2015!

Filed Under (acroyoga) by picker on 07-02-2016

Generation X – the revenge

Filed Under (Technology) by picker on 07-10-2013

I was born during the final years of the so-called Generation X, so I like to pride myself of having the same confidence with technology of a digital native, together with a more reliable and structured approach to both life and business.

However I can’t deny that my generation sometimes feels compressed between an entrenched top-middle management, mostly made of Baby Boomers, and an aggressive newer generation courted by corporations eager to keep the pace of change.

Now an interesting article in The Economist (“Winning the generation game”, 09/28/2013), while focused on how companies are coping with the management of such a diversified workforce embracing three generations, also offers compelling evidence of how valuable the battered Generation X actually proves to be in the workplace.

According to research by Ernst & Young, we are:

- the best team players

- the most effective problem solvers

- the most entrepreneurial

- the least difficult to deal with

- way more hard-working and cost-effective than Generation Y, and not much less than the Baby Boomers

Of course such results are likely to contain some degree of generalization: I have met and worked with very organized Generation Yers and hopelessly unreliable Baby Boomers.
Yet I may happen to mention this piece of research on the first suitable occasion, during a job interview! ;)

Technology in endurance racing

Filed Under (Triathlon) by picker on 19-08-2013

When I started the bike leg of Ironman New Zealand a few months ago, the supposedly scary thought of 112 miles / 180 km of cycling was way outweighed by the awareness of how technology – beside the athlete’s performance – can influence the outcome of any triathlon.
Even experienced pro-athletes have happened to withdraw from races because of technical issues: what if something similar happened to me, at the other end of the world, after so much training and hoping?

That’s right: in our blissful madness, we want to experience every minute of these excruciatingly long events! :)

Once left transition and made sure that everything was working just fine, of course I forgot about every fear and I simply focused on my own performance. I ended up enjoying every minute of the almost 11 hours spent on the race course (roughly half of which on the bike) including the most challenging and painful parts, and I loved crossing the finish line just as much as anticipated. It was incredibly rewarding.

During all that time – just like in training – technology actually confirmed its usual role of invaluable friend: I could read on my watch real-time information such as speed, time, heart rate, cadence and every possible related average and ratio. This not only helped the crucial management of energies, but also gave me a feeling of confidence and control.

Now, the truth is… I would like to get even more of that next time!

Too bad that mobile communication technologies are not allowed while racing: the product developer in me was already thinking of some bespoke app running on an Android smartphone (or even smartwatch) connected to a pair of Google Glasses.

Fortunately it looks like somebody else has had similar thoughts, which I may be able to put my hands on for a test early next year…

Plutonomies and the rise of inequality

Filed Under (Stuff) by picker on 04-08-2013

I’ve been reading Strange Rebels by Christian Caryl, an interesting account of how a number of key characters and events made 1979 a remarkable year, a turning point for the world’s history.

The further I read, the more it looks like the late 70s and early 80s managed to end the post-war period and to lay the foundations of the world as we know it: the first non-Italian Pope in centuries set out to dismantle the Soviet bloc and put an end to the Cold War; the first ever female Prime Minister of Britain led the way to an unprecedented array of liberalizations and privatizations that would forever change the role of the State in the West; China opened up to the world and started pulling millions of its citizens out of poverty…

All good then? I would dare to say that the 1979 Islamic Revolution of Iran hasn’t really kept its promise of wealth redistribution. People in Afghanistan don’t seem close enough to prosperity either.

But what if the seeds of that period also caused a series of issues and excesses that are now threatening the so-called rich world?

The book is primarily focused on the countries mentioned above and it doesn’t describe America much. However it’s in that same year – on July 15th 1979 – that US President Jimmy Carter delivered the remarkable “Crisis of Confidence” speech, of which one passage sounds to me especially meaningful: <<In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.>>

Did they listen to him? Mmm… the fact that he was not re-elected should give us a clue. And this brief clip from “Capitalism” by Michael Moore argues that the following US President – Ronald Reagan – actually steered the leading country of the rich world in the exact opposite direction.

Later on, the same movie mentions three leaked Citigroup reports that seem to prove how successful such an effort to change the most liberal Western states and societies still looks. The authors coined the definition of Plutonomies for those countries – primarily the UK, US and Canada – where the better off enjoy a disproportionate slice of national wealth and income.

citi-plutonomy

The top 1% of American households account for about 40% of financial net worth, more than the bottom 95%. But it’s not only a matter of accumulated wealth, because the top 5% enjoy about 30% of national income: it was little more than 20% when Jimmy Carter gave the mentioned speech.

Japan and continental Europe are placed in the “egalitarian” bloc instead, with one sad exception: Italy… the same country, though, where the sales of bicycles – in the wake of the Euro crisis – have reportedly surpassed those of cars for the first time this year. Could it be that people are starting to realize that piling up expensive material goods is not the way forward?

A quick glance at our planet

Filed Under (Sustainable World) by picker on 12-02-2012

Perhaps it’s because of the higher-than-ever quality, but the latest satellite picture of the Earth published by NASA looks stunning!

The first thing I looked at is the shape and size of Baja California, where I spent some lovely time a couple of years ago. Then I focused on the colour of the coastal waters in Central America and the Caribbean: definitely on my wish list!

Finally I started wondering what our planet would look like to an external observer (say, an alien creature): beautiful I guess, until they zoomed in and realized how intent humans are on destroying it, like an anthill gone crazy.

They would see Chinese workers burning coal to produce products of every sort in cities where the air is increasingly hard to breathe. Then they would track those products as they’re shipped to the other end of the world and bought by unhappy and indebted consumers, only to be trashed sooner rather than later.

With a resolution of 8000 x 8000 pixel there are few limits to where we can print that picture. I suggest we all do it somewhere visible as a reminder, and then pledge to treat our planet better. It doesn’t take that much to make a difference.

To “nourish the planet” is the slogan adopted by Expo 2015 in Milan, Italy. Too bad that thousands of square meters of soil have been turned into building land to host the event, which will end up nourishing nothing else than the powerful real estate lobby. The regional governor promoting the Expo is on his third consecutive term (fourth overall) in spite of the law, that only allows two. At least the leaders of the aforementioned Central America, supposedly further back along the route to democracy, bother to change their constitution when they want to allow themselves a longer time in office!

I suppose we’d better count on initiatives from the bottom to do the right thing. And the Internet is the perfect tool to support them. Here’s the link to Kitchen Gardeners, a group that promotes the creation of private vegetable gardens to provide people with tastier and cheaper food and a much lower CO2 impact.

Best wishes for a sustainable 2012!

Filed Under (Technology) by picker on 19-12-2011

As we approach the Christmas break, most technology blogs are publishing their personal lists of what really mattered in 2011. I just tweeted TechCrunch’s Top 20 iOS Apps, where I fully agree on the first position given to Flipboard and I decided to give Snapseed a try.

That’s the essence of it: end-of-the-year lists give you a chance to appreciate the good things you got and to catch up with what you missed.

However, I believe it’s also important to look back at the lessons one has learnt the hard way. Perhaps 2011 will be remembered as the year when people started truly realizing the unsustainability of an economic system where Asia buys the debt of Western countries to keep them consuming beyond their means and purchasing the products they made, in a meaningless loop that is trashing the world and making us feel increasingly unfulfilled.

I don’t know if we’ll still have a Euro currency in one year’s time, but either way I hope we’ll be able to start tossing out the unhealthy excesses that globalization has brought to us.

I’ve written about The Story of Stuff before. Today I’d like to follow up by embedding The Story of Technology, focused on the market I love and where so much could be done to protect our only world… without missing any of the great fun we’re having with our tech gadgets!

I’ve got the Tri Bug!

Filed Under (Triathlon) by picker on 15-12-2011

As a teenager I briefly entered the world of competitive swimming with relatively little success. Most notably, I quit without breaking the wall of 1 minute on the 100 freestyle, then I rarely swam in a pool for the following ten years.

That’s why the assessment of my last five years of Master Swimming (2006 – 2011) goes beyond any expectation: I haven’t simply broken all my previous personal records and swum 100 freestyle in 56 seconds. More importantly, I’ve found the experience of being a late achiever incredibly rewarding and motivating.

Triathlon is the next challenge I want to take up.

It’s a far tougher one, with two disciplines (especially cycling) sitting completely out of my comfort zone. The fact that I’d like to progressively move all the way up to long distance events doesn’t help either, because even in swimming my best performances have always been in the area of 100 / 200 meters. I need to completely reset myself as an athlete… or perhaps to turn into an actual one. I can’t help myself though: I’ve got the bug! :-)

How to download and watch Torrent videos on the iPad

Filed Under (Tricks) by picker on 22-10-2011

First of all, no worries: I won’t dare turning the elegant iPad into a vulgar and busy download machine. In the age of the cloud there’s plenty of bandwidth and processing power up there for us to leverage.

A few weeks ago I subscribed to Fetch.io, a cloud-based downloader whose purpose is to speed up file fetching jobs from a number of online sources. Although still young and not exactly flawless, the service is quite effective and ultimately proved to go far beyond my expectations, thanks to a relatively hidden feature: media transcoding.

Let’s see then how to get a perfectly optimized video for your iPad out of a common Torrent feed, without using other device than your beloved tablet.

1. Find the video you’re interested in, for example through Torrentz.eu, and copy the Torrent file address. Be mindful of intellectual property rights.

2. Create a premium profile on Fetch.io for just $4.95 and login. Then press the ‘Fetch’ button and paste the URL of your Torrent as copied before.

3. Once the video file has been entirely downloaded (you can check the progress in ‘Transfers’), go to ‘Files’ and tap on the file name. A new page will open and try to play it for you, but that requires Flash and won’t work on an iPad. However, on the right hand side you will see a small menu.

4. Tap on ‘Encode this video’ and select the iPad format. This will go into a queue and take a few hours, so plan it in advance if you’re planning to carry some movies with you on the iPad for that long flight across the ocean…

5. Once the job is done, Fetch.io will contain an optimized version of your video in ‘Files’, with the same title as the original and a final suffix such as _iPad. Just download it from the browser of an app like Downloads HD (Safari won’t allow it) and you’re ready to go!

Update: Fetch.io is sadly defunct, but a very similar (and probably better) service is now available with the name of Put.io.

Things that happen on the Internet every 60 seconds

Filed Under (Technology) by picker on 20-06-2011

Articles and talks about an alleged new Internet bubble are increasingly common, and sometimes encouraged by the creation of companies whose business model is easily summarized in one sentence: “we’ll figure it out!”

However, no one can argue that the Internet is just a trend for geeks any more.

As brilliant start-ups are founded every day, the gang of four (Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google) keeps crunching every growth forecast and changing our lives in unprecedented ways. Yes, final users are still at the very centre of this revolution.

The numbers below, beautifully rendered by the guys at Go Gulf, talk by themselves…

Solved: “Fresh From FriendFeed and Twitter” plugin

Filed Under (Tricks) by picker on 03-06-2011

I’ve got far less time than I wish to keep this blog updated with new posts… so I was delighted some months ago to discover the WordPress plugin Fresh From FriendFeed and Twitter.

I immediately installed it, thus the home page has been constantly updated with my latest tweets ever since. Unlike other plugins, this one doesn’t simply show a feed somewhere in a widget, but creates a constantly updated WordPress post.

However a couple of minor bugs, in an otherwise excellent piece of free software, felt like the proverbial “pebble in the shoe”:

- a weird text such as O:16:”SimpleXMLElement”:1:{i:0;s:6:”picker”;} shown as author name rather than just my nickname “picker”

- non-working permalink in the generated post (also when clicking on the title)

I tried to fix them a couple of times, but my PHP skills are honestly amateurish: web sites were still static when I worked as freelance web designer years ago! So I resolved to give a try to Elance, an online marketplace for digital professionals which I first heard about when reading a great book: The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss.

For the cost of a dinner in London, I hired a young PHP developer from Bangladesh and he managed to fix the plugin in a couple of days. It’s the magic of currency exchange, so I even felt good by supporting a bold entrepreneur in the developing world.

Of course the outcome is available to any interested blogger: click here to download the fixed plugin.

I’ll try to inform the original author, whom I’ve not been able to talk to so far, so hopefully this fix will help him publish an officially updated version of the plugin on WordPress Extend.

In the meantime, I hope this helps!