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.