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Amazon’s new Fire smartphone

 

 

Amazon decided to enter the mobile market with the new Fire smartphone featuring 3D graphics, 13MP camera, HD video, Dolby Digital audio, immersive reading (where you can combine your Kindle book with its audio version) 3D graphics, Firefly technology that identifies movies, music, household items, provides product details, reads business cards,  allows to send e-mails and visit websites without having to type addresses,  X-Ray technology that allows you to get lyrics for the songs, ASAP (Advanced Streaming and Prediction) for immediate video playback, Amazon Prime (one year for free limited offer), Dynamic Perspective allowing one-handed shortcuts using tilt, swivel and peek, Mayday Amazon customer service,  premium headset,  but most importantly, free backup and restore functions plus free unlimited cloud storage. (image: theverge.com)

Forbes provide four reasons why Fire will fail and call it Bezos’ biggest mistake:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeanbaptiste/2014/06/19/4-reasons-the-amazon-fire-phone-will-fail/

Mashable experience the new smartphone hands-on:

https://plus.google.com/+Mashable/posts/7s4RHsyMQow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Drivers and pedestrians – the never-ending war

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I have a confession to make: I don’t drive.  But while I generally don’t criticize those who do, I am routinely lectured by drivers on how driving “gives you freedom’”.  I don’t buy into the idea. Freedom to park miles away from the restaurant or the theatre and then walk to the car in the middle of the night? Freedom to wander around the multilevel car-park  risking your life? Freedom to kill a living creature or another human being?  I’m sure drivers don’t see it that way and for some it’s a necessity dictated by lifestyle or work, but ultimately it’s a matter of choice.

The only freedom I want is to be able to walk about without being endangered at every pedestrian crossing. I walk to the office every morning and it’s a  veritable war: drivers skipping lights without even looking at pedestrians crossing the road, pedestrians repaying the drivers by crossing at the wrong time in the wrong place. One Monday morning I witnesses a female red light skipper being pulled over by a policeman – that was very satisfying, but the following morning it was back to “normal” traffic light skipping as there were no police in sight.

The founder of The Idler magazine Tom Hodgkinson published in one of its issues (named ‘Smash the System’ ) an essay “Reclaim the Streets, Family Style” in which the author Ted Dewan describes an Oxford neighbourhood initiative that tried to introduce traffic calming measures through creation of imaginative installations. The first one called Casualty was a ‘family of witches smashed by a weird car’ . Then a few years later came Living Room, an installation made of dumped furniture contributed by all the neighbours. Living Room didn’t block the traffic, but served as a traffic calming measure.  The installation ‘lived’ for three days only to fall victim to the self-righteous rage or a Mitsubishi Warrior driver who smashed the furniture while insulting and threatening those who tried to protest.

In cultures where cars are seen as status symbols (really? Most people who drive actually had to borrow money  to buy their cars) self-righteous road rage and utter contempt for pedestrians, the public transport (and those who use it) are not surprising.   In places like Zurich and Berlin where using public transport is not seen as a sign of belonging to a certain class drivers stop at every pedestrian crossing, nobody is in a rush, cyclists have designated lanes and everyone on the road behaves with dignity and shows respect towards others.  Because no matter how expensive your car is the road behaviour is a matter of culture and respect.  (image: articles.glendalenewspress.com)

 

 

 

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What is an API and should I get one before it’s too late?

 

 

APIs are everywhere.  API or Application Programming Interface is hailed as the future of communication in the Internet of Things where appliances, software and people will become increasingly interconnected. But how do you explain what an API is for instance to your non-technically minded mother? How do you explain that they may become a big part of her life in the near future, taking into consideration the fact that she only got her first mobile phone a couple of years ago.

The leading API evangelist Kin Lane defines API in his blog: “An API — Application Programming Interface — at its most basic level, allows your product or service to talk to other products or services. In this way, an API allows you to open up data and functionality to other developers, to other businesses or even between departments and locations within your company. It is increasingly the way in which companies exchange data, services and complex resources, both internally, externally with partners, and openly with the public.”

An example of successful utilization of an API is Google Analytics Core Reporting API which allows tech-savvy folks extract any or all of their Google Analytics report data and serves as a basis for building bespoke apps.  Developers with the correct authorization get access to processed Google Analytics data and get to use it in ways the current user interface doesn’t allow.  Brian Clifton in his book “Advanced Web Metrics”  gives the basics of how to use Google Analytics Core Reporting API.

If we try to explain APIs in human terms it’s like opening up to new people in your life to give them a glimpse of your true colours without letting them ‘hack the core’. Your personal ‘API’ allows you to build mutually beneficial relationships with others, but you still have control over how close you become with all these strangers.

Opening up improves communication and makes bonds stronger, but giving everything away without asking for anything in return would be unwise. API management services (like Apigee and 3scale) are doing precisely that – letting businesses open up to the world just enough by limiting access to their APIs in order to monetize them.

API managers are trying to convince us that APIs will become mainstream quite soon. 3scale’s Steve Willmott and author Craig Burton came up with 5 axioms of API economy:

1. Everything and everyone will be API enabled.

2. APIs are core to every cloud, social and mobile computing strategy.

3. APIs are an economic imperative.

4. Organizations must provide their core competence through APIs.

5. Organizations must consume core competences of others through APIs.

The authors of the axioms themselves admit that the thoughts are ‘raw’ and invite open discussion. Personally I’m curious about how they see individuals become ‘API enabled’, unless they mean it in a metaphorical sense.  Or perhaps what they mean is that the number of devices we rely on will become so large and our dependence of them so serious that we will become API-dependent, rather than API-enabled.

Maybe when trying to explain to my mother what an API is I should say that in the near future her mobile phone will be able to communicate with her fridge and she will not necessarily be part of the conversation…  (image: wilgegebroed.nl)

 

Head in Hands

How to deal with not getting what you want

 

We’ve all been there - a job, a contract, an opportunity, a date – whatever it was we wanted and never got… When anger and disbelief subside you need to deal with the situation in  a calm detached way.

1. Use it as an opportunity to think about what you really want.   Was that job really your dream job or were you giving in to pressure from family or circumstances? Was that the opportunity of a lifetime or did you just think it would  look good on your CV? If it a case of a great opportunity missed, mourn it and move on, Most of the time you’ll find that whatever is rightfully yours (or right for you) usually comes to you.

2. Is this failure so disastrous?  Try to look at the situation from the ‘point of view of eternity’. What has actually happened? Are you going to be left destitute and starving? Do you need to drastically change your plans? Skip meals? Move house? Move to another country?  Most of the time the situation is not as bad as it seems.

3. Even if the situation is bad it’s never hopeless.   No matter how bad things are you are not likely to lie down and die immediately. You’ll still have to get on with things and think of a way out.  And there is always a way out, although it may not be the most pleasant or the easiest one.

4. Do not make it worse.    You can always make things worse by being rude, irrational or plain rash.  Threats, insults and walkouts are only going to harm you and your reputation.  Rather than overreact do not react at all, freeze and conserve your energy till you are perfectly calm.

5. Do not undervalue yourself.   Sometimes the truth is you are too good for the thing you didn’t get. People who patronize you and talk down to you are usually just jealous of your gifts and abilities (no truly intelligent or gifted person ever patronizes anyone, they’ve better things to do), so be honest with yourself and stop chasing jobs that aren’t good enough for you.

6. Write about the experience.  Vent your frustration and righteous anger on paper. Turn it into a blog post, a short story, a humorous poem, an article. Writing things out helps clear the air and it may also help you understand yourself better.

Whatever happens, work or career-related failures are never as disastrous as we think.  As for personal disappointments, they are much easier to get over if we concentrate on the things that really matter.   (image: rebellesociety.com)

 

 

 

Goal

How to stay on track with your goals for the year

 

It’s April now, the first three months of the year are over and if you set goals for yourself in January you should be asking how well you are doing. Not putting pressure, but simply asking the right questions.  Look at the list of goals for the current year and you’ll see that perhaps the most important question should be ‘Why?’

1. Why did I set these particular goals?   The biggest problem with goals and resolutions is that we often choose something we think we should be striving for instead of setting goals that are relevant to us. If after several months you clearly see that some of the goals are irrelevant and you don’t care about them just delete them from the list and move on.

2. Why am I not doing very well?  Obviously if the goal is irrelevant it’s doubtful you’re going to be very successful. If you got rid of all the irrelevant ones, but looking at the remaining goals still see that you are not doing great in some areas, you need to ask more questions. Are the goals realistic? Are you giving yourself enough time? Are they properly worded (that can be extremely important)?

3. Why have I chosen these particular measurements?   To begin with, if you haven’t set clear measurements for your goals how are you going to know if you’ve achieved them?  If you have a clear system of measuring your success ask yourself if the metrics are right for the goals you’ve set. If for instance you want to increase your online influence will a 50% increase in your Twitter following automatically  mean more influence?

4. Why do I do what I do?   That may sound like a complex philosophical question, but shouldn’t we be asking ourselves exactly that every time we choose to do one thing over another? Why do we choose to procrastinate? Why do we spend hours staring at the TV screen? Why do we meet up with unsupportive friends that urge us to do things we shouldn’t be doing? In my blog post called ‘Goals vs Resolutions – how to stay motivated’ I suggested choosing a unifying principle for your yearly goals that would help you stay focused.  If you know what the most important goal for the current year is (finding a new job, starting or growing a business etc) then the rest of your goals should contribute to the main one.

Do not be afraid to overhaul your game several times throughout the year – change of plans does not equal failure. It’s better to abandon goals that are unrealistic or irrelevant early on than discover at the end of the year that you’ve been going in the wrong direction. (image credit: californiasupplementalexam.com)

 

 

up up away

Leading is like teaching someone to swim

 

Adversity makes us stronger, it often pushes us to do our best. Rivalry can be a healthy thing as well, as it makes us do things we didn’t think we were capable of. Overcoming fear every day is what it’s all about. But can we create an environment for ourselves and others where rivalry isn’t cutthroat competition and adversity is replaced by the challenge to do just a little bit better every day?

I know quite a number of adults who cannot swim. It’s never too late to learn and there’s a multitude of classes, but I always wonder why and how it happened that someone didn’t learn this important survival skill in early childhood. Perhaps they were never encouraged by adults or just couldn’t overcome their fear of water.

I was taught to swim by my late grandfather, who was a true leader and knew that there were different ways of getting people to do things – he knew you could give orders, bend people to your will and crush them, but you could also show them how to do things without robbing them of their sense of self-worth.

I suppose he could have just thrown me into the water to see if the shock would do the trick, but that’s not how he did it. First thing he would do was to make me feel safe: he’d stand between me, a six-year old child, and the ‘big waters’, he’d stretch his hand out and he’d say: ‘Swim towards me’. As I struggled to reach him he’d move further and further away from me into the deep water, smiling and saying: ‘Keep doing it’. And when I was exhausted and out of breath he’d reach out and catch me.  Full of fear and excitement, knowing my grandfather wouldn’t allow me to drown, I kept moving my hands and feet frantically till I realized that water would hold me if I’d just let it and that in order to make progress I didn’t have to splash around or try too hard.

On top of being an enjoyable healthy activity swimming can save your life, but even if it isn’t a matter of life and death learning a skill or getting to grips with a project is easier when you know you are safe, that you can make mistakes and that eventually you will conquer the fear and learn to enjoy doing things that scare you right now. Ultimately it’s not about making work or business problems and projects seems easier than they are, it’s about making those everyday challenges less strenuous and goals more achievable. (image credit: eagleresourcingnetworks.com)

 

You can call me bossy

 

When LeanIn (chaired by Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg) partnered with US Girl Scouts for the ‘Ban Bossy’ campaign they obviously meant well: the gender pay gap does exist,  and the fact that girls gradually lose self-esteem and have less interest in leadership roles is worrying.  So the strong successful women behind the campaign  decided to ban the word ‘bossy’ from our vocabulary, as they feel it gives a negative label to manifestation of ambition and leadership skills in girls.

It is true that boys are rewarded for certain behaviour while girls are criticized for it.  Once during an outdoor event I asked a seven-year- old boy if he wanted more food and got told off by his father: “He knows what he wants, he doesn’t like being fussed over”, while the mother of a girl who was enjoying herself on the dance floor remarked with a frown: “Such a diva – she likes showing off”.

Even as a child I noticed that boys were never criticized for being what they were, they could display distinctive personality traits, while girls were encouraged to adjust to any situation by being nice and graceful, that is bland and characterless.  But encouraged by whom? Mostly by other women, just as women are mostly called ‘bossy’ or ‘opinionated’ by other women, so it’s great that a bunch of remarkable strong women (Beyoncé, Condoleezza Rice, Diane von Furstenberg) are behind the ‘Ban Bossy’ campaign – it’s adult women who pass their insecurities on to young girls.  Sarah Jessica Parker of ‘Sex And The City’ fame commented this week on how horrible women are to each other. She blames reality TV, but reality TV only mirrors the reality.

Then there’s the question of being a true leader rather than being bossy.  The author of ‘Content Rules’ Ann Handley reacted to the campaign launch in her blog arguing that bossy people do not necessarily make the best leaders. No, they don’t, but being a leader, that is actually leading a bunch of other people may not be the only ambition a girl can have,  ‘Bossy’ individualists can make great sports people, artists, entrepreneurs, explorers, inventors.  Individualists lead by example yet have no desire to deal with HR problems on a daily basis.  Also leadership is not always about consensus-building, sometimes it’s about having a vision and sticking with it. Beyoncé surely is the boss as she puts it in the ‘Ban Bossy’ campaign video, but I can’t imagine her losing sleep over lack of consensus in her team. Perhaps if women were a bit less concerned with consensus-building in every situation  there’d be more women in top leadership positions.

There are worse things than being called bossy and opinionated – I don’t want to be called ‘nice’. When applied to a man it means eligible, successful, reliable, charming – when applied to a woman it often implies that the woman is always is a good mood (really?), never expresses an opinion and never raises her voice. You can call me bossy any time. (image credit: visionsoffaith.ca)

 

pancakes

Enjoy pancakes – not just on Mardi Gras

pancakes

 

People will always argue about its origins, but Catholic or pagan,  the delicious tradition of making pancakes to celebrate the coming of spring is alive in many cultures around the world under different guises.

in Catholic countries Shrove Tuesday is the last Tuesday before Lent, so there’s a certain logic to a day of overindulgence. In Orthodox Christian cultures Lent is much more strict, so one day is not enough. In Russia for instance Maslenitsa (from ‘maslo’, which is the Russian word for ‘butter’) , a whole week of pancake making and eating takes place at the end of February. Every day of the Maslenitsa week traditionally had its special activity: on Thursdays people stopped all work and celebrated by organizing snowball fights and noisy drinking parties. On Fridays every mother-in-law was expected to make pancakes for her sons-in-law.

I would like to share a recipe of yeasty pancakes my late Russian-Hungarian grandmother used to make. We also called them ‘sour pancakes’. They come out satisfyingly thick and nourishing.

To make yeasty pancakes you will need:

200-300 grams of flour, 750 ml of milk, 2-3 eggs, 3-4 table spoons of butter, 1-2 table spoons of sugar, 20-25 grams of yeast, 250 ml of water and 1 tea spoon of salt.

Pour warm water into a bowl, add 1 tea spoon of sugar and yeast, mix well till the yeast is dissolved. Gradually add 1 cup of flour, mix well, cover and leave to stand in a warm spot.  Melt butter and cool it off,  mix egg yolks with the rest of sugar, then add to the yeasty mix along with butter and salt. Gradually add remaining flour and milk mixing all the time. Whisk egg whites with salt and add to the pancake mix.  Use a ladle to pour the mix onto a very hot frying pan, turn every pancake once.

You can eat these pancakes with a variety of sweet and savoury fillings. My grandmother used to throw an egg onto the buttered frying pan, stirring the mix, so the egg doesn’t set.  She’d put some of the eggy mix over each pancake and then she’d stack the pancakes, cutting the stack like a cake (which is a very Hungarian thing to do).

I hope you enjoy this ‘alternative’ pancake recipe. Happy Mardi Gras! (image credit: ruchikrandhap.com)

 

 

 

influence

Klout vs kred

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You ask a kid these days what he wants to be when he grows up and he’ll probably tell you ‘an influencer’. When social media is such a pervasive part of our lives it’s hard not to keep comparing whose clout is bigger, who has more followers, who gets more shares and mentions.  Social media brought democratization of influence:  everyone has a voice, everyone has an opinion and many of us aren’t afraid to express it.

Brands have been trying to influence our buying choices for decades, it’s the consumers’ turn now to influence brands’ behaviour both online and offline and we’re getting better at it. But the realm of social media is crowded and we have less time than ever, so our interaction or rather, our choice of who to interact with is getting difficult. And that’s where the so-called influence scores come in.  Klout was launched in 2009 and still seems to be the most popular product. It’s free and it’s essentially an app connecting through your Facebook or Twitter accounts and gathering data in order to measure your influence (it ranges from 0 to 100). Needless to say most of the data collected by Klout stays with Klout, they only show you the end result, which can be confusing. The score goes up and down and the only explanation you get is that certain events stop contributing to your influence score because the score is measured over 90 days. To me it looks like Klout is ‘punishing’ you for not being frantically active on social media all the time – it makes sense to them as they need you to keep feeding them your data. For instance, there was a lot of activity on my Twitter  account before Christmas, then  over the holidays I naturally was much quieter. Result: my Klout score dropped two points. Why? Wouldn’t it be more logical for it to not change at all?  Recently Klout have introduced a new interface and added features like content scheduling and perks, but the problem of lack of transparency still hasn’t been solved.

Another product called Kred was introduced by the company PeopleBrowsr in 2011 (don’t want to sound paranoid, but back in 2011 Klout and PeopleBrowsr were sharing the same office building in San Francisco). Kred has a much more transparent system of measuring your influence score (ranging from 0 to 1000) and your reach (ranging from 0 to 12) – you can see all the mentions and retweets that contributed to your score. You can also give kred points to others.

It’s interesting that in both cases the measurement is centred around Twitter, it has been claimed that the reason for that is that Twitter make public tweets available to paying customers. But that makes the  resulting influence scores subjective at best as there are other social platforms (Linkedin, Pinterest, Facebook) that could demonstrate someone’s influence.

The main question is; does everyone need a social influence score? I guess in fields like digital marketing potential employers may look at people’s social influence scores before the interviews, but then again the can check out social media profiles instead,  It is not yet clear if having a high klout or kred score is going to become a must in certain industries (even five years ago a LinkedIn profile wasn’t a must for a job seeker, now it is). Ultimately it’s up to everyone to decide whether they want to share their social media content with what is essentially a data mining company in order to get an influence score. (image scource: financialplanningph.com)

 

 

Find yourself on a winter’s journey

Winterreise

 

The song cycle Winterreise (Winter’s Journey) was written by Franz Schubert in the 19th century. It is a setting of poems (written by Wilhelm Muller) where the poet whose fiancee has left him for another wanders miserably through the streets on a winter’s day.   Nowadays we are a lot more cynical, nobody expects their first love to last forever, so why are we still affected by these haunting songs?  And is it really all about lost love? We must remember that at the time the songs were published Schubert was dying from syphilis, so his own winter’s journey was of a very different kind.

A brief search in the itunes store yields dozens of recordings from the classical versions by Hans Hotter and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau to the great recent ones by Matthew Rose, Alice Coote and Jonas Kaufmann.  There must be something is these songs that prompts  singers to perform and record them in the 21st century

Some knowledge of German certainly helps, but even if you have none,  looking through the translation is a good idea before approaching the cycle for the first time.  The journey takes us through 24 songs, from Gute Nacht (Good Night) to the horrifying last one called Der Leiermann (The Hurdy-Gurdy Man).  The musical colours used by the composer are as sombre as the images chosen by the poet: frozen tears, crows, growling dogs, cold wind, will-o-the-wisps, loneliness, numbness.  Yet there are glimpses of hope as the poet’s imagination oscillates between happy memories of love and bitter brooding over the unfairness of the world.

Much has been made of the meaning of the last song in the cycle, Der Leiermann. Some people believe that the figure of the old hurdy-gurdy man whose plate is always empty and whose songs nobody wants to hear is the representation of Grim Reaper and that the poet ends up killing himself.  Some think the old man is the poet’s fellow-sufferer, a lonely unwanted soul with whom he can share his troubles. To me Der Leiermann is the pinnacle of the poet’s despair – after you’ve climbed that mountain healing is the next step. Somehow I don’t think the poet kills himself or freezes to death – having cried his heart out he most probably returns to the warmth of his home.

Over the years the song cycle inspired many a creative endeavour. In 2006 German film director Hans Steinbichler shot a movie called Winterreise. Its main character, Franz, a failed businessman going through a severe life crisis travels to Africa to hunt down a conman and finds his death.  There is a beautiful episode in the movie when Franz stops his car at the side of the road to listen to Der Leiermann as the camera zooms out and the lit up car remains the only bright object in the dark landscape.  Here Franz whose every business venture fails is the half-frozen hurdy-gurdy man with his annoying songs nobody wants to hear.

In 2012 bass-baritone Mark Glanville and pianist Alexander Knapp recorded an album called A Yiddish Winterreise  where they mapped out the journey of the Jewish people from the peaceful village life in Central Europe through the horrors of the war to the hope and determination to rebuild broken lives.

If you haven’t experienced Schubert’s Winterreise I encourage you to do so, or even if you have a couple of classical recordings do explore a few contemporary ones.  Whatever your winter’s journey is these songs can be your companions for many years to come.  (image credit: wagnerdallas.com)