Son of GeekTalk

GeekTalk 2.0

New face!

So, three years after I first designed this blog, I decided to give it a facelift with a lighter, more coloured theme. while the sombre design will remain for the business website.

How do you like it?

Post-mortem of a scam

I thought a while whether I simply wanted to forget about this, but I now realise I was loath of admitting I had been outsmarted (as some who know me would say, I indeed have a tendency to consider myself rather smart).

And in fact, an objective post-mortem of the two weeks that went from hooking me up to the definitive realisation it was a scam could be a resource for someone else, helping them to be more prudent and avoid falling for the trap I fell into.

So here’s the story: facts and some commentary.

  • I need a new small car, so I trawl the Interwebz looking for a good deal; after a while on august 31st I find one that is selling at a discount over going prices: good value for money, but not ridiculously so.
  • Since they provided me with the license number, I check the Public Car Registry and everything matches: Make, Model, Color, Fuel, Owner Name

That’s clever: they were profiling exactly someone like me: decently proficient at online buying, would know a good deal when he saw one. At the same time, the price was not so low as to set off too many alarm bells, and they had a good story to explain it (see after).

They also suggest I do my homework and get some self-reassurance over the car being legitimately as described.

  • I start talking over email with the seller: an Italian citizen who emigrated to Northern Ireland, took his brand-new car with him but now lost his job and needs money quickly.
  • He obviously expected I would have reservations about buying a car I cannot inspect, and he addresses them by proposing an escrow sale: I’d pay 50% of total to an escrow service who would also do the transportation and leave the car with me for 5 days for inspection. The money – as the name says – would NOT be delivered to the seller, but kept in escrow by the service. If OK, I would pay the remainder, if not I would return the car and they would return me the money. I have used escrow services before for overseas purchases, and I am comfortable with the procedure.

That’s again clever: they know I am suspicious of an individual, so they offer me what looks like a legit business as an intermediary. I visit the site  ( but it’s been taken down now) and it looks OK even if it’s not the most modern design I have seen, subtly suggesting they’ve been around for a while. In fact the opposite is true as the WHOIS record (which I did NOT think of checking at that time) shows that the domain name has been registered only on sep. 2nd, 2015

  • Upon acceptance, I get contacted by the freighter: they send me a provisional sale contract, an insurance certificate for the transport and the five days of use and state they are ready to start the delivery process as soon as I pay the agreed 50% to a Bank Account they provide.

That’s another nice touch. I would probably have balked at sending money via Moneygram or Paypal, but an International Wire Transfer is very trackable and makes me feel comfortable.

  • After they correct a mistake in the IBAN code (the only time I spoke to anyone to the only phone number that worked and which is still in operation) I send the money on september 15th.
  • They promise delivery on september 23rd.
  • In the meanwhile, they give me a tracking number; this at first does not work; I contact support, they fix the problem, and I can now access a tracking page that shows the progress.
  • On september 22nd they contact me again, to say that the procedure has changed and I now need to send the full payment for them to make the delivery. I do not see this email, as all their email ends in my spam dump

That’s probably the single biggest piece of evidence I did not want to see. How can a legit business survive if ALL their emails end up in spam? I actually had asked this question to their support and they claimed I was the only one experiencing this. Funnily, this is exactly the type of answer you get from IT people (“Sorry sir, but you’re the only user experiencing this…”) and although unhelpful and plainly wrong, it had reassured me I was talking to a true Systems Engineer.

  • Anyway, I do not see the above, but the following day no car gets delivered, so after an unsuccessful attempt to call them, I email asking what’s up. A day elapses with no answer so I send a second more vigorous complaint about appalling customer service.
  • They respond immediately, explaining the new policy (I now find the spammed emails) and reiterating the request for full payment.

At this stage I am 80% convinced it’s a scam, but the fact they respond does two things: it buys them a day or two while they clean up everything and disappear, and attempt a last ditch effort to get from me the other 4000 euro. You never know…

  • But by now the game is over: on september 28th, I report the facts to the UK Police, and the following day to the Italian Police.

These are the full facts. Now a couple of considerations:

  1. you don’t set up this sort of operation for ONE victim: they probably flooded online commerce sites with fake offers and hooked up many others. (Not that it makes me feel less silly).
  2. they move with very good sync: I respond on aug 31st and the domain is registered on sep. 2nd. I bet Bank Accounts were set up in the same timeframe. I then send the money on sep. 15th and it must have been cleared out shortly thereafter
  3. they chose to operate in plain sunlight: Bank Accounts must be opened by someone (so you need fake documents), domain names also, so this points to a complex covering up of trails
  4. the Northern Irish Bank  where I sent my money ( was not very vigilant: someone walks in with a fake ID, opens an account; two weeks later money flows in from all corners of the globe, and three weeks later the account is emptied and closed and you suspect nothing? Not to mention the fact that large cash withdrawals in many countries are prohibited (or at least flagged) exactly for this reason.

I will be pursuing this with all relevant entities; in the meanwhile I wonder if I can write-off the EUR 4,000 in my next tax return “Training Course to become a Little Wiser”

#birthdaypledge – stage 2

Happy to report that Stage 2 of my #birthdaypledge went very well.

About 50 people attended the Tex-Mex BBQ; the lesson I learned is that no amount of planning can figure out which way will the wind blow, so YOU NEED a ventilator behind you if you’re managing the grill. Period.

The menu was not very friendly to vegan friends but not entirely hostile to them either:

  • grilled vegetables
  • do-it-yourself bruschetta
  • red & black beans
  • tortilla chips
  • chicken/yellow peppers/onion skewers
  • sausages
  • marinated (two flavors) spare ribs
  • bratwurst
  • assorted sauces & dips (ketchup, BBQ, honey mustard, greek tzatziki)
  • destructured tarte tatin (plus the creamy brioche fourrée brough by Vitaliano)

The “rent” for chairs collected a respectable EUR 215 which will go to PaviAIL, the local chapter of the National Association for Oncohematology Research we decided to support with Stage 2.

However, the point for this post is not some lame patting on our shoulders but rather to deal with a much more substantive issue: the thing that got the most compliments during the day is the beautiful playlist I had hand-crafted so here it is, all 11 hours of it:

Gianni's Birthday


I see outrage. I see indignation.

60 million bucks to the guy that destroyed most corporate value than anyone else in postwar Europe. Are we crazy?

What about all the little people working their backs off at VW who may lose their job?

What about the little shareholders who saw their VW holdings cut by a third?

Isn’t our reward system totally out of whack?

No, it isn’t, and here is why.

Dieselgate is so widespread and profound it is hardly the decision of one man. It must have involved thousands of designers, engineers, technicians, middle managers, finance, legal. It must have formed the subject of uncountable meetings which generated billions of memos and meeting notes, emails and telephone conversations.

It is hard to believe shareholders (the german government being one of these) were unaware.

It is hard to believe other automakers are not doing the same, to be honest.

Winterkorn dr. EvilSo Mr. Winterkorn puts his Dr. Evil cap on and takeş all the blame and the axe so that, once the razmatazz is over, Volkswagen (or what’s left of it) can resume their life.

OF COURSE they pay him his weight in gold, otherwise he pulls out a few terabytes of evidence and brings them all down, destroying what’s left of the company value and jobs.

I think 60 million is a good deal.

Career advice

Yesterday I met an old friend for drinks, and after a couple of rounds of catching up with each other, he said: “I wonder if you could give some advice to my daughter: she landed a job with a major PR agency but she feels uneasy, as if she does not really have a clear career path”.

This question made me think of the many times someone said this to me in my agency days: in fact depending on the economic cycle, agency owners are either worried about having too many people for the clients they have or not having enough. Balance is elusive.

And it is also a fact of life that no other employee is more profitable to an agency than the Account Executive: they know the job, they need minimal supervision, they bring in the bulk of the revenue and they cost little. It is understandable that agency principals tend to keep Execs at this level as long as possible and often a little too much, with the results that the good ones flee.

So the advice for the management of the agency is obvious: talk to your people, try to gauge when they are really fed up and offer them new challenges (and a little financial incentive, of course).

But what advice could I give to a young Executive?

Thinking on my feet (and thinking of my own experience) I came up with a few words of advice, which I now share with the uncountable masses reading this blog:

  1. What do you like? “Communications” is far too generic a word for what we do. Crisis, media, change, consumer, digital, executive… The revenue shares which you can find in any association annual report don’t say anything, because the market will not buy every specialty in the same quantity, but who cares? All you want is to find someone willing to pay you to do what you like.
  2. What next? Whatever it is that you are doing now, it won’t last forever. At some point it will be challenged by competition, offshoring, automation or some other form of – ugh! – disruption. At some point it could and will disappear unless you are the lowest cost supplier, an uncomfortable position to be in. So you have to be thinking NOW about what you want to do NEXT: keep your ears to the ground, follow role models and what they are up to, read, read, read. The best situation is when you are earning your living with your current passion, but already have the next brewing up in yourself.
  3. What will you need to make your next passion happen? Do you have the skills and the experience that’s required for your next passion? This may be a foreign language, or some coaching by an expert. Volunteer to help teams that are doing it or use your free time to skill up.
  4. Retain the pleasure to learn. Learning something new is the sexiest adventure: you are changing yourself, after all. Six months ago you didn’t know anything about wine, now you are a certified sommelier. Learning means your brain is still in working condition (not so obvious, sadly), learning means you can always re-invent yourself.
  5. Boredom is a healthy signal, if you learn how to use it. When you are bored with your job it is usually a good time to set aside time (at least 10%, be deliberate) for scouting: what else could you be doing? What are doing the smart people you know? Attend conferences, listen to speeches, read articles, talk to people.
  6. Your network is your best asset. Inspiration must come from people you know and respect, which means you HAVE to cultivate your network while you don’t need it, because the validation and nurturing cannot be done while you are harvesting it for ideas and new opportunities.
  7. What makes you unique? Differentiation is key, so work on making yourself unique: the worst thing it can happen is that your job defines you, you become a sample in a category of a mass-manufactured product.
  8. Ask questions. I hate interviewing candidates, it feels so unfair to be judging anther human being on the basis of a 30 minutes interview. So when I could not delegate this task to someone else, I ended up doing much of the talking to see if candidate would interrupt me (they rarely did). But whether you are talking to your boss or to a recruiter, don’t be afraid of asking questions: “This is what I would like to do, can you offer me that?”

Employers designing career paths are a joke: all they can design – if they’re really smart – is profit maximising schemes of which you will be a part. The opposite is true, though: companies can be part of the career path YOU design for yourself.

Is LinkedIn selling me?

This morning I received an invitation to attend a webinar organised by LinkedIn on Social Selling: essentially, how to sell more using LinkedIn. This dovetails with the complimentary “upgrade” I received to use LinkedIn Sales Navigator, both trying  to demonstrate its usefulness as a lead generator.

This however, I find disturbing and definitely out of scope with respect to the original proposition which was:

"Give me your data, and I will help you find a new job; I will make money by selling information about you to corporate recruiters."

Now the proposition has become:

"I will help you sell more, by allowing you to target complete strangers based on data they have given me."

My answer to this is very simple:

How do I opt out?

Mind you, I consider LinkedIn a sales tool, but ONLY within the domain of my own contacts: people who decided to connect with me based on our mutual knowledge; should I misuse this connection, they have the perfect recourse by disconnecting.

However, I do understand the need to grow their ARPU (the company is currently priced at about 10 times REVENUE on the stock market), so here is a list of sales-oriented features that are both respectful of the original contract they stipulated with me and valuable enough I would be willing to pay a premium for.

  1. A mailing list organiser – allow me to manage my contacts (they are mine after all); sort, boolean selections and the like; allow me to save sorting sequences to re-run at a later moment
  2. A bulk mailing facility – build a basic DM capability within the system, focusing not so much on mail formatting but rather on response management (delivered, opened, read…)
  3. A decent import / export function – unlike the existing lame export function that clearly says LI wants to gobble your data, but refuses to give any back. Choose which fields and which records, name/save/delete lists.

Instead, they chose to monetise by selling me without asking and without offering me to opt out, potentially transforming LinkedIn in the online version of the cold calling bombardment we all experience on our landlines. It is yet another demonstration of how easy it is to misappropriate parts of my Digital Self.

As the adage says:

“Be worried when you do not understand what is the product being sold, because probably YOU are the product”

The case for #BirthdayPledge

Yesterday I spammed all my social graph with this crazy idea about social donation I called #BirthdayPledge. I was also asked to extend the deadline to account for timezones, so I have extended it to 8AM CEST.

To the deadline I have received a grand total of 277 birthday wishes, and I am therefore about to proceed with the donation of EUR 277 as per my pledge.

Some numbers: Facebook accounted for the vast majority (260) followed by Whatsapp (8) Linkedin (6) email (2) FB Messenger (1); taken over my social graph of about 1600 nodes, this represents a respectable 16.7% share.

Now let me explain a little more seriously the idea behind #BirthdayPledge.

There are about 936 million active users on any given day on Facebook

2015 Facebook Daily Active Users

Let’s make a sweeping generalisation and say that half belong to “rich countries” (North America, most of Europe, some of Asia). That is 468 million people, and arithmetically 1.3 million of them will have their birthday on any given day.

The Gugol sez the average user has 336 friends, so if the percentage of birthday wishes vs. connections I received are average (and I do not see why not) that’s almost 73 million birthday wishes exchanged EVERY DAY.

Imagine each was worth €1, an amount that should not represent a problem in rich countries almost for anyone (but remember it’s an average) this is potentially €73M in aid that goes – unfiltered by big organisations – to a myriad of small meritorious activities chosen by individuals because they know them, or because they already volunteer for them. To put things in perspective that amount is comparable to what the Ice Bucket Challenge campaign collected in its whole duration (about $100M if you wonder).

Each day.

So here is what YOU can do now, if you like the idea:

  1. Adopt it for your birthday
  2. Talk about it on your blog, on your Facebook page, spread the word using the #BirthdayPledge hashtag
  3. Talk about it IRL, in your home, school, workplace, retirement home.
  4. Lobby your journalist friends so they talk about it.

Easy enough, huh?

#BirthdayPledge (ITA)

Discutiamo spesso di quale sia il vero valore delle piccole interazioni che hanno luogo sui Social Media; gli espertoni si inventano uno schema dopo l’altro per tirar fuori una metrica di qualche significato.

Devo dire che la discussione in se stessa lmi appassiona poco, ma è una di quelle cose che ci fa sentire un po’ tutti analisti quantitativi che sanno leggere i numeri.

Mettendomi al computer stamattina sono stato inondato dagli auguri di buon compleanno; vengo sempre preso un po’ alla sprovvista perché questo giorno non mi è caro a causa di un evento molto triste capitato proprio oggi qualche anno fa. Ma naturalmente chi mi fa gli auguri questo non può certo saperlo e le loro parole hanno lo stesso un gran valore per me, perché recano il calore dell’affetto di chi me le manda.

“Grande” ma quanto, esattamente? Più o meno di un “like” su Facebook? E se potessimo darglielo noi, un valore?

E così mi è venuta questa idea, che ho chiamato #BirthdayPledge:euro coin

Per ogni augurio di Buon Compleanno che riceverò oggi su Facebook entro le 23:59 (CEST), farò una donazione di un euro ad un ente benefico.

L’ente che ho scelto è la Caritas diocesana di Pavia: conosco bene don Dario Crotti e so quanto si sono dati da fare per aiutare i rifugiati siriani, ben prima che diventasse di moda.

Dunque ecco qui: c’è ancora qualche ora per fare una (piccola) differenza.

Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 18.05.37

Ma c’è qualcos’altro che potete fare, una sorta di regalo di compleanno per me: diffondere il verbo.

La cosa che mi piace di quest’idea è che ognuno può scegliere la destinazione che gli aggrada, e anche il valore di ciascun augurio: un disoccupato potrebbe donare un centesimo, Berlusconi centomila euro, ma il meccanismo resta esattamente lo stesso. Se vi piacciono le definizioni, potreste chiamarlo Donazione Sociale.

Diffondi il verbo: #BirthdayPledge


We often discuss what is the real value of the smallest interactions on Social Media and pundits have come up with one scheme after another in the desperate attempt to derive a metric that makes sense.

This is a discussion I have very little passion for, but it’s one of those things that makes people feel like true quants who can read numbers.

As I sat at my computer today I was flooded by birthday wishes, something that always surprises me since I have become loath of this particular day as it reminds me of a very unhappy event occurring today a few years ago. But this is of course something that people do not know and their wishes have value for me nonetheless, as they convey the warmth of their affection.

But exactly, how much value? More or less value than a “like” on Facebook? And if it was something we could decide ourselves?

So here is my idea for a #BirthdayPledge:euro coin

For every Happy Birthday I receive on Facebook until 23:59 (CEST) of today, I will donate one euro to a charity.

The one I have chosen is the Caritas of the Pavia Diocesis: I know well don Dario Crotti and they have been spending prodigious efforts to support Syrian refugees way before it became fashionable.

So here you go, there is another 5 hours and 17 minutes left for you to make a (small) difference.

Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 18.05.37

But there’s another thing you can do as a birthday present to me: spread the word.

The beauty of the idea is that you decide the destination and the amount you want to give for each wish, but your friends will ultimately decide how much you give: someone who recently lost his job may give 1c, while Larry Ellison may give 100 grand per wish, but the mechanism remains the same. Think about it as social giving, if you like buzzwords.

Spread the word: #BirthdayPledge

CaseTV goes live

Psyched to report that my good friend Galina Panina has aired the first episode of “CaseTV” a video channel dedicated to the commentary of actual cases by various PR experts from around the globe.

I love the ingenuity she uses: names and surnames, everything is very plainly described; in this episode, she has chosen the case of a PR agency who attempted to bribe a reporter not to air a story that was very unfavourable for a client; the journalist however not only refused the bribe of about EUR 4,500, but recorded the clumsy attempt and reported on it as well.

Galina’s questions to the panel were therefore:

What would be the right behaviour to avoid getting in this situation?

What do do now?

Do not worry If your Russian is a little rusty, as they kindly provided english subtitles, and all the answers are in English.


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