Saturday, December 24, 2011

Ode to the motorway idiot

I like driving, and although I am living in Madrid with just a vintage Vespa (dated 1999, not so vintage maybe), when I get back to Italy it's lovely to rescue my loyal car and drive throughout the countryside, on a sunny day, probably going to the beach.

But if I happen to drive on the motorway, and take my time to reach the destination, it's quite probable that an idiot will get glued to my back and start flashing headlights to push me out of the lane and pass me.

You know perfectly well the category of imbecile, the typical one with a big car, BMW, Mercedes or Audi; most often a SUV, who thinks he's the master of the road and bother you when you're calmly trying to pass a queue of trucks on the acceleration lane.

So this morning I felt inspired and wrote this ode.

Ode to the motorway idiot

Night-time I drive my car and feel so fine
no need to rush the route is long and dark,
but soon I see two brilliant lights that shine:
they're not two stars, it's just the usual shark.

No matter if I drive polite my way,
there'll always be an idiot stuck behind
who flashes headlights close, he can't avoid.

There's something here to say,
this kind of people makes me hate mankind.
Keep a safe distance, do not get me annoyed.

It's my first ode! Just one stanza, I hope you'll like it!

Presentology: the science of making presents

December: month of presents, holidays and food. And principally a good occasion to spend some relaxed days with family and friends. Playing cards next to your fireplace or shopping around the city center for a last minute struggle to find the perfect present. Or the first that suits, does not matter really, the task is make anybody happy with a good present (not so expensive but effective; new and original but at the same time useful).

Your children, your wife, your parents; your friends, their children; the gramma, grampa and the neighbor. Although the standard recipe is book and perfume, or simply the latest digital device, making of a simple present an original and creative one, it’s a hard mission.

So, think of the presents you are going to buy, then ask yourself: “how much creativity is in my presents”?

Really, here does not matter to be creative. If you think you aren't, don't wander around like a headless chicken trying to buy something to please others. Unless you can afford buying something really expensive and impressive, try with standard present, like a bottle of wine, a typical cheese or a bottle of whisky. These are very good ideas, indeed. The don't pile up among unused things, and disappear as soon as they get consumed.

Listen and pay attention to your family the whole year, sooner or later they will express an unconscious desire or a necessity: this is your moment to demonstrate you're a careful person and not an improvised Santa Claus.

That's wonderful! You don't need to recycle presents and dissimulate the origin of them, and you won't fill your friends' houses with unwanted objects. Unless you can buy a Rolex or diamonds, keep the profile low and simple.

Remember, often the most important secret is "give people gifts you would like to receive" (ok, no, your wife won't probably like a Playstation).

You won't commit the error of spending on:

  • Blackboard for the kitchen (the black one, of course)
  • Obscure and ugly painting
  • Ceramic stuff for the living room (like a doll or a horse)
  • The typical Christmas socks with some elks printed
  • Whatever "Made in China" useless ugly stuff. So uncool

That said, I have one line left for wishing you a Merry Christmas and good luck with your presents!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Ok, Houston, we've had a problem here

For sure you have heard of this mythical exclamation from Jack Swigert during Apolo 13 mission in the seventies. Then this expression has been used and often abused by almost anybody. And if you work in a tech company like I do, even more.

Jokes apart, having problems and struggling to find brilliant solutions to problems is a daily routine in most companies. And when finding a brilliant solution is not that easy, well at least efforts should be made to find a cheap solution. And if money is not a problem, well let’s try to make it work as soon as possible. And if finding a brilliant, cheap and fast idea is not possible at all, the challenge is simply “make it work the way you can”.

What I have seen in some years of experience in different roles and working on different products is that finding a procedure or process to systematize troubleshooting is not so straightforward.
Besides, forecasting problems is an activity often beyond companies' worries.
And last but not least, one of the few certainties is that Murphy’s law is always true: then problems will occur when you are working under pressure or through tight schedules.

Simply, behaviours oriented to problem solving do not exist. Although there is a lot of literature around, the best you can find is a list of steps ranging from sitting down, having coffee and brainstorming altogether, to “let’s add more people and let’s try to improve competence as fast as possible”.

Possibly there is no panacea for troubleshooting. What is socially acceptable is a meeting to find out a solution in a brainstorming session. Of course this is a way, if we manage to solve the issue or at least find out a workaround, then we’re a team, we’re good at meeting and solving stuff.
In case we fail, we’ll fail altogether, therefore any other solution was out of reach and we did the best we could. There’s no responsible, no guilt, but still no solution.

Brainstorming might possibly work when team building is the objective. It also might seem the best tool when stress and pressure move people out of the comfort zone and the brain disconnects channels devoted to finding creative solutions.

What are the problems with brainstorming? Probably expectation. It’s good to have high expectations on one tool, but brainstorming is simply not a tool.
Besides structural weaknesses of brainstorming such as productivity loss, lack of direction and free riding there may be personal factors like fearing the risk, competition among the participants and undermining others’ proposals.

Brainstorming does not seem to be the solution to discover systematically solid steps for problem solving. There are also some techniques and patterns that might provide help at the time of finding a creative alternative, in a structured way. Yes, it sounds weird, I am saying providing a structure to creativity, but there is something else beyond brainstorming.

"As usual, for these co-written things, John often had just the first verse, which was always enough: it was the direction, it was the signpost and it was the inspiration for the whole song. I hate the word but it was the template." Paul McCartney

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

On the obsolescence of news

Today I want to write down some considerations about what happened some days ago in Spain to an article from the online newspaper "El Pais".
In a few hours an article dated 2005 on pseudo-homophobic declarations from a Spanish conservative senator ranked to the top of the most read online news ever for that newspaper.

How did that happen? General elections on 20th of November 2011 saw the conservatives win by absolute majority, so it's likely that indignant opponents started sharing the news either reading just the headline, or maybe passing through the article without checking the date of publication.

So, after some hours, the online edition of the newspaper highlighted just below the original headline that the article was dated 2005 and that networks virality had just ranked it to the top.

I read some opinions from readers about what had happened, in Spanish here for who's interested. I read a bit of everything, very different opinions one from another and maybe I would expect a more objective analysis (although a blog comments section is probably not the most propitious place for that).

Anyway, people's observations apart, I think that this is quite interesting and worth spending some reflections.

I read this is not the first time an event like this takes place, therefore this makes me think that in terms of innovation in communications and media we have moved a big step forward in these last few years, but I think there is something missing when considering organization and structure of news both in content and cronology.

Readers' opinions are very different, and I cannot but think they are often right, in a certain way.
I don't fell that rejecting old news for the mere fact of being old is the proper thing to do. I mean, old news don't come with freshness and immediate interest, but that's not a reason why they should not be considered information.
And old information should be part of anyone's cultural wealth at the time of extrapolating coherent opinions.

A personal opinion should be based on information integrity, development and evolution. I think this is very reasonable, but I don't think that amplifying and highlighting specific events cut off from a more detailed context is good.
Similarly, it would be an error to consider an information dissociated from backgrounds and consequences. This is what I call manipulation. The worst thing is that virality of manipulation reaches nowadays enormous proportions through the Internet channel.

Who's responsible for that? Nobody. Or everybody; that's pretty the same. With tools currently available, this is the perception of the world we are living. Asserting that current media manipulate news on purpose and in any situation it's kind of a dumb generalization.
Similarly, declaring that social networks' users that are used to share news (often emotionally) aim to manipulate reality, it's far too simplistic.

By the way, anyone should be responsible for anything is provoked by a simple click. On the other side, media and social networks will have to concentrate efforts towards improving presentation and aggregation of contents.

What's clear is that a better comprehension of our world is subordinated to both having good critical education and to a bold typeface date of publication beside any news.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Tension and conscience cannot coexist

A couple of days ago I was assisting to my yoga class, and during relaxation phase, that comes at the end of any class, my attention got focused on the words of the master. He uses to suggest techniques to obtain muscles relaxation in a better and faster way, so he drives our thoughts to better understand the body and the possibilities to have good mental and physical balance.

This is a very grateful moment, yoga training can be quite intense, so it's lovely to have such a 15 minutes long prize at the end of  the session. During this final part of the session, he suggested to focus attention on any part of the body; then he started mentioning muscles one by one, speaking slowly and softly. This one technique is good to relax the single muscle, because according to him:

"When there is conscience, there cannot be tension. Where you can find tension, there is no conscience."

It simply means that if you project the attention to a specific part of your body and simply observe it, it will get relaxed. No action or active movement is needed, on the contrary, all unintentional tensions and contractions will abandon the muscle at the time that perception is moved to it, immediately and automatically.

According to me this is a very simple and effective method that should be applied the whole day long. I, as much people, work sitting the whole day in front of a computer; then I realize that as time in front of the pc passes by, my shoulders start to stiffen up unconsciously while they should stay away from the neck, released and relaxed.

Try to think about it and move your attention to your shoulders, I am sure you will notice that they are rigid and provoke your chest get more contracted and your back leaning towards the screen. The result of contraction is that you will get tired more easily and you'll feel your head heavier. Then try to concentrate on different parts of your body. Try it in your bed.

Does this concept apply to thoughts in your mind too? Does conscience and observation of your thoughts help release nervousness?
Yes it does, I'll write down some idea soon.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Motivational quotes are good to get inspired

Today we had a nice Toastmaster session here at the company, and as a Table Topic Master was missing, I took the role.

If you don't know what a Table Topic session is, just imagine a moderator asking questions or introducing topics to an audience. After the topic is presented, he calls a member from the audience on stage to have him improvise for at least one minute (on the topic).

I had nothing prepared, so I thought about involving speakers on reflections on motivational quotes. I have quite a lot I am used to send to friends every once in a while. Here they are:

It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.
Franklin D. Roosevelt

Personality can open doors, but only character can keep them open.
Elmer G. Letterman

Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass... it's about learning to dance in the rain.

Failure defeats losers. Failure inspires winners.
Robert T. Kiyosaki

Why repeat the old errors, if there are so many new errors to commit.
Bertrand Russell

If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or things.
Albert Einstein

Don't say things, have them done. Things done are self explained.
Woody Allen

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.
Winston Churchill

I think it's nice to have people reflect on these topics, but as there are new members too, I let them choose if they wanted a difficult topic or a simple one. Moreover, switching from a serious quote to a light topic, made the session funnier. So, prepare some more topics such as:

  • What are the things you do before going to sleep?
  • Which smartphone do you prefer, iPhone or Android?
  • Is it better to have an iPad or an Amazon Kindle?
  • What would you rather ride, a Vespa or a Harley Davidson?

Silly topics, but really helpful for nervous speakers, indeed.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A couple of tips to start your public speech

I am not used to watch TV, because I don't own one, and my life goes on anyway. For video information I rely on Youtube, Vimeo and similar, it's more than enough to satisfy my interests.
I'll list just a couple of tips to remember, because I think they can be effective at the time of speaking in public.

Especially if you need to improvise your speech, opinion or simply contribution. It's curious: when you are drinking a coffee with a friend, a person of trust, you feel comfortable enough to express freely your thoughts and digress on multiple topics. But put yourself in front of an audience, and unless you have the gift of knowing how to control yourself and establish a contact with people from the public as soon as possible, your speech won't be so fluent as you would like.

Then just a couple of ideas from Elsa Punset, Spanish writer and philosopher.
  • Drink a sip of water just before speaking
    Having a sip of liquid will send a message of relax to your brain, and the brain will interpret that if you have time to drink, then your life is not in danger. So the brain sends another message of relax to the whole body. In case you don't have any glass of water, swallow your own saliva, it'll help!
  • Inhale air deeply in your belly, retain air some seconds, and exhale as slowly as you can
    This kind of breathing will make you relax immediately, probably thanks to the same mechanisms of the previous tip. It's the typical respiration you use when sitting down, and part of one typical Yoga respiration too (I'll write a post on it).
I tried these tips, and although they don't solve every problem, they'll help; at least as a placebo!
And if you need some more self-confidence, I think this video will help you charge your batteries before your next speech, quite intense and funny!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Don't go upper case. SO OBVIOUS.

I have a few friends in my social networks that seem to have problems with editing styles. I'll be more precise, I am not referring to spaces after commas, capital letters when starting a new paragraph or a full stop when introducing a new sentence.

I don't pretend to be the style master at all. But simply, when you greet your community, comment others' posts, appreciate an image or make yourself visible on the network, you really don't need to use capital letters for everything.


My explanation.
  • Your caps lock is broken
    I see. Write me a line I'll send you 5 dollars to buy a new keyboard.
  • You think your texts are not visible enough
    You're wrong. The universal rule is writing lower case. I admit upper case writing for an exclamation of pure joy, but just from time to time. Unless you're happy the whole time, of course.
  • You need to attract attention
    Go have some beers with your friends. If you don't have, you can drop me a line.
  • You are an artist or a publicist
    I guess your creations are cool, otherwise stop writing and try painting.
  • You have absolutely no idea about communication, education and technology
    Well, it's time to learn how communication has changed, my friend.

Remember, when writing upper case YOU ARE JUST SHOUTING at your readers, that's not pleasant.
That's why each time I read capital letter updates I feel uncomfortable. Please remember:


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Ryan Air, how travel teaches toleration (Benjamin Disraeli)

My travel starts from the very web page, when I have to buy my flight for my weekend to Las Palmas de Gran Canarias.

Hey darling! There's a 60 euros offer! Proceed, go on, buy it, make it yours, fast fast, click click, come on, otherwise the price will inflate!

Run, run; come on, come on; yes, no, yes, I don’t want any assurance, no I don’t want to not buy the premium “Les grands VIP” for entering the plane first. 
Shame, that means I want it. No, I don’t want it. Help, call me an engineer!

How many bags? One, no? 10 kilos? Yes of course, day by day, flight by flight I look like Michelin man hiding sausages in my pockets. What if it does not fit? I’m getting nervous. I am sweating.

Do I want the car? No, love walking. We love walking, isn’t it darling?
Relax. It’s done, it’s the confirmation screen. Whaaaaat? Ten euros to use my Visa? Hold on, I’ll bring them money personally. Breath deeply and pay.
I have it, 120 euros flight is mine. Wasn’t it 60 euros? No, I dreamt of it.

It’s done, if you have your check in tickets, you think you’re done! You are wrong.


Monday, November 14, 2011

How to not forget lies you tell

I'll agree with anybody, one should never tell lies. Actually I don't, for a couple of reasons mainly.
Firstly because I don't want to manipulate the reality, it's complex enough and time is running out so fast that I don't see a clear advantage in it. I think one should try to contribute to social development by telling things as they are.
And secondly, because I don't think it's a good thing living with the feeling of being discovered. I should always take care not to contradict myself, and this would be really uncomfortable.

Anyway, yesterday I was reading the description of a character taken from "East of Eden", Cathy. The writer suggest that Cathy employed three techniques to tell lies; here they are

  1. Stay close enough to the truth so that one can never know
    This way I understand you can blend reality to make it appear the way you need; by emphasizing certain ideas or belittle others. Once you find someone questioning your statements, you can always fix everything with a misunderstanding.
  2. Interlard lies with true statements
    This way you will probably reinforce your contribution by playing with well-known ideas, so that trust on what you say is somehow established.
  3. Tell a truth as if it were a lie
    This is part of the whole strategy to make yourself credible. If you want to set a precedent, follow this step. Once your statement is called into question, make sure you have all the resources to demonstrate its truthfulness. This will provide you some degrees of liberty and for a long time, when you'll need to say:
    I told you, you never believe me. Just like that time when...
I hope you found this tips interesting. Lies are evil, but I admit that from time to time, a "technical small lie" can save you time and probably your face!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How to connect to your audience: two basic hints

Last 7th of November 2011 I watched the debate between the two presidential candidates for next Spanish general elections (on the 20th of November): Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba and Mariano Rajoy.

My first impression is that not only was the debate boring, empty of concrete content and full of elusive answers on critical issues, but it also was designed not to hurt citizens' feelings.
My second impression is that when I need theatre, then I'd rather go to the theatre and assist to the performance of good actors, not just amateurs.

Apart from the content, I did not feel hurt nor attacked by their campaign. Actually I didn't feel much impacted, after all. This was independent from the interventions of both candidates (a mix of kindness and good propositions).
The sensation I had was the big distance between me, the audience on the other side of the screen, and them.
And after thinking a little bit, I realized that at least in the final intervention, at the time of addressing their message to the public, they were missing eye contact.
My observations:

  • Nobody would say Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba summarized his message to the nation without batting an eyelid. Along the whole debate he blinked thousands of times.
    It was getting me nervous, really. Because it seemed like he was relying too much on his capacity of improvisation and did not prepare the conclusion at all. Or simply he needed some good eye-drops. I guess it's happened to you, you're asked a question and while thinking of an answer, you start blinking.
    The hint, simply blink as much as physiologically needed.
  • On the contrary, it seemed like Mariano Rajoy did not rely at all on his capacity of improvisation.
    Actually what would you say of a person looking at his own notes 585 times in approximately 40 minutes? The contact to the audience was completely fragmented.
    Quoting Rajoy, speaking of political situation in Spain:
    Actually I know it won't be easy, actually it'll be —pause 5 seconds and look at the note, then resume— difficult.
    What? You need to read your notes to say it'll be —pause— difficult?
    Second hint. Don't use notes, just for writing. You'll be proud of yourself and people will appreciate it. Moreover, less people will doubt about your sincerity.
A polite debate, after all; nobody left the room injured.

Monday, November 7, 2011

A question, what's television for?

Three years ago I moved to a rented flat with my girlfriend and I remember we had that small television of the home owner laying on the fridge. It was not connected to any antenna, I guess it is the reason the quality of reception was absolutely poor. Moreover, we had only a couple of channels, RTVE, that are Spanish national channels.

I think that wasn't the first time in my life I didn't miss having a TV at home. The years spent as a student, having a TV was optional. You never knew which house you were moving into, and sharing the device among all home mates might have been difficult. Therefore I was not really interested in watching TV. I think I learnt from those moments, that surviving during cold winter nights with just a book or a chat on the phone was enough to ensure some moments of distraction. Later on, it was the time of Internet at home, the more then perfect substitute of the magic box. Information on demand: what more did I need?

Actually I needed nothing. Last year I moved to a new flat and the same again. No TV. My house is quite, silent and the atmosphere is really relaxed. Those times I go to visit my family in Italy, I realize that when I'm in front of a television, I'm completely glued to it. Hypnotized, when having dinner I almost don't listen to people talking to me! Actually at my parents' house, during the meals TV is on. And I am sticked to commercial breaks. I assure you I'm astonished by the facility TV makes me dumb.

Therefore, with everything I see around, starting from "The Big Brother" and all the shitty commercials; passing to news both tailored for the audience and manipulated, until I finally get useless movies fragmented by more commercials...I don't see the point in having a TV at home.
Moreover if, like in Italy, you have to pay a yearly fee to watch public channels, and that's not all that cheap.

You should choose carefully your TV programs, there's something good there; although you can often find quality content on the Internet.
That said, what is TV for?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Behaviours to avoid in an airport. Please.

I use to fly from 10 to 15 times a year, often to go and visit my family in Italy.
From Madrid, the city where I live, it's not a long journey. A little bit more than a couple of hours to reach the nearest airport. Besides visits to Italy, I happen to travel for both business and pleasure.

Today I'll write down just a few typical behaviours I noticed in travellers; behaviours that can be surprising.

  • In absence of finger connecting to the plane, people struggle to overtake you on the way to the plane.
    Typical situations are those of low cost companies: the bus takes you next to the plane, then smart people run faster than you just to arrive first to the plane stairway. Optionally they may look at you out of the corner of their eye while running. As if there were a prize in the plane for the first to come in. These are among the funniest human behaviours you may meet in your life.
    A variation: people trying to overtake you in the very finger connecting the plane to the airport. Yes, I have experienced it. I won't formulate further comment on that.
  • After landing, people coming from rear seats won't let you come out from your row to head to the exit (on the top of the plane). 
    I mean, I won't understand sudden claustrophobia so I am not really tolerant to this. I mean, why should I wait for anybody from behind when I come logically and physically before you? I understand you're in a hurry but try to take advantage of instinct, or at least intuition. And if you miss these qualities, shame on you. 
  • People think they're smarter and will try to jump the queue at the check in. 
    I've seen all sort of excuses, but this subgroup coming from an unknown branch in the human species should become extinct for the wellness of mankind.
  • Groups of people standing in the plane and talking loud as if having a beer in the pub. 
    This is less serious, but equally annoying. This is not a pub, it is a flight, let me relax.

Now seriously. If you recognize yourself in one of these behaviours, re-consider them when flying!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Strategies to get up in the morning

Today I want to talk about the probably hardest of all the challenges you might think of and the most difficult defiant moment of the whole day, especially during winter time, when the bitterly cold temperature of your room makes nearly impossible the mission number one. To get up in the morning.

If you feel lonely, sad and abandoned in that difficult moment, I want you to know that you are not alone. I share with you the sensation that sometimes getting up in the morning is really hard.
And it's even worse if you did not sleep that fine or you have to get up for a meeting that requires you to be on time and brilliant.

Then let me suggest a few strategies to consider if you want to start the day in a better way.
  1. Set the alarms clock one and half hour before getting up
    I used to set the clock so early because realizing that I might spend one hour and half more in the bed, was really great. Once you wake up, set the clock again 90 minutes later and you're done. Moreover, according to investigations, 90 minutes is the perfect duration for a satisfactory nap and sleeping time should always be in multiples of that. Read more here.
  2. Always stretch your body in the bed before getting up
    I really can't get out of bed as soon as the alarm rings. I stretch the whole body, then start making some deep breathings. 
  3. Provide your room is warm enough
    Quite obvious, isn't it? Do you know anybody who loves to wake up with polar temperatures? I assure you that spending a bit more on heating is definitely worth.
  4. Take your time: breakfast and news
    It just applies in case you don't have to wake up childrens, bring them to school or walk your dog. With this idea in your mind, you'll feel that self care comes before your work.
  5. Drink liters of coffee or tea
    Pretty self explanatory, of course.
  6. Get up earlier than due, have breakfast, then go to sleep again
    This is my favourite. It has happened to me a few times; I woke up earlier to finish some work but after breakfast (and coffee) I was not that brilliant. Then going back to bed with clear conscience solved the problem. 
I am used to get up between 8:30 and 9:00. I admit that I am a lucky man, because I get advantage of flexitime at work, besides working at home from time to time. Teleworking and flexitime are probably the main indicators of good quality in your life. I believe that all companies should introduce these measures to improve quality of life. Besides, performance is often amplified by having satisfied employees. 

Tell your boss.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

How did I quit smoking

On the next 4th of December it will be my third anniversary since I quit smoking. I, like lots of other ex-smokers, remember this date as it were carved in stone, a monument to my determination, a milestone after years of attempts in the right direction.

I started smoking at the age of fifteen. I remember I used to smoke any brand I would find, out of curiosity and to make myself an expert on tobacco's blendings. I have never been a great smoker, let's say an average of fifteen cigarettes per day. Besides, I was not the only smoker of the gang, all my friends were smokers too so lighting up a cigarette was the most common way to consecrate our meetings.

The first time I tried to leave cigarettes behind, it was at the age of twenty three, and I remember that it took not even three months to go back to old habits.
I finally succeeded in quitting smoking, that was at least after ten attempts along the years. I had to follow some rules to prepare myself for the big moment and repeat some actions to make the stress of abstinence bearable. Then I would like to share with you some ideas that helped me a lot.

  1. Smoke hand-made cigarettes before quitting
    It helped me reduce a lot the number of cigarettes I smoked each day, and I felt my addiction was getting weaker day by day. Lighting up a cigarette is not that easy: rolling one takes time, therefore it is somehow discouraging.
  2. Get ready for the last one cigarette ceremony
    Smoke the last one knowing it will be the last one forever. Of course it must be the last one in the box; then make sure there are no more cigarettes at home. Watching the empty box after smoking the last one will give you a sensation of being free from the vice. If it's nighttime, and you're decided to quit smoking but you still have five or six cigarettes left in the box, take your time and smoke until you empty the box. Doesn't matter if it's late. It will be lovely to get up to a new world, to a new life. Besides, smoking so much will give you an unpleasant feeling, and this will enhance the concept of how much evil is hidden in tobacco.
  3. Start some physical activity
    I quit smoking at the same time I started practising Yoga. Doing some sport helps release the load of stress and tension due to lack of nicotine. Go jogging, to the gym or swimming pool; do something. You must feel that sports and cigarettes cannot coexist.
  4. Drink a lot of water
    Drinking water helps purify your organism from any residual of nicotine.
  5. Light incense sticks in your house.
    The very first days, going back home from work was a real pain. I needed to sit down on my sofa and smoke anything. I started lighting incense sticks at home, they are not addictive and help relax your mind, really. A couple of months will be enough; choose a light flavour.
  6. Consider they are controlling you
    Big tobacco manufacturers receive huge benefits by controlling your independence and making you a slave of the system. And I'm sure you really don't deserve that.
  7. Tell your partner or your friends not to smoke at home.
    Of course, living with a smoker is absolutely incompatible with this particular change in lifestyle. My partner never smoked, then it was easy for me. I'm sure they will be delighted to help you quit smoking so as to go smoke tobacco in the balcony or into the bathroom. Otherwise, maybe it's time to update partner or friends. 
  8. Avoid alcohol, drink coffee
    Yes, and eat chocolate, drink tea and do things that make you happy, at least during a period. The first two weeks without tobacco you probably won't sleep and feel hyperactive the whole day. But after approximately two weeks you will experiment a nostalgic sense of boredom, you will feel empty, meaningless. This is the most dangerous moment. Take care! The emotion of the challenge is over and in order to maintain it alive, drink coffee. I used to sip American coffee the whole day. This kept me awake and willing to do things.
Nowadays I still continue with maintenance routines. Hopefully I quit smoking forever, although every once in while I smoke a Cuban cigar. Much better than cigarettes, at least you don't need to breath smoke in.

I hope these tips help you; if they're not enough, then maybe you need to concentrate some time on the picture in this post!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Top 3 tips to look good to your future in-laws

Finally you are there, you didn't expect it would have happened so early, so unexpectedly. The day has come. A lunch, a dinner, a breakfast or whatever. The day you'll meet her parents, you'll have to be prepared.
It's just a matter of months, maybe years if nobody is in a rush; nevertheless I have seen loves at first sight, just few days away to meet her parents.

From my humble experience I would like to share with you three absolutely unavoidable tips to help make this first rendezvous perfect. No need to stress that being relaxed and smiling all the time is absolutely necessary. But besides looking good, well dressed and happy, there is something more.

Here they go:

  1. Take care of your language.
    Language is your visiting card, and if you fail this test, sorry for you, you'll have to work hard to delete the impression you provided. Although using conversational street slung might seem quite natural, you never know who you're talking to. Think twice before saying anything; or even better, think rapidly and speak slowly.
  2. Compliment the cook.
    The most typical situation to make your in-laws acquaintance, is a meal altogether at your girlfriend's house. Of course there is no need to say that you'll absolutely love all the dishes and you'll thank everybody for being so kind, and for cooking so well. In my case it's been dead simple, all meals were genuine and tasty; but in case you hate Brussels sprout like I do, well, you'll have to manage it.
  3. In case you go to the toilet, never forget to lower the toilet seat.
    In the past I believed that leaving it opened would represent a sign of education and hygiene. But then I realized that the best thing is leaving it closed, ready for anybody going to sit down.

In most cases these suggestions may sound obvious to you. Actually they are, but I believe it is important to pay attention to them for just some moments, just in case.
And what if you realize you did something wrong? Don't worry, there's nothing a bottle of good wine can't fix.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Small coffee secrets: how to prepare a good one

When I drink a coffee in the morning, I need at least two newspapers; once said Umberto Eco in an interview. I completely agree with him, and that’s lovely during weekend to spend time comfortably sitting in a bar drinking from a cup and reading newspapers or magazines.
During the week I can only rely on sad caffeine dispenser of coffee machines of the floor, and then I’ll have two hours of active meetings and brilliant work. I think I prefer newspapers.
Anyway, I would like to drink a toast to everybody here in this room, especially to those who love coffee like I do.

Today I woke up and fell out of bed; the first thing coming to my mouth was “Oh, my God”.
The second thing was a sip of coffee. Then, sitting comfortable in my armchair with my cup of coffee, I was staring at the sky from the window. I started thinking some seconds and everything connected; ideas and stories brought up and sewed together by that supreme smell coming from the cup between my hands.

I prepare it following ancient rules, family heritage of “how to prepare a good coffee”. Then I would like to share some secrets with you to prepare an unforgettable moment.

  1.  I will start from the conclusion: after serving a coffee, do not wash the mocha. Yes, I know it sounds natural and obvious to most of us, poor men in domestic affairs, mainly. In order to conserve the natural environment for an improved taste it is known that coffee residuals should be left in the mocha. Then, when it’s time to have another coffee, unscrew it and wash it under the water using no detergent.
  2. Although it might sound a little weird, coffee powder should be stored in the fridge, in a hermetic pot. This will help you save its taste easily along the time.
    If think Italian blending is the best, brands like Illy, Lavazza, Segafredo, probably known all around the world, are probably the best quality ones. You can find them in almost all great shops and commercial centre.
  3. Fill the base of the mocha with water; the right level would be until you reach the valve. If you are purist, you could use mineral water, I do use tap water (unless city water is undrinkable, of course, in that case you will agree with me that coffee tasting as bleach is not the best).
  4. Then, using a spoon, fill the filter with the powder, until you form a small mountain with that.
    The most important thing is not to push at all with the spoon the coffee you have just added: this will not help water find its path through it, acting like a bottleneck. This is often the main reason for your coffee tastes burnt. Another reason for your coffee tasting burnt is due to filter holes blocked by dirt. I suggest you use a needle to open holes again; it’s an operation that takes about ten minutes, and will assure lots of months free of problems.
  5. Then, another important step: use a light fire in the burner, I know it will take more time than pushing fire to the top, but temperature gently warming water is really fundamental. If you are in a hurry, you can increment the temperature a bit, but take care, as soon as coffee starts to show, lower the temperature again.
  6. After all the coffee has come out, normally indicated by the typical bubbling noise (music for my ears, though!), mix the precious liquid with a spoon before serving. Mixing is very important; the first coffee to come out is denser, then it’s heavier and tends to stay at the bottom of the mocha.
I recommend you serve coffee in a nice cup. It is very important for the eye to be delighted. Otherwise it would be like drinking an expensive wine in a plastic glass, undoubtedly a bad idea.

I love coffee and all the expressions of its personality. Snap your fingers and you’re walking along the 5th avenue in New York, with half a liter of Starbucks beverage in your hand, or maybe flying above Irish highlands with a typical Irish coffee. Be nervous like an authentic Italian with the most concentrated Espresso ever or just sit outside a bar in the sunny Retiro park in Madrid enjoying an iced cappuccino.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Starting from the end: making plans for the present

Today a colleague told the participants to a meeting at work a metaphor about life and people's aspirations. To be more precise, a metaphor to a better comprehension of one's objective.
The story started like this:

"Put yourself in the mood you are going to a funeral, therefore imagine yourself well-dressed, parking your car in front of the church and entering. The church is really crowded, but you can take a seat next to the entrance, where there are still some free seats. The church is silent and rows of candles extend along the lateral naves. The atmosphere is quite solemn and people are concentrated on the celebration. You sit down, and observe the situation. Try to feel it, make it real in your imagination.
After a while, you realize the funeral is yours. You are that dead man, closed into the coffin and awaiting the last goodbye. Then imagine the situation, four people are giving speeches to remember the defunct, that is you. They are:

- a relative of yours, not your close family, but an uncle, a cousin or whatever;
- a colleague,
- a friend,
- the priest.

According to you, what would their words be, what would they say to honour your memory?"

Now, try to relax and imagine this situation. Think of it just a couple of minutes then ask yourself:

- If  I died tomorrow, what would their speeches be like?
- Would they say those things I imagined or maybe not?

This simple exercise, according to my opinion, provokes a reflection on our vital satisfaction and maybe provides an indirect question: "How far am I from reaching my objectives  Am I moving along the right path or should I change anything to pursue my targets?"

Friday, September 23, 2011

Toastmasters table topics on job interviews

In my last post I wrote down my Toastmaster Ice Breaker, the first speech to complete a path to be a Competent Communicator.
But Toastmasters meetings are not just speeches, for those who ignore it. There's also the possibility to develop improvisation skills during the Table Topics sessions. That consists in a member of the club, the Table Topics Master (TTM), choosing some topics and calling people from the audience to improvise on a random topic for a period of time from one to two minutes.

The topic can be whatever the TTM likes, of course the simpler the topic, the better for the speaker!
Topics on hot themes such as sex, politics and religion should be avoided, unless the audience is a group of close friends or similar.

I'll write down some topics I chose once being TTM, hope you'll like and use them when you're short of ideas. They are thematic topics on job interviews, the TTM plays the role of the interviewer and the person from the audience is the candidate.

Here they go.

- You are unemployed and writing your CV, what would you write in your hobbies chapter?

- Why do you want to leave your current job?

- How would your co-workers describe you?

- You are asked if you plan to get pregnant, what would you answer?

- Where do you see yourself in five years?

- What are your weaknesses?

- If you were an animal/a can of soup/some other random object, which one would you be?

- If you were a ‘Lost’ character, which one would you be? (Use whatever character from whatever TV series. You can previously ask the audience whether they know certain TV series.)

- Do you ever abuse alcohol or drugs?

- How much should you charge to wash all the windows in Madrid? (5 euros per window is a good answer!)

- Design an evacuation plan for Madrid city center.

- This job has always been handled by a (female) (male). Do you think you can handle it? (sexist question, not really hot topic, might be funny although unfortunately quite common in reality)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

My Toastmasters Ice Breaker

I started meeting with Toastmasters guys in May 2010, and since then I must admit that I have spent a really good time with them. For those who ignore what Toastmasters is, I'll just write what Google search result say, that is: "Non-profit organization developing public speaking and leadership skills through practice and feedback in local clubs since 1924." For more informations you might simply go to

Briefly, the first objective is to deliver ten speeches in order to obtain the "Competent Communicator" title. I am still far away from that, but I am now preparing my next speech.
The first speech is the Ice Breaker, and is the most simple one. Actually there is no need to provide the speech a complex structure or pay attention to lots of details while preparing the presentation. The objective is telling the audience who you are, what do you like and possibily why you are there doing what you do.

I'll add my Ice Breaker here, in case you are curious and looking for inspiration. I remember I read it almost completely. You know, it was my first time delivering a speech to an audience, and in english.

Chapter I, Me

My mother got pregnant around 20th March, 1976. I guess my grandfather must have been expectant about my sex, he was looking forward to have a boy to educate and to teach his own values and ideas. I don’t know if my parents were as expectant as my grandfather, being my mother pregnancy unexpected. Anyway, love sometimes wins, and I won a free ticket to life (well, not really free, that’s pretty like a mortgage repayment, but at first you don’t realize it), that was on the 22nd of January 1977. The third of three children, the only boy, the one they were not waiting for.

Later on it was not so difficult for me to catch the whole attention of people, being an hyperactive fellow forced my parents to spend great part of their time in controlling my movements.
I loved cartoons, specially Japanese ones (Who does not remember Mazinger, Goldrake, or Captain Harlock) and before going to the nursery, I loved to switch on TV and spend hours in front of the tv set. Then, my father built a small wooden box with a padlock to lock the plug of the TV. In a couple of days I learnt to open the padlock with a metal clip. I could not understand why I was not allowed to spend hours watching cartoons, actually, there was nothing more for me to do, provided my mother was always busy either cooking or cleaning. And the elder sisters?? I wasn´t really interesting for my elder sisters.
Another usual episode I remember was climbing on chairs and pieces of furniture to discover hidden chocolate pots. Really easy.
Nowadays I understand why youngsters are quite anarchists.
Then, by the age of four I started reading Micky Mouse comics. I could not stand Micky Mouse, actually my favourite character was Donald Duck. By far more sympathetic and human character than Micky, the perfect mouse. Boring.
By the age of six years old I had learned by memory around four hundreds comics, each story, each dialog. I did not realize my talent, my father discovered it when joking with my uncle: “he knows stories by memory!”. Actually I started repeating a random story from a random comic chosen by my father throughout my collection. Was I a lonely intellectual child?

Little child, little child, little child want you dance with me?
I am so sad and lonely baby take a chance with me.

I don’t have any particular memory of me sitting on a school chair. That was a quite period of my life. I think I nearly fell in love with all the good looking girls in my class. Pretty normal.
Then, jumping to my fifteen years, everything started moving really fast. That’s when I had my first electric guitar. I played in a rock band and that was really fun, playing in parties, festivals and events. We were the most famous rock band in the village.
Everything was so nice till I was nineteen, when two main milestones marked the path. A summer vacation with my friends before entering university in Barcelona, and the choice to start engineering. After some time, thinking back of that summer, I can summon it up with three words: fun, Catalan (somehow similar to my village dialect) and girls. I would say:

Well, she was just seventeen,
and you know what I mean,
and the way she looked was way beyond compare.
So how could I dance with another,
ooh, When I saw her standing there.

Chapter II, The others

University was something much different, first time living alone, far away from my parents’ worries and control. There I completely forgot music and dedicated to subjects new to me. No time for guitar, no space for old hobbies.
I must admit that being curious is a very positive attitude, although choosing engineering is not the solution I would recommend. Actually when I started tasting the explanations to all natural phenomenons, I discovered there were mysteries much bigger. Human people and their behaviours. Studying at a big university is so interesting from a social point of view, getting in touch with different cultures is challenging.
Being part of a community is an astonishing experience: I realized that people are very different. Actually, nice, gentle, simple, complicated, clean, dirty, awful, liar, egoist and poliedric. As my studies progressed year by year, the happening that radically changed my life took place. A great friend of mine, pushed me to go on Erasmus. He demonstrated that it was the right thing to do and that was the right moment. I had always thought that being abroad with an Erasmus grant would be a loss of time.
I will never forget that moment I decided to trust a person against my feelings and sensation, that was a real revolution. One might say..

Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away.
Now it looks as though they're here to stay.
Oh, I believe in yesterday.

Chapter III, Altogether

And at last my short travel has arrived to these days. My love for Spain never faded out, and after getting my degree I started to organize things to go back to Spain. I did it, and now I am living one of strongest and most vivid experience I ever lived. Loving a woman and working with great colleagues.

I think I stopped playing music and singing in a band, but music is playing in me.

Monday, September 19, 2011

On unlocking new products potential

Here I am back from vacation ready to write down some notes for whom might be interested in taking advantage of them. In this blog I don't pretend to invent anything, I just want to summarize my and other's ideas, to develop concepts and simply remember interesting stuff.

To start with something practical and hopefully useful, I'll report an article from @MikeDalton I was just reading. This is about points to take in consideration when releasing an innovative product.
  1. What is the power of the new technology?
  2. What current limitation or barrier does the new technology eliminate or vastly reduce?
  3. What policies, norms and behavior patterns are used today to bypass the limitation?
  4. What policies, norms and behavior patterns should be used once the new technology is in place?
  5. In view of the above, what changes/additions to the new technology should be introduced?
  6. How to cause the change?
Follow this link to read more about the reflections implied in these questions.

Monday, July 11, 2011

I've got something to say


in a moment of inspiration or boredom I thought: "I'll start with another brand new blog to tell things I'm not interested into, then I'll get bored again and will quit posting in a few days".

I guess this should not be the spirit to start sharing thoughts. Actually, I think that like a common person I have lots of thoughts, but quite often I'm unable to organize them in way resulting interesting to a reader.

I assure you I am trying to improve. This disposition reminds me that long time ago (two and half years ago) I quitted smoking. And I have been saying for two and half years that I'll smoke a cigarette soon, because I love it. Then maybe in a couple of days' time this blog will be forgotten.

It is known, we the inconstant people are made this way.