. The rich boy was not the son of a landed family or a major conglomerate. He is the son of a drug smuggler. I imaging he and his family leading white gloved lives with nice cars (typically over the top cars, especially for Philippine conditions), servants preparing his meals and picking up after him, calling him “sir” while his family ships in crates of pseudoephedrine to recreate the probinciano version of Breaking Bad. Just to fill out the picture, some time in the past, his father ran over and killed a fisherman on a bike because he was driving too fast.

Duterte’s bodycount of alleged drug dealers is approaching ten thousand since he took office. Until now, I didn’t get a sense of the kinds of people who were on the receiving end of this witch hunt. When I hear drug dealer, I think of Eric Stoltz in Pulp Fiction—cute, funny, a little lost, sprinkled with LA selfish. I don’t think of a spoiled son in a nice car posing as a little prince with a homicidal habit. It’s impossible to agree with Duterte’s policy of encouraging vigilante killings but, for the first time, I have a vision of the culture he is trying to eradicate and I can understand his distaste.

There’s no poetry in this post and nothing incremental about Sunpreme…except that they have really good green tea in the kitchen. Stay tuned for more on Sunpreme nextweek, especially since I received so many comments on my last column. It’s past midnight here in California. Next week, I’ll tell you the brand of that tea.

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Invoking The First Amendment

I have a confession, one that may not go over well in this geography. I am a fiscal conservative, a believer in free markets…and capitalism. I detest regulation and I feel the weight of excessive regulation almost daily as if it is borne in the atmosphere like the sulfuric particles that impede our oxygen supply in the heavy Makati air. I didn’t vote for Trump but I didn’t vote for Hillary either. I wrote in my candidate, someone who would represent the thoughtful center, someone who I thought would represent me.

Because my fiscal views are consistent with the political right, I have found my way into these communities in the Bay Area. One of them asked me not to criticize President Trump.

“But…I write a column,” I replied. “Do you mean that I shouldn’t write what I really think?”

There was some backpedalling, a lowered voice, and some reference to the First Amendment. That reference piqued my interest. It looked it up. Here it is:

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An honorary Filipino

I open this column with a tale of my error as a columnist. It took me nearly two hours of an interview with Charles “Chuck” McDougald to find out he was a Green Beret. He mentioned a tour of duty in Vietnam, his involvement with Veterans organizations, and even his acquaintance with John McCain (Republican nominee for President in 2008). But I didn’t pull the thread. After all, I didn’t seek out Chuck’s story because his service in the US Special Forces but because he fought the Philippine Dictator Ferdinand Marcos alongside many of the people associated with the paper over the years.

Like many projects, it started with a small gesture. McDougald, a young war veteran enjoying the Philippines, started a file. An employee of the American Chamber of Commerce in Manila at the time Martial Law was declared, he ingested the sense of suspicion with which the American residents in Manila felt towards Marcos and McDougald decided to keep a file. He collected clippings and other documents over a 10-year period that allowed him to piece together the background of a brilliant risen fabulist—a child of Japanese collaboration, an acquitted assassin, and a false war hero. These are all tales that rose in the Filipino consciousness culminating in Cory Aquino’s graceful assumption of power in February 1986, tales than have fallen away into history by now.

McDougald went to print with his research just three months after the People Power Revolution, although he was nearing completion of his manuscript in late 1984. While completing his research in the Philippines, he was detained by the Marcos government at Camp Crame before being deported to the United States. The book, The Marcos File, came out in 1987. Its middle section, which refutes one by one, Marcos’ 35 claimed war medals, was published in as an expose in Mr. and Ms Magazine in January of 1986. The expose was part of a campaign to discredit the Dictator in the months leading up to the seminal election.

“I did a lot of research on that…I spent 3 months alone in the National Archives,” said McDougald. He research each of the 35 instances of claimed heroism and proved that Marcos could not have been in the places that he claimed to commit the heroic act.

McDougald, having dedicated the better part of two decades to the Philippines, is married to a Filipina. He is active in US politics and recently completed his third 2-year term of service as Chair of the San Mateo County GOP Central Committee. He supported Trump in the 2016 election and was a delegate to the

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