Sad political post

I realized I have no right to sneer at the myopic decision of Brexit: looking at the latest polls, Italy could have a Five Star + Northern League government, say early 2018.

Then on October 31st, 2019 mr. Draghi’s mandate at the ECB expires to be followed (presumably) by a German Governor, unlikely to continue with the easy money policy, also because the EU economy has picked up some strength in the meanwhile and inflation may be approaching the 2% target. Net result: Italy’s interest expense shoots up by tens of billions.

The new Italian Government is now seriously (ha!) discussing leaving the EU and/or the Euro: imagine Brexit only a thousand time worse: no concrete planning, haphazard monetary policies and abysmal negotiation skills further undermined by a position that’s a thousand time worse than Britain’s but wrapped in the same bombastic populism to whip domestic support casting Europe and immigrants as The Enemy.

The military ineptitude of our Country is about the only silver lining, as it guarantees we can’t ignite the Third World War, but corporates (and the individuals who can, typically the better-educated, language-speaking group) won’t wait for this and will flee the country in droves, taking trillions of capital with them.

In a weird twist, the only capital for investment will be the Government’s making a right wing Government behave like a replica of the worst South American socialism: company after company, bank after bank will be nationalized making larger and larger swaths of the economy subject to political power, corruption and shenanigans.

Economy wizards who got their degree on YouTube resort to sky high inflation to wear off the crushing debt (maybe even theorizing the possibility of a “controlled default”)and to aggressive devaluation to bolster exports, hugely depressing the value of anything not Euro-denominated: despite the nationalization efforts, prepare for an asset liquidation on a scale never seen in history, Greece will be a petty yard sale by comparison.

Exceeding expectations

People usually turn to Social Media to complain, in frustration for not being listened to. As a result, also due to this habit, Social Media is a sad place full of angst and regret.

So I decided I want to put in my 2 cents to fight this trend.

Case 1: Navdy

I purchased this product from a young company in California during a crowdfunding campaign in march, 2014; as it is not uncommon in these cases, the product suffered some delays and was finally delivered at end 2016.

When I installed it on my car, I immediately noticed that the Bluetooth connection interfered with the car’s connection with my phone, resulting in broken voice and dropped calls.

I filed an incident report with their support which called back the day after: after some email exchanges and two calls with California to test the problem, it was determined that the fix required a patch to the software which could take several months.

As a workaround, they sent me (free of charge) a BT JBL speaker to use instead of my car’s BT while we wait for the fix to arrive. It’s not a perfect solution – and they know it – but it allows me to continue to use their product while they work on the final fix.

Case 2: Thule

My two readers may remember the raving review I wrote when I bought my Thule trolley in 2011. In fact, this bag logged tens of thousands of kilometers with me, to my utmost satisfaction.

Then one cold February two years ago, I inadvertently chopped off one of the aluminum feet in the foul streets of Almaty, Kazakhstan, with the result the bag slightly tilts on its side. Frankly, that did not alter its functionality, but it annoyed me, so after much procrastinating, I decided to seek a spare part.

 

As it so happens, such spare part does not exist as standard, so I filed a case with the Thule Support, asking if they could make an exception.

Within 24 hours they came back to me, asking to see pictures of the bag and offered to replace it altogether, free of charge, which I gladly accepted.

Even though (to be entirely honest) I do not think I will decommission the old one…

The metamorphosis officially begins

That’s right, it officially starts today, as I fetched the last test results (NMR) and delivered the whole lot to the hand surgeon who must decide whether he can do something for me.

I briefly thought whether this could be the beginning of my morphing into a cyborg (now, THAT would be cool) but sadly there is not much in terms of cybernetics into any of my current or future protheses, but rather the dull replacement of malfunctioning mechanical bits (mainly joints).

No augmentation for me, more like a catch-up.

Looking forward to sharing the gory details with everybody here as they become available.

Fourteen years of Digital Transformation

My first recollection of what was to become Digital Transformation is somewhat hazy, but I remember a couple of events which have a timestamp.

In 2005, Tim O’Reilly wrote “What the hell is web 2.0“, an article of still unsurpassed clarity; if you haven’t read it, yet, stop and go read it.

Now, I’ll wait.

I liked it so much I started writing a series of blog posts, the first of which starts with a this comment:

the “Web2.0” moniker is something we have been developing a lot of experience over the last couple of years

allowing me to date my professional interest in the thing that today we all call Digital Transformation circa 2003, hence this post’ title.

I also remember our first large client(*), a multinational company in whose Italian sub we managed to find someone crazy enough to risk the budget he had for a project on an approach completely unproven. The project turned out to be extremely successful, won a whole truckload of awards and kept growing and growing. At some point, however, the need of the Client for our support diminished as, essentially, they had learned everything there was to learn and continued on their own.

Such is the life of Agencies.

This event notwithstanding, the relationship was and remained good, and we did many other projects together, albeit none ever was as ground-breaking as the one in 2003. Nine years later I left the Agency world and wrote two books (this and this) which are deeply rooted in these learnings: I assumed that, by then, my knowledge was not (only) mine anymore, since nowadays Digital Transformation consultants are more abundant than bartenders.

Fast forward to 2017, when I get a call from that same client, but from another country. The person who calls me is someone I had never met before, had never heard of the project we did in Italy; in fact he does not even know me, except for the fact he attended (and liked, obviously) a workshop I gave in Riga, Latvia and when his boss asked if he knew someone who could run a Digital Transformation Masterclass, he thought of me.

In preparing this session, we demanded the audience (a dozen people who are responsible for marketing and communications for that company in a certain region) what were the issues they were trying to address.

To my huge surprise, these were EXACTLY those they had in 2003: it’s like knowledge had not spread around at all; despite the roaring success of that first project, our approach never turned into a true best practice and was never widely adopted.

Questions included:

  • why should we be doing this?
  • who should we talk to?
  • what should we be talking about?
  • how do we establish meaningful though leadership?
  • how do we keep it alive?
  • how do we connect it to our Brand?
  • what if we’re not selling a product?
  • how do I engage the rest of the organization?
  • how do I know if I’m being successful?
  • what should I measure?

So while I am flattered that after all these years the same client in another country is asking for my help, even if just for some training, at the same time I am bothered because – despite my approach being correct – I failed to really make an impact even on a Client which fully experienced its success.

Perhaps I was too ahead of my time, perhaps my books are not engaging enough (the forced readers in my family tell me, no, they aren’t), perhaps the methodology is awaiting some complementary element which will make it truly understandable and, therefore, useful.

Being right is not even the beginning of the solution.


(*) sadly, the client won’t be mentioned. Unlike other cases, I am not cleared to do so, and it will remain unnamed.

Is Nature uncertain?

In my Digital Transformation Masterclass I have two provocative slides, which I use to support my evocative call to action:

“Embrace uncertainty”

because – I say – even the two most precise of all human knowledge domains, mathematics and physics, are fraught with it.

The mere mentions of their names is enough to inculcate a healthy sense of awe and respect, so I never have to explain in more detail the depth of these discoveries.

So I cannot claim that this post serves a business purpose: it serves, however, my vanity in explaining what I believe are two incredibly profound (and overlooked) achievements by geniuses who graced my time: who knows, after the movies on Turing and Nash, these two might be next, because Science is sexy, after all.

Heisenberg’s indetermination principle

I’ll start here because, while Gödel’s Theorem deals with the logic of formal systems, Heisenberg’s Principle has much closer consequences on our everyday life even though it seems to violate what our senses tell us.

In one of its many expressions, the principle states that:

Δx × Δp ≥ h/2π

in plain English: “the uncertainty in the position of an object multiplied by the uncertainty in that object’ momentum is always greater than the reduced Planck’s constant”

I do not have to explain “position”, “momentum” is the product of the object’ mass times its velocity and “h” is the proportionality constant between energy and frequency of a radiation (6.62 × 10-34 J s or kg ms) which had been calculated by Max Planck at the beginning of the century.

This looks counter-intuitive: if I put a ping-pong ball with a mass of 1g on the kitchen table, I know exactly its position (Δx = 0) and its momentum (Δp = 0 because v = 0), no?

Well, not really: the mistake lies exactly in the sloppiness of our senses; when I say that I know the position of the ping-pong ball, I omit to add “as well as my eyes can”. Let’s make an assumption on this precision: what will it be? A tenth of a millimeter? a hundredth? Let’s assume we know the position of the ball with a 1 μm (= 10-6 m) precision. Werner is then telling us that the we know the velocity of the ball with a precision of ±10-25 m/s).

Our impression that the ball was at rest was indeed justified, since to travel 1 cm at the maximum velocity error, the ball would take longer than the age of the Universe.

But see what happens if we consider an electron, whose mass is 9 × 10-31 kg; if we know it’s inside an hydrogen atom (Δx = 5 × 10-11 m), its velocity cannot be determined with a precision of more than 10m/s: therefore it could be standing still or it could be traveling at thousands of kilometers per second.

If, however, we know with good accuracy its velocity (for example because we apply an electrical field), then there is a non-zero probability that the electron is not in the atom at all (or on our planet, for that matter), an effect which made possible to build devices such Scanning Tunnelling Microscopes who are capable of taking images of actual atoms.

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What’s in your bag?

A few years ago, I made a list of the gear I carry when traveling, and in writing this post on the rules of efficient packing I realized its update is overdue.

So here is the 2017 version of

What gear is in my bag

  1. power brick
  2. USB to mini-USB cables (2)
  3. thumbdrives (never enough)
  4. Thunderbird to HDMI cable (male and female, I have been in meeting rooms where the HDMI cable screwed on the screen had only a male connector available)
  5. Thunderbird to VGA cable
  6. remote clicker
  7. spare batteries
  8. main power bank
  9. wireless mouse
  10. universal smartphone tripod mount
  11. mini tripod
  12. portable projector (an item I reviewed here)
  13. Mogics donut power strip + mains adaptor (as it came with a US plug)
  14. phone wall charger
  15. UK adaptor


The power brick (#1), portable projector (#12) and wireless mouse (#9) are the largest items; the latter I could probably do without: using a mouse is so much more comfortable than using the clickpad on the computer, but the reality is I very seldom do, as most of my laptop use when on the road is when sitting at an airport lounge or in flight.

The weight is of course a worry when traveling, but the lot comes in at 1,400 grams, which, together with the 1,350 grams of the Macbook Air, uses about 27% of my luggage allowance.

Travel learnings

This week I had a somewhat hurried depart for Helsinki – thanks to a misunderstanding with my client, I learned about my flight details only 90 minutes before take-off.

As luck wants, I was leaving form the airport closest to where I live, meaning I was at the gate with time to spare. However, I realised I have become sloppy with some of basic traveling golden rules, which therefore I sum up again here as an aide-memoire.

  • Travel gear always in ready mode – this means a two day change already in the bag, including light sweater; throw in a couple of shirt and I’m good to go in <5′.
  • Never-ever take my toiletry bag, nor my travel pillow-cum-rain jacket out of the bag.
  • Carry on bag should be half-empty to accommodate briefcase: too may airlines have become fiscal on the one bag thing to afford the risk of having your bag snatched at boarding time.
  • Passport ALWAYS in the briefcase’ front pocket
  • Backup power bank in the briefcase and the backup’s backup in the bag, while I await delivery of my Space Case
  • Should I purchase an “extreme emergency” power brick to leave in the bag at all times?

Changing

A few years ago I narrated the story of how I underwent some major facial surgery to fix the problem that I wasn’t able to sleep any longer. That project was for me a great success, despite its many challenges (and some pain).

Now it’s time to face the other great damage Arthritis has inflicted on my body and that’s the functionality of my hands.

This will a bit more gruesome, as essentially I will undergo a “double Skywalker”

luke's handexcept mine won’t be nearly as high-tech as this: both hands will be surgically removed from their current locations (avoiding severing nerves, of course!), repositioned in a more “natural” posture and locked back in place. Titanium will not be limited to my skull, therefore.

The deal is that I will sacrifice the very little that’s left of my wrist-flexing functionality in exchange for restoring my right extensor tendons, fixing growing CTS (carpal tunnel syndrome) and a little prensile strength.

Today marks the real start of the process, with a long list of pre-op diagnostics. The CAT scan and X-ray were easy of course, but if you tried EMG (electro-miography) you will know that it is NOT a pleasant experience.

I expect this phase to conclude by end June at which point the hand surgeon will issue his final verdict and define a plan.

More to follow…

The Archivist’ dilemma

A while back the Interwebz mysteriously put on my path this excellent article by Vic Gray “Preservation vs. Use: the Archivist’ dilemma” which I found so intriguing I happily spent the $30 needed to read it in its entirety.

Predictably, I also promptly misplaced it and now cannot find it anymore, but this is not a great problem as I remember well the gist of the article which is whether the main purpose of any archive should be its conservation or its accessibility. This is an issue which is highly pertinent when said archive is, e.g. my film collection: started in the era of VHS, I soon (but not soon enough) realized that this “fabric” (to use one of Gray’s words) is highly IMG_20170504_141719.jpgperishable and switched to longer-lasting and by then available DVDs and later to Blu-Ray.

The upgrade of the 600-odd movies I had on VHS is obviously a financial challenge, especially as it needs to be performed WHILE the collection is growing with new releases, but you will be pleased to know I am halfway through. I briefly thought of adding a soft copy (i.e. ripping the movie upon arrival so that I would never have to use the DVD again – preservation!) but the job is VERY time consuming and with the advent of online MOD services such as Netflix, of dubious usefulness.

Physically speaking DVDs are much smaller than VHS, so this means my existing storage space should easily suffice for another 5-6 years.

Plus, movies come with a universal barcode that enable quick data entry (I use the very capable MyMovies software for archiving and retrieval). Such good software means that if it takes a second to satisfy the quest for essential factoids such as how many movies directed by Stanley Kubrick I have in my collection (10) or how many feature Woody Allen as an actor (28).

Books, however, are an entirely different ball game, for two main reasons:

  1. they have no universally accepted barcode system (many modern books do, but a lot of the ones I own date back up to forty years). This makes data entry a daunting task.
  2. no universal book database exists: AFAIK the most comprehensive Italian database is ALICE (*ahem* not available online) which carries about 1.1 million titles (not bad considering Italy publishes about 62,000 books per year); about 15% of the books I own are however in other languages.

This rules out the use of book archiving software, leaving only physical archiving, which is prone to numerous mistakes: we chose to archive by Author, but last time we moved, we found three copies of Joyce’s Ulysses(*) !

Even a simple count is difficult: at the time of our last move (again!) we counted 167 boxes averaging 20 books each, so the current estimate hovers around 3,000 units.

Up until recently, I though e-books were the answer and my preferred choice for new books, but yesterday I was let down also by that simple solution.

I went looking for Richard Feynman’s “Six not-so-easy pieces” lectures and could not find them together with my other Feynman books. I am rather sure I read that book, so I concluded I misplaced it; since I still wanted to re-read it, I decided to buy the Kindle version as a) it’s cheaper and b) when the book surfaces I don’t feel entirely a moron.

Unfortunately, Kindle books are really bad for essays, as they do not support anything except the written word: in this case, all the mathematical formulas are but illegible, making the book practically useless.

It seems that the only solution to my issue is manual labor: hire someone who manually inputs the data and builds the database: at 5′ for each book, 3000 titles would require about 250 hours of work.

I guess this goes on the list, after I finish the Great Digitization.


Note (*): don’t feel bad, I still don’t get it!

Q2V

The ever active debate with no vaxxers is but the tip of the iceberg in a wider debate which I am trying to capture under the heading of “Q2V – Qualify to Vote”.

Democracy means literally “rule of the people”: one head, one vote. It assumes those who vote understand what they are voting on, because the previous system (only the elites decide) worked so badly, privileging the few to the expense of the masses.

The imbalance grew so extreme it sparked bloody revolutions, the 1789 on the France being the most egregious example. Democracy essentially replaced the previous system creating a less bloody way to overturn the privileged elites.

And this is essentially what’s happening all across the world: the elites have grown so rapacious, leaving behind so many people that these underdogs are voting for revolutionary candidates who promise to overturn privileges: Trump, Erdogan, Le Pen, Farage, Grillo…

The fact that most of these candidates are in reality the full expression of privilege should not surprise us, nor is particularly new: the French Revolution was bloodshed and anarchy until Napoleon arrived – even after he self-incoronated himself as Emperor, he was “the Son of the Revolution” and enjoyed immense popularity, so strong that even after his military defeat the restored aristocratic rulers did not have the nerve to serve him the death penalty, but preferred an exile in a faraway island.

Look who voted for Trump or Erdogan or Brexit and you see the same picture.

This in itself is not bad, as it gives clear signals to the ruling elites to self-reform themselves and re-balance what’s imbalanced, or else… at a much lower human life cost than a revolution.

The scary extension however is the temptation to defer to popular vote everything: energy policy, space exploration, microbiology, strategic infrastructures, vaccines, cosmology, high-energy particle physics: all these sciences need a degree of divulgation to garner popular support (as they rely on public money to continue their work) and to report back on the results of said monies expenditure, and this divulgation may give the impression people now understand them deeply enough to be able to make decisions.

Not so.

Richard Feynman was the most egregious divulgator on Physics, as Neil deGrasse Tyson  on Cosmology or Roberto Burioni on vaccines: their efforts to make the unwashed masses appreciate the essentials of their sciences should be lauded, but never mistaken for a shortcut replacing many years of hard study. These people are brilliant scientists with a knack for communications, not communicators who took a crash course.

Not all matters should be subject to popular vote, because most of us do not Q2V.