Sunday, January 31, 2010

The definition of "Magic"

From the words of Jonathan Ive on the promotional Apple video: "You know, it's true... when something exceeds your ability to understand how it works, it sort of becomes magical... ". We should all know by now which company out there has been actually creating this kind of magic in our lifetime. It's called Apple Inc. The Steve Jobs company! Likes 'Jobs' the 'dropout'. This is a group of people who, for more than 30 years, have changed our lives for ever, operating under one single objective: Create products at the crossroads of Technology and Liberal Arts. From the perspective of user interface and experience these products are created to adapt to ourselves and to our intuitive responses, and not the other way around. It was really quite interesting what Jobs said during the Wednesday event, this last week. "(paraphrasing) The space between smartphones and laptops needs to be occupied by a new device that must be much better in many things, if it had to make sense to anyone who'd pay money for it. Many said that Netbooks ought to be in that space. But, the issue is, Netbooks ain't better at anything!" Tell 'em Steve!

What was the world reaction to the Wednesday event? Not as good as it should be, by far, folks. Look around. Read the comments! The most stupid and incompetent among us (especially those with difficulty to even pronounce Apple's four letter product name correctly) came out with remarks "No way I'll buy that ever! No camera and no phone!" or "product name sadly reminiscent of female tough days of the month", or "an iPhone on steroids", or that in Irish "iPad" sounds like "iPod" (just like "fuckin'" sounds like "fockin'") and more incredible horseshit like this. Makes you wonder... why is it that morons always tend to be the most vocal in times like these? Do they get paid to act like dickheads?! Or, are they just born with the 'stupid' gene in their nucleic macromolecules?

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that Apple is the ultimate business, marketing, innovating, hardware and software company that has ever come to being. You could run an entire MBA programme based on lessons from them, by just observing the way they run things in that establishment! A little while ago I thought Google was another one along these lines... Until they launched their own smartphone. I then knew we'd be getting more and more of the same, from this point onwards. Another Microsoft on the making! Sad truth...

In the beginning of his keynote Jobs described his strategy in few single words. Every word weighted a ton of the deepest meaning, mind you... Come to think of it, the essence of what he said is much like the story we keep teaching students at MBAs. The story of the old bull and the young bull. Ever heard that one? No? Here you go:

There were, once upon a time, an old bull (father) and a young bull (son) minding their own business on top of the hill. It was midsummer and hot. Suddenly, their attention gets drawn downhill, where they spot a herd of juicy young cows enjoying the sun and the green grass while their cowbells fill the air with the music of a familiar Swiss-cowbell sound. The young bull, eyes wide open, all his bull hormones in overdrive, screams - Wow dad, let's rush downhill and shag them all! The wise ol' bull yawns for a few secs, farts loud and, full of himself, he's like: Take it easy, son! We'll just walk down slowly and take them one by one.

That's the way Steve does it. Reinvent markets, throw well designed products at them next, and take them all one by one. Enjoying the act quietly, just like the old bull. Come to think of it, that's the way by which Gates has initially grown Microsoft too. Only, Jobs has always created new knowledge and user experience by re-inventing common objects, whereas Gates copied everybody else. However, these days, the real problem for Microsoft is that Ballmer is too stupid to even do the copycat properly... he just watches his heavyweight giant bull company rushing downhill looking for cows, when the latter have gone home long, very long ago!

The Apple stats that Jobs showed us are nothing short of stunning: 12 Billion downloads of 'thingies' from their online stores (music, videos, apps). 75 million iPhones and iPods Touch sold todate (this is the market that doesn't need any additional training to operate the iPad). 250 million iPods sold todate. 15.6 billion dollars Apple revenues in a quarter (approx 50B annually). Largest mobile devices vendor worldwide by revenue (laptops, phones, music players). Behind Apple you'll find struggling Sony, Samsung and even Nokia, while the kids at Cupertino continue enjoying hefty profit margins and generate cash to lick your fingers...Who can do better?

Makes you sad thinking about what that other arrogant moron, Michael Dell, had to say about Apple, back then, around the turn of the century, when asked what his opinion was on future Apple prospects: The best thing to do with Apple, said he, is liquidate the company and give whatever's left back to the shareholders. Well said Mickey (Mouse)! It's exactly what Jobs is thinking about you right now but is civil enough not to mention it... in public!

Friday, January 29, 2010


Yep, that's exactly where I am right now! That's south of Lisbon, Portugal. Tourist place like so many other you find in Southern Europe. The horizon line on the left of the photograph is the gate to the Atlantic Ocean. Here, we are pretty much the Far West with respect to the rest of Europe, including Ireland!  We are also time-wise on the UK time-zone. At 6:30 pm the sky is blue and there's still bright light overall. In Belgium they are lost in the dark by now, by at least a couple hours ago. Not here yet though.

I'm travelling back home tomorrow noon. It's been snowing there I'm told. Hope snow melts by the time I head to my village from Zaventem. We've been freaked out with snow this year so far. Climate warming  my ass. Heard this, Al?

Project meetings went well and we even had some time to walk around in town near the end of the day. Not much to see, mind you, other than old ruin houses on the brink of collapse. If an earthquake were to hit here, God forbid, welcome Haiti all over again. This place looks like a Georges Meis paradise. (Meis is a Greek photographer who shoots tourist posters with saturated colors and he's in love with ruins and buildings dissolving to earth.) He'd better come to Setùbal. Plenty of that around. Sanford & Son style. As I was wondering around in the narrow streets first day of arrival, with my point-'n-shoot, a fat dude got mad at me seeing me shooting the ruins and began harassing me in Setubal Portugese, which of course I get perfectly like I do... Mandarine Chinese! Not? I answered back in Greek to revenge the f@cker and he kept shouting at me in his fado misery until I vanished around the corner. What went wrong with that moron? Portugese folks are normally pretty sane people for as far as I know them. This freak was from another planet, seemed to me.

Click here to take a look at my shots of that day! Look how Setubal looks on an average afternoon of the week. If you like what you see, come here to spend some holidays. The place lives from the thousands of tourists like you and me. But take summer instead. Right now I'd stay away if I were you. Other than the blue skies, it's pretty miserable cold. Even for folks like me landing here from the North.

Hotel room, a reasonably descent space with the best spring mattress I had in ages, cost me 38 euros a night (well, that's a preferential rate offered to all of us from our project venue), but internet connection by Swisscom cost 13 euros per 24 hrs. Obscene Swiss busterds! Sucking Portugese blood away. Finally, great (fresh) fish restaurants in town costing you next to nothing. A huge grilled dorade we had this noon, of phenomenal size mind you, plus local antipasti to our heart's desire for two, with wine and water, all that for 48 euros. As good as 'free'.

I met José at noon today, an old colleague from the late nineties, early 2K. Was good to see him again. Looked even younger than ten years ago. Every time I've been here last few trips José was always there to spend a few hours with me and even pay me lunch and drinks! Good kid! The best! Besides, he's a big shot nowadays in the US software company he works for. I'm like, "which countries do you run these days, J?". He goes "All of them!". Eyes (mine) wide open! "The whole freakin' Europe?! OMG. Well done kid!". He smiles. "...but, I'm reporting to someone over the other side of the pond. I rather had a layer in between, you know..." I do, exactly what he means! Yankees raised to WW managers by their multinationals back in the States often think they know it all and come 'n tell us, miserable Europeans, that all that shit is the same everywhere. No difference between New Jersey and Luxembourg. Dream on dude! Like tiramisu bein' kinda same with creme brulé!

Back to my room and writing this blog. Apple is down 8 points! Ever since the iPad came out the market has been slaughtering them like pigs! No use worrying too much about that, however. They'll come back in a few days, sure thing. Great buying opportunity, if you asked me. Market correction on the make. I'll go continue reading Brown's 'lost symbol' instead, that I bought at the Brussels airport on my way here, to fall asleep amid his latest masonic intrigues! This dude really goes to great lengths to discover the source of few common things... like ties (cravats) etymologically (phonetically) originating from Croat warriors. And tattoos. Tell us somethin' we didn't know Danny boy!

Monday, January 18, 2010

I feel grumpy this morning...

It's one of these Monday mornings. I feel so useless as I can be. The few tasks I planned for the day are long done by now, over and out, and I still feel like shit. Another dude in my place should probably feel good about himself. Indeed, in the last four days I managed to produce materials for two courses (13 episodes each) with a total of 425 overhead slides! Planned case studies, workshops, and exams and even secured three guest lecturers. These are industry experts, who'll come to animate one session each. I even prepared overhead materials and finalized reports for an upcoming project meeting I got to go to in two weeks. In my sane mind I should be feeling at least some level... of fulfillment. Everybody else in my shoes would do that, right? Not me though... I feel grumpy and pissed with most actors in my own surroundings. A deep sense of failure in my mind. I'm probably cruising towards my male menopause depression, I guess.

A friend sent me a link to this article on the FT talking about Sir John (Eliot Gardiner), famous  British conductor (a farmer's son), married to an Italian and living in SW England, in Dorset somewhere. Happy man! Rich, and independent and much loved by his intellectuals fans, touring with orchestras around the world and delighting classic music lovers. He's 66 and still going. I was invited to one of his concerts by a vendor a few years back, at the Bozar in Brussels. A friend of mine, who was with me at that event, came up to his Sir'ness and asked him to sign his autograph on my pal's programme leaflet. I had no idea who Gardiner was then, other than seeing him conduct the concert, and as I am not a Bach expert by any means, I didn't care much either. It was an evening like any other. Big deal!

Reason I'm bringing this up is the fact that Sir John is an example of a successful individual who will die happy, as he keeps doing at 66 what he enjoys most and gets paid good money too, I reckon. While, millions like me, 10 years younger than Sir John, feel miserable, depressed and useless. Everybody gets what he/she deserves used to say my first boss ever back in 1980. We deserve the wives and mistresses, offsprings, friends, jobs, bosses, and our subordinates. Our customers and suppliers. Even our neighbors. And above all, our health condition (except for congenital malaises) and mental state. I shouldn't complain therefore... as I'm the only one to blame for today's crankiness, after all being said and done. Nevertheless... my obvious discernment doesn't make me feel any better.

I published a blog a few days ago where I talked about people I know. This created so much controversy among those concerned that I had to take it down by the end of the day. People can be so hypersensitive sometimes... Never mind. In a few billion years from now every form of life and logic on the planet will be long gone, and turnt into fire and dust. Why care then? Makes you wonder... what has been the purpose of all this in the first place, anyway? Like the lyrics go:

I mean - what have you got to lose?
You know, you come from nothing
you're going back to nothing.
What have you lost? Nothing.

Glen Miller soft music fills in the background. The older I get the deeper I dig into the past for musical and intellectual entertainment. A friend bought me the Seneca's essays recently, to study and learn. I'm such a lazy reader though. Especially when the subjects are abstract and deal with the human mind. About spiritual, philosophical and human relationship related concepts. Give me things I can grasp instead. Engineering, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, Computers. At least these deal with tangible objects. As an example, I started 'studying' biochemistry recently. Can you just believe this??? Given my past general background in chemistry was nothing short of absolute nada, this recent pastime became a fascinating experience, almost an obsession. I never imagined nature would be so complex, and ingenius. Darwin's discovery of the 'evolution' law is so cool! One of the best, if not the best concepts discovered by God and man ever. Well, God 'invented' it, whereas man (Darwin) discovered it.

Also, the scholars and scientists, who during the last hundred fifty years worked on these subjects, are mind boggling. Having 'studied' some bachelor level biology in the process, I decided to experiment on myself with some of the things I've been reading. Being a 'borderline' diabetic (type 2) I enjoyed to observe the impact on my blood-sugar of an adapted daily diet that I worked out all by myself. To the point each time I eat something nowadays, I mentally 'follow' the sneaky glucose molecules travel from my intestines into my blood and liver, and I almost witness in my mind the chemical cell reactions that (must) occur as part of my metabolism. Especially those liver cells are fascinating. I even tried once to mentally visualize those obnoxious DNA replication processes (with mRNA and all) that led to a bunch of messed-up proteins hanging out in the cytoplasm that eventually turned some of those cells inside my colon tissue into a malignant cancer (took them ten years to show-up, dirty devils...), leading to my biggest scare in life, and subsequent operation that I finally survived two years ago. Who knows? I might have spared loads of misery to many if I ended up six feet under then...

You see, before all this started, I only knew that there was this long molecule called DNA, about which experts claimed it 'carried genetic code' defining who we are and what we'll become. Having studied engineering more than 35 yeas ago, I was trained to 'think' in models and abstractions of reality. How the hell would a sequence of chemical compounds, entangled together in one hell of a macromolecule, can define whether your nose will become longer than any average Joe Blow's or that you get skinhead bold at 25? Too complex, far too complex to grasp by plain vanilla engineers.

Anyways, I might share some more of that... eventually. You might learn something in the process too. In the meantime it's getting close to 9:30am EST as we speak, and the market is about to kick-in. Time to go make or lose some day-trading dough. Can you blame me?

Oh, shoot! Martin Luther King bank-holiday today and the markets are closed. What can you do?

Sunday, January 3, 2010


Loyal to a year-end holidays tradition I recently paid a visit at Sani Imports, a wholesale Greek food supplier in Brussels. Among many lip-smacking goodies I also bought a small box of melomakarona. Has been long, very long really, since I tasted those. That was in the sixties, back in Greece, when my mommy dearest enjoyed preparing fattening sweets in spades for her adolescent kanakari! Never imagined that my deary spouse would have loved them so bad, to the point that she decided to prepare them on her own. So, in a net search for a traditional recipe 'made in Greece' I fell upon this video clip shown on Greek TV. Watch it to the end and don't mind your lack of understanding Greek at all. Pictures are worth a thousand words... And video clips are worth millions... I gotta say though, quite an original way to present recipes, and between you and I, exceptionally fit to all those oversexed Greek machos.

I've seen more food recipe programs in my life than I would have ever wished for. In this country alone we have at least half a dozen running on various channels. Not to mention that dreadful fat cow Nigela Lawson on BBC with her suicidal X-mas recipes this time of the year. I hate the woman. She's been always using preposterous amounts of sugar-and-fat rich ingredients in her recipes, and then she's the first to gobble her own vomit... her ass eventually growing to a frightening shape that skilled cameramen are careful to stay away from during her broadcasting, upon penalty of getting sacked. Anyways... However, I never came across such an inspiring formula like that of the Greeks, ever before. Food and sex?! Why not? Our ancestors did that in spades. Called them symposia and orgies. Spaghetti Romans copied them later into the infamous Rome sex parties. And refined them further to the level of excellence. Until that moron Emperor Constantine the Great came by... and killed all the fun! What can ye' say? Combining pleasures... Most creative ideas are really born in Greece, aren't they?