Raphael's Blog

Till The Sky Falls Down

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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.

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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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.

Deutsche Telekom's Great Endeavor

Today, Deutsche Telekom invited us to Darmstadt to a somewhat subtle recruiting event. They hid their efforts a little by venturing into the barcamp format and doing few traditional recruiting sessions.

Instead, they recognized that showing just a little of what they are doing and mostly just being a nice host itself is a good way to attract good people.

In the morning, we had a great inspirational speech by Mr. Kozel, who is the “CTIO” of Deutsche Telekom. He looks and talks little like Steve Jobs. And also he actually is from San Francisco. His rhetoric style reminded me a little of Steve Jobs’s 2005 Stanford Commencement Speech. Kozel told us first about his past at Stanford and Cisco and then how he came to Deutsche Telekom. It was surprising to see that he apparently doesn’t speak a lot of German, being a chief officer in a German company like Deutsche Telekom.

Kozel also talked about speed and not becoming arrogant being the most important factors for companies, both startups and big companies. He told us how many companies failed brutally after becoming too arrogant and slow. True words. Although Kozel was very authentic, speed and not being arrogant is hardly something that I could see Deutsche Telekom departing from in the near future. If you look at Telekom’s core offerings, many parts of that company are still captured in the past.

In the afternoon, the barcamp part of the event began. We had already done the session planning before the lunch break in which I offered a session about Mobile Health.

I was a little disappointed at how many topics were about social media. Come on guys, let’s stop talking about talking without results (which is a simpler term for social media).

In the evening, we had a great dinner. The catering was just excellent. Excellent food, different sorts of wine and cocktails were offered by a best in class caterer. And there also was a dinner speech by Thomas Sattelberger, the chief human resources officer. He is a nice guy and has lots of experience, but it’s not a very good sales pitch, if you call yourself revolutionary and then give the elimination of reserved parking lots for management as one of the revolutionary measures. He continued well, by pointing out that we would find this ridiculous, which was precisely what most probably felt. And he was also probably quite right when he said that other companies like Siemens still couldn’t push themselves towards the same measures. But still, it’s subpar rhetorics. Sattelberger is a nice guy, but Kozel is the better speaker.

It was a very nice day with Deutsche Telekom. They seem to at least have realized some issues and are trying to change. I am not yet convinced about their competitiveness as the other carriers are also moving fast. Further, Deutsche Telekom is trying to survive by moving beyond their core telco business towards providing solutions. As of now, I can’t really see any tangible success in that area.

Lots of inspiration at TEDXMunich 2011

TEDXMunich was a two days event of inspirational things, or as TED calls it “ideas worth spreading”.

You’d best check out the website for a comprehensive list of the topics, what I found most interesting though were these presentations:

  • Making Machines More Human: Peter Plantec showed his software woman “Sylvie” who is a AI personality that respond to text and speech input and talks back to you. She actually learns all the time, has a huge training database and gives different answers every time. On day 2 we also discussed about how this could change our life. What I found most interesting was to have a software like this as an interface to Wikipedia or other sources. At the beginning, you state a question in human language and then back comes a short or long answer in actual language and speech together with an animated face. It’s like your personalized teacher. “Sylvie” now seems to be succeeded by the verbots, which are open source.
  • The Burning Man festival:  You can look up in Wikipedia what it is. It amazed me though and reminded me a little of the Nature One in Germany. Both are roughly the same size, although the Burning Man seems to be a lot more creative and I like the idea that they try to never leave any traces like garbage. I would really like to attend, maybe 2012?
  • Improvised theater: 2 guys showed us some very nice improvised performance. On day 2 we could participate ourselves and try it out. It was a lot of fun.

On day 1, we had all the talks and on day 2 were some workshops that were conducted by the speakers from day 1 and connected to the topics. It was a really great way to dive more into those topics and discuss further.

Also I met the guy runs Buck’s in Silicon Valley. It’s the most important networking restaurant over there for all the startups and VCs and so on. I was thinking of opening a restaurant like this in Munich or converting an existing one into that role. Who’s in?

 

Android Devcamp Stuttgart 2

Android is all around… that’s what they say, particularly Google. This weekend I was at the Android Devcamp Stuttgart 2.

It took place in – obviously – Stuttgart at the Literaturhaus, a very nice and central location in Stuttgart. It was a two day event consisting of a more ad hoc style first day with a hackathon and a beginner’s workshop and the real barcamp style second day. While at the first day, I was mostly brain storming with some people about ideas and did not really get to hack anything this time, I learned quite a lot the second day.

I learned about how to monetize apps with ads and also how to increase the number of downloads for your own apps. Luckily, we had a guy from smaato here (I think he was actually just randomly here), who could give us some examples of how they can help you.

Also, Microsoft did not just sponsor the event, there was also great interest in a short intro to Windows Phone 7. Many people attended the session of the Microsoft evangelist. I myself am not quite so sure about Windows Phone 7, because I think it could still be too fragmented (carriers should not be involved in any decisions at all in my opinion). There was also little Microsoft bashing involved. Nice, non-fundamentalist participants.

Another interesting session a little later in the after noon was about how to pitch bullshit to anyone who does not know anything about technology. While it was apparently nothing really know, it was a reminder and a funny nerdy perspective on how to talk to non-technical people. The host of the session asked me to pitch an app about a location-based social realtime bakery finding service and I gave it a try. It was fun!

Finally, after the very hot and humid day, we wrapped up the whole thing. This year, there really seems to be substantially more traction for Android. I still think, it’s a little too chaotic, fragmented and the non-integrated user experience makes it a little difficult to use for many users. But it’s getting better.

Also it’s nice to finally see some competition, e.g. from Windows Phone 7. While I haven’t seen many people using one, I could imagine that Windows Phone 7 could actually be successful in a few years.

The event was really well organized. Plenty of food, a very nice location and great atmosphere. And everything was free. Thanks to the sponsors! Only chance of improvement: More Mate next time 🙂

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