Sunday, August 30, 2009

Amsterdam, a city for all seasons...

I am one of those fortunate people who happens to have close family living in Amsterdam in Holland. That's an excellent excuse to visit the city half a dozen times a year. Amsterdam is one of these places, like only a handful of them on the planet, that after you've been there once, you wanna keep coming back. A city of thousand years history where old meets new in the coziest sort of way. The city boils with life. The traditional love of the Dutch for saturated colors makes it extremely lively. A photographer's paradise. Yellows, and reds and greens and blues! The Dutch love to paint their houses and dress equally in the most conspicuous colors one can think of. Such color brilliance and saturation can traumatize us from the south for life, as we have been raised in the conservative catholic christian couleur locale of the dullest gray to remind us of our daily portion of drizzling rain.

Amsterdam was the capital of the hippy baby boomers of the sixties, but as you walk thru the Dam square nowadays, at the city center, it feels like time has stopped and the flower dressed peace-lovers never left the square. As you walk in the narrow streets everywhere in town you sense the scent of soft drugs, coming from any of about 70 coffee shops where you can easily get served more than just a 'coffee'. The scent of joints will tell you that this is Amsterdam, if one dropped you blindfolded in the middle of the town in the darkest night and you tried to figure out where you were.

The city is packed with musea and art galleries for history and art lovers and you suddenly feel like you walk in the streets of Venice. Water canals are everywhere and you soon get lost thinking you are still moving along the Keizersgracht whereas your steps have already brought you to the Lijnbaansgracht in the opposite radial direction that you thought you were walking towards (happened to me...).

I love looking at and shooting them typically Dutch bridges (see right, I named them after Van Gogh as the painter used to paint them). You can find them everywhere. You can also find canal boats of all sorts and colors turned into floating homes and decorated like real houses with green and flowers. Oh yes... Dutch flowers. Most of us know the tulips, but the word 'Dutch' must be actually a synonym for flowers. The Dutch love flowers to their heart for centuries now, to such a degree that I believe they could have even invented them if there weren't any. Anyways, they make a lot of money too, by trading them, as much as enjoying their colors and scent!

Amsterdam is a city for pedestrians and bikers. You'd be a fool to drive here - yep, I am one foolish basterd like that- as their extremely narrow streets are usually packed with pedestrians and bikers and public transport vehicles, especially trams. Parking spaces are convenient and easy to find but will cost you a small fortune for a few days stay. So, leave your vehicle in your home-garage and get here by any transport means other than by your car, trust me. I almost drove over a bleeding biker woman who decided to cross over the pedestrians' pathway on a red traffic light... She 'whispered' sorry, but I almost got a stroke thinking I'd spend the rest of my weekend in hospitals caring for the cow and at the local police station doing the explaining, dammit! I quickly parked in the hotel garage after the incident and put my legs to some use instead. Good for one's condition too. BTW, as a pedestrian, keep a good watch for aggressive bikers and tram drivers. They are all ready to commit traffic crimes and walk away from the scene like nothing did happen. Don't come to tell me later that I didn't warn you...

We visited the Hermitage this time. This used to be an old people resting house at the crossing of the Amstel river and the New Herengracht canal, turned into a convenient museum venue. Probably the old ones being cared in there have passed away in the meantime, who knows? I don't know the actual story behind the Amsterdam Hermitage really. Rita does, as she saw a related documentary on TV. Anyways, it said Hermitage on its front brick wall and it's apparently connected somehow with the real Hermitage at St-Petersburg in Russia. The exhibits come from there and the word goes that they regularly refresh them with new ones that arrive from the mother-ship. I gotta be honest, I left the place with mixed feelings (btw, the joke will cost you 15 euros a person in entrance fees, do the math if there's two of you). The exhibits themselves were rather outstanding samples of superior human craftsmanship but not of any form of real art. These were the possessions of the ruling aristocracy in the tsars' Russia, that immense Empire in the North-East, before the Bolsheviks decided to cut the abuse short. Most paintings date from the nineteenth century and have rather historical than artistic value. You could see plenty of fat army bastards posing to their portraits with plenty of decorations shining on their proud chest! Most works were well painted in a realism artistic movement, but some were plain ugly and badly done. The highest the rank of the portrayed subject the more skilled (and probably expensive) the painter. In fact, there were a few smaller size paintings in which the artists kinda felt like they actually challenged to a duel the most famous of the Flemish so-called primitives of the 15th century. Some brush strokes were thinner than a fraction of a millimeter! Those painters must have had some real strong vision and/or used big time magnifying glasses to do them. Remarkable.

There were similar works of outstanding craftsmanship witnessed in the remaining exhibits as well, to the extent that I felt quite disgusted by the arrogance of the rich while the masses were starving to death from hunger and illnesses. Although I have never supported socialist regimes and systems during any part of my adult life, seeing the Hermitage in A'dam made me feel like the Reds were right to defeat the riches and call it a day. Big time! Also, kudos to the early communist leaders for having protected those treasures of human craftsmanship from the Bolshevik mob in the aftermath of the October Revolution, for us in the future generations to witness. Only thing I really hoped for and couldn't find in that same exhibition were any good samples of Russian iconography, of any of their Masters, like Rublev or the workshop of the Stroganoffs. I guess, one has to visit the mother-ship in Leningrad for more and better samples.

All in all, the Hermitage is worth the visit, if you are like my spouse, very fond of anything costume Victorian style fiction literature, Jane Austin and the like, with loads of romantic virgins and horny imperial officers and ball dresses in palaces with the virgins falling in love with them useless army captains. What a pile of crap... As for me, I don't know. I'd have preferred the Rijksmuseum packed with outstanding works of 'real art' from Dutch Masters of the likes of Rembrandt, Hals and Vermeer. But that's for my next visit to town...

If you don't mind seeing my shooting samples with my Nikon P6000 during the weekend, check this out. You'll witness how the city looked like just yesterday...

Saturday, August 22, 2009

What's wrong with this picture?

No digital tricks involved. A perfectly normal X-ray shot of a human hand. Or is it?

If you find the answer in less than 5 secs then you are born to become a general manager or an army general.

If you find the answer in less than 20 sec, then you are born to be a doctor, a watchmaker or a computer programmer.

If you can't find the answer, then, what can I say? You landed on the wrong blog. Go away, as you need at least a normal person's IQ to keep reading my shit!


Of Innovation of the common people...

In an article I've been reading this morning I rofl'ed at a statement made by the author : A monoculture benefits no one in the long run, because it’s competition that drives innovation.

The subject of the blog was the fact that all iPhone competitors are lagging miles behind Apple, and the entire concept around Android is not helping the process. Android being just a software platform (like Microsoft Mobile Windows) waiting for hardware vendors to be innovative and create little marvels like the iPhone. While Android is considered somehow a descent try, hardware vendors are failing it.

And in his conclusion, out of nowhere, the author of the article sez that it's no good for consumers to just have Apple and the iPhone because: A monoculture benefits no one in the long run...etc...

The number of times I heard this in my life, if I had a cent each time, I'd be filthy rich by now. Two reasons why people feel good about making statements like this: First, it sounds cool and managerial and capitalistic and GOP-like and coming from the land of the Free. Second, because it's true. Only innovation leads to progress and the more people and companies are innovative the better for all of us.

What I don't like in that statement though is the 'hidden' innuendo - as a kinda universal truth for all seasons - that lack of competition kills innovation. Examples we typically see people referring to are totalitarian regimes that run their affairs via nationalized economies. Bureaucracy takes over and misery follows. History has proven this often to be true. Fine, I'm with you on that!

For this reason, smart-ass reporters, who can't find anything else to blame Apple about, jump to statements like "monoculture benefits no one..." It's like suggesting to us consumers: "Know dudes? Without competition, Apple will feel on top of the hill, protected by the Chinese wall, and will then stop innovating, doing no more than sucking our bucks!"

What a moron can come up with a statement like this, OMG, it's unbelievable. First of all, let's face the facts:

1. Innovation is good. It's an enabler of success. Success means dough!
2. Not all companies can do it. All companies however pay lip service to innovation, but very few out there are able to execute*. Not good to only have new ideas. You must be able to bring them to market. Ability to execute means being able to turn an idea into a product and being able to market it properly. It's execution that matters. Not just the innovative idea.

Since its inception Apple and His Jobness thrive on innovation. It's in their cell DNA. Jobs has always been redisigning the world with his ideas and visions. From computers to Pixar renderers. And he's always been able to surround himself with outstanding execution folks. Those who make it happen. From higher level managers to field workers and developers. The company is Innovation at its Best. Google sez: Do No Evil! Apple sez: Think Different! See?

So, the author of that article should think twice before throwing another Management literature stereotype statement to fill-up his blog text in the context of Apple. Because Apple doesn't need competition to continue innovating. Apple breaths with Innovation. Innovation is in Apple's lungs and blood! It goes away, Apple dies! Capice?

*Innovation is like teenage sex. Everybody's talking about it, few have tried it, but only a handful done it right!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A great Aussie Joke!

Check this out! Heard on an Aussie radio. Hilarious.

Eonverye taht can raed tihs carp rsaie yuor hnad

To my 'selected' strange-minded readers... If you can read the following 2 paragraphs, then you must be a genius! Eh? Huh? Hmmmm! Not really...

fi yuo cna raed tihs, yuo hvae a sgtrane mnid too. Cna yuo raed tihs? Olny 55 plepoe out of 100 can.

i cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg.. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno't mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt! if you can raed tihs forwrad it

The clue is to try and read this fluently as if you had a correctly spelled text in front of you. I tried to do this that way, and it actually came out much faster than when I focused on each word separately, trying to decipher it... Now, I finally know what psychologists are good for... Would be interesting if someone wrote an entire book this way, not?

Thx to my great pal Shaun B. for sending me this one... on my third anniversary of this blog!

Calacanis opinions

I don't feel much in the mood of blogging today but this article was too good to leave un-reblogged. Original article was written by a well known blogger who hates Apple, Brooklyn raised Jason Calacanis (perhaps a second or third gen son of Greek immigrants) and responses to that post were blogged by many of whom I like Marco Arment's the most. The funny thing is for us Greeks the 'Calacanis' name (if he indeed has Greek roots) means two things. One is "you are doing the right thing" and the second, if you put a question mark at the end, means "are you OK?". In themselves, those two interpretations curiously represent the preferred opinions of the two camps who'd read the Calacanis post, that is, Apple Haters and Apple Lovers respectively. Here's an appetizer and go read the rest over there... it's fun!

...I’ve seen a lot of people quoting and linking to Jason Calacanis’ recent article, The Case Against Apple—in Five Parts, in a positive light. But I can’t. It’s ridiculous.

Let’s start with an easy one:

Sure, everything on the Mac platform costs twice as much …
I over-pay for Apple products because I perceive them to be better (i.e. Windows-based hardware is 30-50% less–but at 38 years old I don’t care).

I don’t need to get into this very much with this audience, but for the people standing in the back who just came in and missed the last few years of one of the internet’s favorite arguments, Apple simply doesn’t have a low-end lineup. Their hardware is very competitively priced to similar hardware from other vendors. They just don’t compete in the ultra-low-end market, which is better for their shareholders since nobody makes any money there.

Continue reading...

Monday, August 3, 2009

Just like B2B

Many thx to Dan for pointing me to this. Simply hilarious. To those of us who have been in sales related jobs for many years and dealt with corporate buyers in countless occasions, the clip turns even more tragicomic as anyone in the salesman trade will recognize the arguments by each and every customer in the clip as very similar to those used by tons of professional buyers during procurement negotiations. You see, the thing is, whereas one accepts that such buying arguments make a lot of sense in a B2B transaction, and therefore good sales-people are well trained to deal with them, when we hear plain vanilla consumers, in B2C situations, using similar 'pro' argumentation, suddenly it all becomes kinda duh?! obnoxious.

I honestly wonder how many procurement professionals act like the three customers in the clip when they themselves visit regular retail shops or restaurants. I really wanna know how many among them do play the game the same way as during their day job. My guess is not many. Most professional buyers, while being ruthless predators during B2B procurement situations, become real chicken when they come to defend their own personal interests. Don't know why, but I am sure they do. On the contrary, those who stand up a lot for their personal benefit as consumer buyers are in fact those who typically sell stuff in their professional activity, that is all those salesmen, like you and I (have been).

Lesson in history

I was sent this yesterday by a GOP supporter. I'm not necessarily agreeing with the last sentence but it's funny nevertheless, and I believe in freedom of speech and opinions anyway, so here you go.

The teacher said, "Let's begin by reviewing some American History.
 Who said 'Give me Liberty, or give me Death?"
 She saw a sea of blank faces, except for Little Johnny, who had his hand up: 'Patrick Henry, 1775' he said.

'Very good!' Who said 'Government of the People, by the People, for the People, shall not perish from the Earth?' Again, no response except from Little Johnny, 'Abraham Lincoln, 1863'.

The teacher snapped at the class, 'Class, you should be ashamed, Little Johnny knows more about history than you do.'

She heard a loud whisper: 'Fuck the Indians.' 'Who said that?' she demanded.
Little Johnny put his hand up, 'General Custer, 1862.' At that point, a student in the back said, 'I'm gonna puke.'
 The teacher glares around and asks 'All right!!! Now who said that!?'
Again, Little Johnny says, 'George Bush to the Japanese Prime Minister, 1991.'

Now furious, another student yells, 'Oh yeah? Suck this!' Little Johnny jumps out of his chair waving his hand and shouts to the teacher, 'Bill Clinton, to Monica Lewinsky, 1997.'
 Now with almost mob hysteria someone said 'You little shit. If you say anything else, I'll kill you.' Little Johnny frantically yells at the top of his voice, ' Michael Jackson to the child witnesses testifying against him - 2004.'

The teacher fainted. And as the class gathered around the teacher on the floor, someone said, 'Oh shit, we're screwed!' Little Johnny said quietly, "The American people, November 4, 2008."