Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Microsoft, here we come!

A few moments ago this was the rank of the top thirteen companies ranked by market cap (I took thirteen instead of ten to include IBM and ATT...).

Apple just jumped over Walmart and occupies the third place, only a few 'pennies' behind Microsoft. I have predicted that Apple would take over Microsoft by the end of 2012 but I'm afraid I'll prove wrong again. I reckon, they are about to land on second place within the next 12 months now, or even less, by end of this year possibly.

Between you and I, had Microsoft been led by a real testicled manager and not that monkey jumping bonehead, there'd be no snowball's chance in hell that Apple could ever get above Microsoft, in my lifetime.

Go Apple go! Show them good, them basterds!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Shooting graphical shoots of works of visual arts

One of my favorite pastimes is to shoot graphical pictures when I come across subjects that allow this to happen. Especially objects of art exposed in musea offer lots of possibilities for such an endeavor. Look at the shot posted here. I took this earlier today in Maastricht, at the Bonnefanten museum. The building itself, designed by Aldo Rossi, a famous architect of the previous century, is one with a stunning structure. On a certain moment, I was standing at the "second" floor and, using a 10-20 mm super wide angle, I shot the picture shown here. The strange object in the center of the round wooden floor, with natural light falling upon it from the door opening on the left, is the actual artwork built on a granite (or marble) block, carved into a central cylinder with a separate composite part attached to it, like "wings of angels".

Take a look at the remaining shots I took in the museum and in the old city of Maastricht, some of them turning out quite graphical indeed. I hope you like them. Here's a series of 3 pictures (click for larger view) at the entrance to the expo space with the guard resting and getting bored. He won't even see the visitors passing by...

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Greek gene...

I can't prove there's a Greek gene among the thousands of known human genes. Not chemically anyways. There may be an allele that could be very similar among us Greeks. This is the gene that, at the sound of pure rebetiko bouzouki makes you weep. Wakes up your 'free child' (Eric Berne's TA term) and you forget you need to still behave properly out of respect for your social status.

What's wrong with me, you might think... well, almost 40 years after I left the fatherland and as I thought my brain had wiped away those musical sentiments for good, there comes a friend and gives me some extremely rare recordings of two of the most divine godfathers of bouzouki music : Manos Hatzidakis and Yorgos Zabetas. What followed inside the loft that keeps me going during home stays, you just don't wanna know. Seriously...

I just wanted to share one short recording from that session that was produced for ERT Radio 3, during Christmas, many years ago.  The particular song by Hatzidakis, "let's go for a walk to the moon", was originally sung by Nana Mouskouri, and became an instant hit in the 60ies. It was the times when Nana could still sing properly, right before she came to Paris to become a castrate. Zabetas, one of the best rebetes ever made is being interviewed by Hatzidakis in that recording session. Hatzidakis 'pushes' Zabetas to play and sing the 'roots'... rebetika songs from the 20ies and 30ies. Zabetas does that with respect and discipline, but in this particular song, he tells Hatzidakis that he'd also like to play "the moon". He does start to do so in his bouzouki and Hatzidakis feels obliged to accompany him on the piano. Pure bouzouki magic. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Lijn 3

I thought this was the most dramatic picture of the entire show.
Seeing it at close range almost makes you weep like a woman.
Spring Sundays are made for promenades and for visiting expos. With early spring 'sights and sounds' popping out slowly here and there, despite this morning's windy rain, and with day temperatures carefully getting north of 10 C° (at last), what else to do on a Sunday afternoon than visiting  a good photography show? So we did exactly that, 'mia esposa' and I, loaded like a camel with a 7D and only two zoom lenses, with focals all the way from 10mm to 125mm. And had my 3GS too with me, especially fit for inside shoots, where anything else would be far too conspicuous and easily attract security guards' attention and barking.

The expo's called Lijn 3, at the Caermersklooster in Patershol. Took its name from a busroute that runs thru Ghent's inner city slums, where poverty and misery are the common thread. Life like no one wants to live. Half a dozen Belgian photo-reporters followed the route's inhabitants, those poor sods struggling to survive under inhumane conditions day-in day-out, natives of 120 different nationalities, who left their miserable homelands and sought their 'fortunes' inside the Belgian Welfare State. The photographic project took place during a whole year with the photographers shooting thousands of pictures. This expo was eventually the result of this massive shoot. Despite heavy Photoshop dynamic range corrections, resulting into conspicuous digital borderlines far too explicit to be ignored, I especially liked the fact that those reporters shot their pictures like one and the same person. In terms of content, composition and color, that is to say... You had no idea that this was the result of the work of so many... Really!

Have a look here, of my shots I took inside the expo space... the rest come from our wondering around old Ghent, where we had sandwiches, coffee and pie (sort of).

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Business models...

Not long ago I came across this very smart cookie, a young lad in his early thirties, from Lausanne Switzerland. I haven't ever actually met him in person, but I initially read some of his work (mainly presentations in SlideShare) incl. a preview of his book "Business Model Generation" offered at his website. His approach seemed so compelling that I went out to order his bible in a heartbeat. His name: Alexander Osterwalder.

He studied computer science at the EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland, one of the top two Engineering Polytechniques in the country, and he PhD'ed at the same school about Business Model Ontologies. You can find summaries of his thesis real easy on the net. The young graduate probably had an epiphany and discovered that most businesses out there (actually all of them) like to talk a lot about their biz models and biz modeling but only a wee tiny percent knows how to do the job right. Kinda like teenager sex...

Anyways, I was also one of those millions sitting at the margin of business modeling, sad to admit, feeling confident that I could tell a business model if it hit me in the face, but not much more beyond that. After reading his work though, I received the same epiphany like he had and I became an instant believer. His book is highly recommended and you can get it thru Amazon in the US. That's where I bought my copy. Last time I checked, no other Amazon out of the US carried the item. Maybe they do now, who knows. Needless to say, as a sequel to my conversion, Osterwalder's modeling approach became part of my college lecturing overnight, with his permission, of course.

But, why am I making the point right this moment? Quite simple. I have been just reading this article about Google's Nexus One that seems to have only sold 135K units in the same number of days right after market launch, where Apple's iPhone sold a million items during exactly the same number of days following its own launch. This is 74 days, in fact. If you come to think that Google even copied most iPhone functions and some of its surrounding ecosystem, and then see what they've been able to sell... just pathetic! They can sing along Palm and it's recent disaster with Pre. The question then rises: Is Google indeed as incompetent as the rest of them?

Apparently so. Certainly when they launch products that emerged from a copycat strategy. The article points to a number of Google's wrongdoings, like selling the phones via their web alone, having zero human contact assistance available, and much more like that, as we have been reading in the press the last couple months... Including software inefficiencies and such. If you read Osterwalder's work though and applied his recommended framework, the reasons behind the Google mess suddenly seem so simple to grasp, that even someone with the brains of a five year old could do a far better launch job.

Here's the thing. The vast majority of market players (incl. many with successful past track record) mostly fail not because they launch the wrong products (copycat or not) but because they are simply too ignorant to apply a descent business model at all. It's not the product itself that is the problem, stupid, it's the bring-to-market business model that makes the difference. The iPhone's success is the result of its business model in the first place. Like the iPod's and very soon now the new iPad's (to be). In pre-orders alone the iPad is currently being reported to have sold multiples of what Nexus One sold in the last 74 days... Go figure!

There are nine critical components (building blocks) vitally interrelated in any proper business model per the Osterwalder framework. These components need to operate in sync like neuron cells synapting among themselves to create something that stands and works. One single neuron is totally useless; get a few thousand stuck together to exchange signals and you got an... emotion! Google may have got the hardware and a few other details right (actually most goodness came from HTC) but I doubt they got any of the remaining components in their place, like customer relationships, and channels and value propositions, not to forget customer segments above all... "Me too" strategies are hard to make succeed. Especially when you are only driven by what the one-you-are-after does, in every step of the way. Instead of adding new value, that is. You end up with a biz model entangled like spaghetti Bolognese. Like Palm's Pre, the Nexus showed some fancy GUI and multitasking and Google all of a sudden thought the war is over! Those entrepreneurs who still think that most consumers have plain double digit IQs, and will buy any BS you can sell them, should time-travel and stay there to operate in my granny's times. Makes you wonder what they eat for breakfast these folks at Google and Palm.

Largey should better pick up the phone and call Alex for this matter. He might learn something about doing business like seasoned grown-ups do. You see, not all business is like Google Search. Mark my words...

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Would you really miss a File Browser if there was none available?

By default the link shows different items in the horizontal bar menu
at the bottom. You need to scroll to the right to find what you see here.
First, take a quick peek here. It's the Apple page showing the iPad, due to hit the streets on April 3rd. The page displays a gallery of  iPad screenshots showing off a few apps that will ship along with every iPad sold.

You've probably heard that the iPhone does not offer any  file browser functionality as we know it on standard PCs or Macs... In other words, on an iPhone, data files cannot be managed like with traditional file browsers (i.e. File Explorer on Windows or Finder on OSX Macs).  Also, you can't double-click a file icon to invoke the app that is supposed to work with it. You wouldn't even know where to start to make this happen on an iPhone. You simply invoke apps by touching with a finger the app icons on an iPhone desktop.

On an iPhone, data files only become available from within the apps that create and maintain them, not via any standard iPhone file browser. In many iPhone apps you can save your own data files... by all means so; but, as a user, you've got no clue where these files end up to. iPhone apps will let you use only the files saved in a dedicated storage area that the particular app's creators have foreseen in their app by default. It is also possible to use files within an app created elsewhere (by another app so to say); only if its creators decided this to be a standard function. For example, most photo processing apps will typically allow you to read and store data files (i.e. photos) into the photographs storage area (the albums) that Apple provides for the needs of its standard 'Photos' app. In conclusion, the iPhone desktop is a place where you can only find shortcuts of installed apps, and no data files whatsoever. It's not at all like the PC/Mac desktops that you are used to, except for the fancy wallpapers...

Finally, except for a few apps that can run concurrently, the iPhone won't allow you to keep open more than one app running at a time. Concurrent program execution is what technerds call multitasking. On the iPhone there's none of it. Is that a big deal? Well, I've often seen people keeping a gazillion apps open on their desktops at work. They ignore that humans can only do one thing at the time... especially male workers. A gazillion multitasking apps will typically clog your live memory... next thing you know your CPU starts swapping files in and out from your persistent storage, slowing down your box to unpopular 'launch and going for coffee' levels. Remember that...

The iPad promises to work the same way as the iPhone, more or less... No multitasking (with a few exceptions) and no Finder-like file browser. Is that a problem? Really?

You see, we are used to work with computers based on operating systems that from the outset were built to support "file management" as a core function. That was so important that it always formed an integral part of the OS. When GUI came along, we learned to drag and drop files all over and organize them in hierarchical trees of a gazillion directories. We still keep doing that even as we speak. However, my experience from watching middle-aged persons learning to work with PCs is that they really despise this mode of work. They don't think it's intuitive enough. The metaphors used for 'files' and 'folders' and 'file drags and drops', however simple most of us think they are, are actually experienced by old folks as rather hard to grasp. I often witnessed baby-boomers getting constipated by pulling their mice by the cable and, with bespectacled eyes wide open, clicking file icons, struggling to maintain the mice "clicked-on" while dragging them further... And, sweating cold sweat by the time they accomplish the 'mission'.  I don't know why, but that's the way it seems to work.

Thus, having said that, do we, honestly need a file browser of any sort, at all? I repeat! At all?! Like File Explorer, or Finder, or more like that. Do we actually need to know where our files are eventually kept and stored? Even physically? They must be somewhere in our computer box, right? If I need to find them, my app will do that for me, innit?

Well, watching Apple, I'd say His Jobness clearly decided that we don't need file browsers anymore. Nada. How do I know that? Well, go check their gallery pages on the link I gave you above. No Finder shown anywhere! Just plain apps! Mind you, these apps are more than you'd ever need (well, if you only added to this bundle their Office Productivity apps too, that they plan to sell for $9.99 each, that is less than 30 bucks for all three of those). With these you can do whatever necessary that every normal person needs to do on a 'personal' computer.

Think for a moment about what you normally do with your iPhone. Apart from calling people, I must confess, I do an awful lot with it these days. From finding my way to bed while the spouse is sleeping, using it as a flashlight (you never thought of that, right?) to... just name it folks; I'll have to spend the rest of the day talking about it... I actually find news and stuff I care about must faster on the iPhone than on my Macbook Pro. Only detail that bothers me is the size of its real estate. I actually need an iPad size appliance to get rid of my laptop altogether. Honest! I might still need my 27inch iMac desktop for a few things here and there... for the time being, that is.

Basically, El Jobso decided that humans need to think more about what they are using computers for rather than having to learn about how computers themselves were built to do the job. How reasonable is that, not? That's the key difference, by the way, between the Borg and Steve Jobs. Microsoft thinks that a Joe 6-pack will typically enjoy doing computer work the same way bonehead developers do. However, Steve Jobs thinks that J6Ps love to do what J6Ps enjoy the most. Drink beer and... check time to go home, looking at their wristwatch now and then. Only difference, wristwatches have been replaced by iPhones nowadays. Everybody knows that! Therefore, using cell-phones or personal computers should be as natural and simple as checking the time on a wristwatch, innit? But, this is not how nerdy Microsofties see us casual PC users work with Windows boxes.

The Apple way (or El Jobso's way, better said) is quite different than what we have traditionally learned from Microsoft. Unfortunately for the Redmond aficionados, the Apple way will be the long term winner in all this. The iPhone started a popular revolution that will change the computer world for ever.  Get used to it. And trust me, the New Way is far simpler and waaaay better. Computers need to adapt to you, not the other way around, exactly like Apple's Jonnhy Ivy declares in the iPad commercial video. And the change is gonna be good, not only for casual end-users but for those darn developers too. Already 140,000 apps available on the Appstore and counting. All done in less than two years? Are you shittin' me? If the Apple SDK wasn't created as function rich to help them develop their iPhone apps so easy, how the heck did they get so productive otherwise, all of a sudden? I mean, productive and developers don't usually meet in one and the same sentence, duh? Anyways, for us regular J6P end-users, it boils down to this... we now have got lot more choice and far better price/performances like we've never ever dreamed before. Competition drives prices down and improves quality... heard that?

The phenomenal acceptance of the iPhone by human flocks, despite direct competition from blunt copycats like Google, Nokia, HTC, Samsung, Motorola, RIM and Palm, proves the point that normal homo sapienses will exactly do what His Jobness wants them to do. And those of you who don't believe the iPad will eventually make it, well... watch its space folks. Sadly, you will be deeply disappointed.

Monday, March 8, 2010

His Jobness at the Oscars....

Posing here with little known movie director and screenwriter Jon Chu. I guess after Jon published this shot on Twitter (I'm sure an iPhone was involved here), he became a instant celeb and the focus of tech reporters queueing up to hear what His Jobness had to say to him. It's not El Jobso's habit though to be posing with obscure celebrities unless they meant something. Who knows, we may hear more about this Chu guy in the future. His best investment so far was to pose with the Master at the 2010 Oscars.

Anyways, Jobs went home with an Oscar too... euh... his Pixar did, with the incredible "Up".  It's Director Pete Docter, at the award ceremony, looked very much like one of his own animated characters if you asked me (from Monsters, maybe?). Not relevant though. This guy knows how to make 3D animation. Watching the Up BD, I often forgot it were made of just computer generated scenes... felt like real life, with emotions and all. My favorite scene was when kid Russell asked the old man Carl to take Dug the talking dog along with them and Carl refused... Russell responds, ...BUT HE'S A TALKING DOG! Russel's body expression, along with his voice shouting in high pitch, showing an utmost surprise about how someone could leave behind such a miracle of nature (a talking dog!) were simply w√ľnderbar.

Thank you much Steve for giving us Pixar and its people...

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Makes you proud to be born Greek...

The number of clips posted on YouTube about the Greek financial mess and the reaction of the Germans is simply unbelievable. This is one of my preferred ones, based on a reaction of a Greek starlet who figured quite an effective way to appear on a National tabloid TV. Don't bother if you can't understand what she says. Pictures are worth a thousand words!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

VJK Diaries said: All sales is based on deception...

Sun Tzu said: All warfare is based on deception... Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.
Sales is warfare. Therefore all sales is based on deception
In all this you need to define the enemy. The enemy is not the customer... it is your competitors and those who are to win big in case you lose. These are the ones you need to deceive while committing your resources to win a deal. 
Thus, All sales is based on deception... Don't you ever forget that...

Friday, March 5, 2010

The truth behind the Greek Drama...

"...Daddy, Daddy, who are the "financial markets" who are bullying the Greeks and the euro? 
Well, son, they are hedge funds, pension funds and the trading arms of the big banks.
But Daddy aren't those the same banks which the world's governments have just spent billions of euros, pounds and dollars to rescue from the consequences of their own greed and stupidity?..."
Read the remaining article here. This is the best ever written, yet, about the Greek financial clusterfuck. Thank you much John Lichfield, of The Independent, for writing this so clearly, and thank you much Niko for pointing me to the article. Excellent!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Red Hammers do exist! They really do...

What the heck did I have for breakfast, you might think... What has a Red Hammer got to do with anything? Calm down, y'all. Here comes the story.

On a quite sunny morning, March 2nd (that's yesterday, right?) I get this message from my pal Wes, from some place near Liverpool, England. Where the Beatles come from, innit? John, Paul, Ringo and George...

The message said, Relax folks, you are about to witness some kick ass phenomenon that will blow your socks off! Wow! It then said you must give answers to a few questions... simple arithmetics that was, like, 56+7 equals... you got to think quick about the answer and scroll further down to verify your outcome; there you saw the right response, say...euh... 63! It went on like this for another four or five sums, and you hopefully got all those right, of course, and it made you feel kinda like Mensa level genius, after all. Until surprise came to town! Hold on your socks, folks!

It said... keep relax, calm down, think quick and, now, give me a color and a tool. Don't think for too long, just answer real quick, whatever pops out of your skull!

I goes... euh... Red... euh... Hammer!

I scroll down next... and, a few empty lines further down I fall into this paragraph sayin'... you guessed right, my friend! It is a Red Hammer (just like this, in bold type and in red color).

WHAT THE F@CK! Holy Jesus, Mary and Joseph! How the hell did it do that!?!? I'm telling you... It just rocked my socks off! I'm like, pinch me, mom... I'm dreaming! There's not much left in cyberspace that could still surprise me, but, this? Gimme a break!

As I scroll even further, the story continues... Don't you worry, it says, it appears that the vast majority of people taking the test come up with the same answer: Red Hammer. Why? Go ask your shrink, WTF do I know? However, I've spent too many years studying Statistics and Science to take that kind of shit for granted. Was that claim for real? Let's see for ourselves... Next thing I know, I fire the same message to more than a dozen contacts of mine, that I happen to feed with Internet jokes on a regular basis... I must admit, I get quite a few of them internet jokes from a couple good suppliers of mine on a daily basis, and I keep dispatching the best among those to my own recipient groups, just to lighten up their miserable executive lives as they keep wasting them by running their companies and businesses daily in the four corners of the planet. It's a good bunch, most of them living on both sides of this pond.

Not too long after that, answers started pouring in. "I got a blue hammer", sez one... "sorry, I ain't normal, as it appears". "I got a yellow screwdriver", sez paddy Shaun... "sorry, I'm Abbie Normal too". "I've got a gray spoon", sez another, "I guess, that's because I just had... my lunch!" Aint' that fun? Finally, a few of them, sounding terrified like they just escaped a falling wall in the recent Chile earthquake, admitted:"My Goad, I thought of a Red Hammer too! I haven't even seen a red hammer in my whole freakin' life...", said one, "...but I just thought of one!"

What is the conclusion of my mini survey, among pals, then? Apparently, Red Hammer wins. I had a dozen responses, whereby three of them were 50% "right" (selected either Red or Hammer), and four (incl. my own answer) got Red Hammer together. It wasn't the vast majority like the message initially claimed, but this is because most of my recipients are abnormal weirdos... what did you expect? Me, a genuine situs inversus - no kiddin' (google this and freak out), I eventually proved to be a lot more 'normal' than most of my pals! Go figure! Same thing, my ex-personal assistant, Annick. She's normal too. And Geert S. The best salesman born ever! Him too! And somebody else from P&G, whose name I forgot! Not Noel F, someone else!  In any case, the Red Hammer combination in these tests proved the highest, relatively speaking of course, and is pretty spooky and 'significant'. Try to explain that, dude...

BTW, I just googled "red hammer" in the images section and to my surprise, yes sir, there exist genuine red hammers indeed! One of them pictures I copied here for your pleasure too. So, Shaun my bro, you don't need to be a Turkeyneck like me to think of a Red Hammer after all! Red Hammers exist! Yep! They do!