Raphael's Blog

Till The Sky Falls Down

Surviving a conference day with a cold

Recently I had to go to the Light + Building trade fair in Frankfurt as part of my current endeavour called HEAVN. Unfortunately, I caught a really heavy cold the days before. Even though I could hardly believe it, I did a few things that really helped me get through the conference day inspite of the sickness.

Tip 1: Keep your nose humid

One of the main problems and reasons that you do develop a cold in the first place is the lack of humidity on your mucous membranes. Fortunately, there is some helping tools available: Many supermarkets or drug stores offer sprays, often with a salt-based solution, that you can use a couple of times throughout the day.

An alternative or addition to that can be sinus rinsing. While it may be awkward to you at first if you have not done that before, I found it to be really helpful and relieving. Be aware though that you need to use clean water and a clean rinse.

Tip 2: Wear as many layers as needed

Staying warm is very important during any illness, especially with a cold. Business attire often consists of clothing that lets your body lose a lot of heat during the day you live in a colder climate. I therefore suggest that you use more comfy clothes like hoodies and wear a jacket or a scarf even indoors if necessary to stay warm. If you don’t, it will only inhibit your healing progress or even make things worse. Functionality before looks is key here. Even if you look like like an Eskimo, that’s much better than being sick a day longer.

Tip 3: Use any breaks to take a nap

In my case, I had to travel to the location by train for a couple of hours. It both alleviates your annoying symptoms for the time you sleep and helps you cure the underlying problem if you use any spare time you have to just take a brief nap.

Smile At 2012 And It Will Smile At You

A Happy New Year to everyone!

I am really looking forward to this new year. 2011 was sort of a bumpy road for me, because I chose to make it one. After finishing my bachelor’s degree and being somewhat unsatisfied with university I felt like I had to take some time off of university to really be able to find out what I am looking for.

This journey for truth led me on various trips to Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Greece, France, Czech Republic and Kenya. It was an amazing experience and I am truly glad for what I was able to experience.

I had always felt that life somehow was not nice to me, yet still too easy on me. Traveling to all these places in various roles was quite a challenge and forced me to rethink some of my assumptions. For example, I always believed that it would be difficult to engage with people from different cultures. But what I found instead was that many people are quite open to foreigners. They will of course often try to trick you in some way to make some money, but most of them have a really good heart.

I really felt how much luck one can have with complete strangers, when I was totally lost in the hills in the north of Morocco one night. They could have robbed me or simply ignored me. Instead, they guided me through the not so safe city to the nearest taxi stop.

Later that year, after pursuing some technological ideas, I decided that I was ready to continue my studies in Computer Science. I also figured that I wanted to add Mathematics to my studies. Although I was quite good in maths at school, I showed little interest in it during my first years of university. I now felt like I had to fix that and do it right this time, also because I really love Mathematics somehow.

When Steve Jobs suddenly died in October I was quite shocked. I somehow felt like he would die soon after I saw a recent picture of him. He looked like a ghost to me. When I found out that Steve Jobs apparently refused proper treatment for some time, which might be the main cause for his early death, I realized how important it is how we treat ourselves. It also reminded me of how precious life really is and how much more consciously we should behave.

2011 was also the year when I started regular meditation again. Even though I was not able to practice with my sangha in Munich every week, I made it a rule that I would meditate for at least two times 10 minutes every week and try to meditate at least 5 minutes on as many days as possible. This seems to be ridiculously easy, but doing something every single day with discipline is actually quite hard. I am deeply grateful for discovering Zen meditation and the teachers and the sangha (the fellows whom I meditate together with) that led me there.

And finally, I found some very dear new friends. It did not all seem so easy at the beginning of this year. I felt lost and alone at first. And then I realized one important thing: The more you trust in others, the more they will trust you. The more you smile, the more will smile back at you.

The last four days, I was able to a trip to the German parliament, the Bundestag in Berlin.

We did a an extensive tour of all the interesting sites in Berlin and learned about how the political system works in Germany and some of the historical sites. It was a very compressed tour through the capital of Germany.

I was invited to join by MP Jimmy Schulz, a representative of the the German liberal party, FDP. Jimmy is primarily engaged in internet governance topics.

We saw some interesting sites in Berlin: the Stasi Museum, the Bavarian embassy in Berlin, the Bundesrat and the Bundestag.

The Stasi Museum is an exhibition about the tools and processes of the Stasi, East Germany’s former feared secret service. The Stasi was primarily engaged in surveilling their own people and distributing fear, uncertainty and doubt.

The Bavarian embassy plays a somewhat funny role: Our host described its purpose as monitoring policy making in Berlin, reporting what happens southwards to Munich and lobbying decisions in Berlin in favor of Bavaria. It sounded as if Berlin was a Bavarian colony.

The Bundesrat, for all non-Germans, is a the parliament that represents the German states. Germany has both a national parliament and a second one that represent the individual states. That one is the Bundesrat. All laws have to go through both parliaments (and some more instances) to become binding.

In the Bundestag, we learned of course how sessions work in detail, how the building itself was recreated and in part moved there from West Germany’s old capital city. And of course, the tour guide did not leave out some trivia about the building like that some people were born in this very building as it was used as a hospital during the siege on Berlin at the end of World War 2. This enables them to enter the building without registration at any time if they wish.

Jimmy also told us a bit about his political work, while we were sitting in the meeting room of the liberal party. He commented on an important vote of the parliament a week before, the European Financial Stability Facility and brought up a very emotional argument on his decision that many in the room liked. He further explained the importance of internet governance and explained his liquid democracy project.

Liquid democracy is an internet-augmented way of collecting ideas and reaching consensus faster and with more grass-roots like participation by the people.

Finally, Jimmy asked me to support his effort in making Germany aware of Internet governance and shape the policy making process. Apparently, there is an astoundingly small amount of people in the FDP who are knowledgable about internet governance.

While I loved the increasing importance of the German Pirate party, I do not believe in the party. I think that they are still more of a lobbying organization than a party. They do not seem to have any position on many topics (e.g. financial policies)

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Know Thyself

Life seems to be full of complications.

Maybe we’re just making all of them up. Maybe none of that is real. Maybe life would not be complicated if it was not for us who shaped it that way.

Maybe it’s us who are complicated, not life.

These last few days, I had a very important realization about life: The most important thing is knowing yourself.

You can only learn so much about the rest of the world and try to be prepared for everything. But at the end of the day what really counts is in what ways and how fast you respond to everything that comes towards you.

While it helps to study at the university and prepare for things that could come, obvious preparation for things that others have dealt with is not everything. Instead, you need to prepare for things that no one has dealt with before.

It’s like expecting the unexpected. And the best way to be expected for the unexpected is probably to just know what you yourself are.

Even the Greeks had that written on the Temple of Apollo of the famous Delphi oracle.

Know thyself.

Giving up on the Playbook

Back in February at the Mobile World Congress I was really really looking forward to Blackberry’s developer event. And it was a great event. The RIM guys showed us a lot of cool things and I was somewhat impressed by them using QNX as their OS for both the Playbook and their future well-known smartphone brand.

QNX is very interesting. It’s a bit like it could be the successor of the Darwin (which Apple’s OS X is based on). It’s also a UNIX, but it is real time capable.

So I wrote on app with RIM’s Tablet Web app SDK. It was not as easy as it should be: You had to use VMWare to run their simulator virtual machine and there were a lot of steps involved in setting that up and the numerous accounts. You needed like 4 different accounts as a developer alone. And then when I got the actual device, I needed a fifth account to be able to set up the device at all (and I could not create that account for some days until it suddenly seemed to work).

But I lost motivation to do more when RIM announced that their native SDK would only be given to some people at first and would not even contain a UI library. In other words: The only native apps you’re gonna see are games and maybe some very special graphic-intensive ones.

Why does Blackberry make it so not easy and not fun for developers? And why

Also I see some grave problems from a selling proposition point of view with the Playbook:

  • The only USP it has in my eyes is that it fits well into existing Blackberry infrastructures and it keeps fulfilling admins’ wet dreams about security and centralized control. While that certainly is important, it seems like many companies still buy iPads.
  • Flash and web browsing experience: The Playbook is more feature-rich here than the iPad.  It can do Flash. But the trend goes towards HTML 5, even Adobe released a converter. And the iPad does sell very well, even though it can’t do Flash.
  • The iPad has certainly won the consumers’ hearts. But I believe that this is the real entrance into the business world. Employees will demand what they know from home. It was the same thing with Microsoft’s Windows and Office. So they will also have a hard time in the business world, too.
  • The Playbook is not done well enough: The SDK is too limited, Blackberry is annoying developers, the hardware has some surprising design issues like the power button being way too small and hard to press (that is an important button!).
  • Android runs on many types of hardware and Google starts innovating a lot faster on android.
  • RIM built an “android player” for the Playbook. Well that is nice. But as the Playbook does not have any good apps and won’t have (as pointed out above), the only reason to have a Playbook would be to run android apps. So you could just get a real android tablet right away.
  • Will all that RIM tries to cater to two kinds of groups, business and consumers, while not really serving either of them well.

To me it seems like RIM is going to be bought soon by some other company, because both their smartphones are losing ground and the Playbook does not sell very well.

I think that’s sad. I was hoping that there would be a new number three that is not Microsoft. I was hoping that a really interesting piece of technology like QNX could be one of the new cool platforms.

But it seems like the future eco system phone and tablet eco system will be dominated by Apple, Google and Microsoft.

Focus is amazing

I just finished a 2 weeks intensive sprint completing an iPhone project for a customer.

In those two weeks I worked very intensely on just that one project and tried to do as few other things possible next to it. The effect was amazing: I was very productive. It was a little of fun. And I had little trouble focussing.

In the future I will try this principle more often: Doing one thing for a whole week with full focus.

I think this is one of the best and easiest ways to be productive:

  • Less things to worry about.
  • Less things that you need to carry around and sustain for that one week.
  • More agility: When do you something quick and fully focussed, you can review your results at the end of the week better and decide with more certainty whether it’s a good idea to go further into that direction or change the direction. No more “I did not really give it a try, so I should keep on doing it a bit more” thoughts. Instead, you can act quickly.

Put Important Things to Remember to Your Walls

What is the probably easiest way of being reminded of a few things every day? Posting them to your wall!

Might seem a little strange, but what if you want to change a habit or introduce a new one? I found myself starting it, but actually forgetting about it within a day or two, because life is so full of input everywhere.

An easy way to “wake up” every and be reminded of it is to post important things to remember in your bed room or work place, so can’t miss them.

Use big letters, as few words as possible and place so that it’s impossible to miss them.

I posted a few things to my work place’s walls like:

  • Done is better than perfect.
  • Moving is living.
  • Stay foolish.

Is Discussion a Good Tool to Solve Today’s Problems?

We have a great discussion about how to save the Euro right now and what to debt with financial debt.

It is amazing to see that one political party always comments in one particular direction, while the other always says the something else, yet always the same. Now if both of these parties are influential, i.e. backed by a significant number of people and if both of them have been in power before, how can both of them by right or wrong? That does not feel right to me.

I am getting a feeling that discussing and thinking and planning and arguing about most political topics of today is going to lead us all… nowhere!

Why?

What I am saying here is really my personal gut feeling and I can’t yet defend it properly by giving a lot of facts. Just a few observations though:

  • Today’s life is apparently too complex for most people to really judge anything.
  • Trying stuff out appears to be way more productive than thinking and planning too long.
  • The world changes too fast. What works today might already be useless tomorrow.

What I am trying to say here is that running a state is a little like building a technical product, like software. And what I am suggesting is that we should stop making so many plans and stop thinking that much. Instead, whenever we are unsure of what to do, we should simply try it.

So if we don’t know how to fix the Euro and solve the debt issue, why not just try it out on a small scale? Why not do an experiment?

None of the political parties in Germany appear very convincing to me at the moment. No matter what party, it seems more like the personal taste of their members than something that is backed by facts and numbers.

Yes, what I am proposing here is to turn politics into a quantitative, applied, empirical science. Something between engineering and natural sciences. This could help moving it away from an argument that is merely based on philosophy and personal taste of those in charge.

Instead of talking too much in advance I think we should start building and trying things out for a little while to then review the performance and do a lightweight decision based on this experiment.

Moved my blog

I moved blog to a new address: It’s not raph.de directly anymore, but instead blog.raph.de. That’s a bit more logical and also it will allow me to create an overview page in the future on raph.de.

Also, I decided to move the blog from a self-hosted one to wordpress.com. I will try it out for some time and see if the a bit more restricted environment suits me, but in general I’d love to not have care about updating WordPress all the time.

Elite Metaphors

Last week, I went to a soft skill weekend of the Elite Network of Bavaria (ENB), the organization that supports our Technology Management program and allows us to do participate in these events.

Those seminar weekends are primarily about three things: meeting people, learning some tools for communication and great food. Surprisingly, few people seem to know about this offering. Which makes those meetings a little cozier, but also bears the risk of the ENB reducing those measures.

Those seminar weekends take place multiple times a year for all members of the ENB. You usually pick one of the courses when registering and they often ofter very similar courses the next time.

I chose a course about arguing with metaphors by Andreas Hendrich. Andreas is a somewhat crazy guy from the other university in Munich (LMU). I am not quite sure what he actually does at LMU now, but he was sympathetic and was in Japan for a few years.

During the course, we first tried to give some definitions of different types of metaphors and similar narrative tools. During those 3.5 days we learned about:

  • Extracting and analyzing metaphors out of existing text (e.g. for the purpose of learning from them)
  • Finding suitable metaphors to argue about something
  • Using metaphors to translate abstract points into easily comprehensible arguments

It was really a nice experience doing it and due to the practical nature of it, it’s hard to share the results. You should probably due a course like this yourself. It is really amazing, how powerful the different forms of metaphors can be, if you choose the right ones for the audience.

One of my key learnings was that many metaphors can be too polarizing. This easily can kill your whole argument right from the beginning. If your audience does not like how you enter the room, you might have lost them already.

On the final day, we did a short presentation about the contents of the course. We of course showed off our new arsenal of metaphors: We pretended to be in a discussion panel of some famous people: Dr. Ctrl-C. Guttenberg, Koch-Mehrin, Edmund Stoiber, Harald Lesch and Marcel Reich-Ranicki. We started off with the baby in the cradle, moved on to the canons of speech and finally employed the rhetorical nuclear bomb.

We had great fun.

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