Showing posts from March, 2021

359. Lendl, Karpov, Indurain, Nadal or McEnroe, Kasparov, Delgado, Federer

I’m giving away my age, at least with some of these dichotomies, but I’m interested in what these choices say about me. I am, or have been, at least, I confess, more on the first camp than the second. In these historical duels, I tended to align with the group representing hard work, dedication and determination over talent and panache . Only lately, as I mature, I’ve understood that the apparent ease in the performance of the second group is of course the result of work as hard as that of the former, and my preferences have in some cases changed, in others, disappeared altogether, making both equal in my estimation. Top performance, however effortless it looks, is always the result of excruciatingly meticulous preparation. But, if you are interviewing and looking for those who believe hard work to be the key to their and your business’ success, the choices in the title may hold the key to finding them and separating them from those who think talent may just come to them, without effor

358. The trouble with monopolies

Monopoly. When you are a child, this is a board game, in which you greedily strive to become a property tycoon, accumulate land and build houses and hotels on it, to crash your opponents by taking all their money, ultimately winning the game. When nobody secures dominance, the game goes on forever, as monies you take when others land on your property, you return when you land on theirs, so nobody’s wealth runs out. This is a very apt analogy for how monopolies work. Once you establish one, as Peter Thiel, the mega successful Silicon Valley investor tells us, you guarantee maximum profits by negating the possibility of competition. One winner and every one else losing is fun in a board game but, when the game is real life and the board is society, this is a problem, from many perspectives. We are seeing this with the tech giants today, Google, Amazon and Facebook, behemoths which own their markets, increasing inequality and stifling entrepreneurship. Time to change the rules of the game

357. Warning... sex, nudity and sexual violence

I read an interesting article about the warnings preceding series and films prior to broadcasting or streaming to our screen. Bridgerton, yet another costume drama, available in Netflix, warns viewers that it contains scenes of sex, nudity and sexual violence. This post is not about the value of having yet another inconsequential costume drama on our screen, nor about formulaic writing and filming, although both of these would be interesting themes for later. What this post is about is wondering what may be wrong with a society where nudity, which has nothing wrong with it, can make it into the same warning as sexual violence, both accompanied by sex which should be a more positive than negative experience when practised consensually. It seems that, to some people, a female breast and a rape are equally upsetting, or at least, Netflix thinks so. This is nonsensical, and I think it is high time we tackle real societal problems (sexual exploitation) and leave alone invented ones (nudity)

356. Pandemic wins

I just read on the financial papers that the inflation resulting from economic stimulus post pandemic is good for stocks, which was presented as a positive. This may well be the case but, even if some individuals, with significant stock investments, may regard it as positive, society certainly cannot. Inflation reduces the acquisitive power of all families, many of which are already just managing, to quote Theresa May. Growth in stocks value would be a positive only for a few, for those whose stocks yields represent a larger proportion of their income than the proceeds of their work and that, sadly, is not the case for most. Thus, this inflation, welcomed with the words Good News by the relevant paper, will be another of the many mechanisms by which the pandemic would have increased inequality. And this is the key challenge of capitalism. Unabated and without restraints, that is just what it does. Most events, framed in it, increase inequality, accumulation being intrinsic to its natur

355. A screen time experiment

I’ve started paying attention to the Screen Time functionality on my smart phone. In case you don’t know, this feature tells you how much you are using it, and what doing. It is enlightening and I highly recommend you start reviewing it to understand your own usage. For me, currently 2h31m per day, 225 notifications and 122 pickups. Disappointingly for the tech industry, I don’t use social media very much. 12m on Twitter, under a minute on Facebook, Instagram and any others. A lot of my time is spent reading news. The one weakness is WhatsApp, responsible for nearly 4 hours and 350 pickups per week, most of which, I guess, a complete waste of time. Time, you see, is becoming for many of us, at least for those lucky enough to be doing well financially, our most scarce resource. Our smart devices are aggressively focused on stealing it, outsmarting us, not a hard thing to do as we are not aware and conscious a lot of the time. I’m going to war against my pickups. You should do the same L

354. The social dilemma

I am watching Jeff Orlowski’s brilliant documentary about how the tech industry is using behavioural psychology and a deep understanding of our biochemistry to develop an addiction to their tools in our young people, driven by their aim to grow advertising revenue and improve behaviour predicting models and akin to pushing drugs at the school gate. I highly recommend it. An all out assault on the mental stability of our young is taking place in the face of indifference from our governments, and it can’t be permitted. It may seem difficult to solve, but it isn’t, if the political will is there. Solutions could be articulated around making the industry responsible for the welfare of their underage users. For example, a significant fine, shared between social media companies, every time someone under 20’s screen time on social media exceeds 1 and a half hours per day would soon put pay to this antisocial corporate behaviour. One thing is clear. This is a problem we must solve. And quickly

353. The disabled handlebar

I am resorting to Kafka far too much lately, as I did on Twitteretter 346 a few days ago. And here we go again. Let me tell the story. My Spanish company bought new premises five years ago, refurbished them for our activity and applied for an opening license from the local council. Five years later, in which, by the letter of the law, we should have refrained from using our premises, we got the inspection needed to issue the license. And, lo and behold, we failed it, as our disabled toilet was missing a handlebar. Fair enough. We were served notice to fix this within ten days, which we did, providing photographic evidence of our new, shiny handlebar, but failed again, as, from the photo, the council has deduced the bar won’t support the legally required weight, even though it does. We are now searching for an extremely heavy person to photograph standing on it, so we get our license, although that stunt may land us in trouble with Health and Safety. Good job we have nothing else to do

352. Vaccines and Deep Vein Thrombosis

The administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine was halted last week in the EU as some cases of Deep Vein Thrombosis post vaccination were reported. This has resulted in a loss of confidence in the public, yet more proof if any were needed that the average citizen does not understand big numbers. When you are vaccinating, so quickly, such a large number of people, you are going to see all kinds of apparent after effects, just because things will happen with their normal frequency in a population and, given the large numbers vaccinated, some are bound to happen just after the vaccine. A number of just vaccinated people will crash their car, in line with current car accident prevalence, and a number will enter the menopause or lose their wallet. It is easy to draw causality when there is just coincidence and, when numbers are big, coincidence will happen. We should investigate to be sure, but not panic or develop conspiracy theories once causality is discarded, as will likely be the case L

351. Start up, a way to become rich, or a way to change the World?

There are many startups which do not aspire to either of these, hefty goals. But ambitious ones often start with one of these two objectives in mind. Possibly with both, but typically, with one over the other. This is at least my observation from talking to young people interested in start up, which is something I am doing quite frequently these days. Even though I do of course think that one objective is morally superior to the other, this post is concerned with which is a better engine for success. On this, I can offer, of course, only an opinion, I do not claim to have the key, and a generally correct answer may not even exist. But it strikes me that the will to change the World, the thirst for ultimate impact, is a better ram with which to batter the many barriers that will block your path than the will to become rich which you can, of course, always do in some other way. And thus, as it often happens in life, it may be that the riches come more often to those who seek them less Le

350. Stupid artificial deadlines

I think it is time for me to come out. I have decided to, or more accurately been cajoled into, have two fitted wardrobes made for my apartment. It was pointed out to me that there are only so many clothes you can have lying around and, after some resistance born of stubbornness, I agree. We’ve run through the process, had the designers, toed and froed on shelf and drawer placing and finally settled on a design and a supplier. Multiple times during the process we were reminded the amazing discounts offered were only available should we order before tomorrow. This is tiresome and stupid. It is about closing a sale by using one of the oldest techniques in the closer handbook, fear of loss. It is also going through the motions, we all know that artificial deadline will just continue to move, always to… tomorrow. This is why my Skype handle is a Douglas Adams quote: ‘I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by…’ Live your life without fear of artificial deadlines

349. European Technology Manufacturing

I am both worried and curious about the obvious fact, which I had not really thought about until now, that Europe has no personal computer manufacturing. And, despite a good start in mobile telephony, with Nokia and Ericsson, we also missed the train of smart phones, probably because we were, unlike some of our Far East competitors, respectful of Apple’s patents. 5G seems to tell the same story. These are huge products in today’s World, with the potential to create vast amounts of wealth and prosperity, as well as strategic advantages. I wonder why Europe does not play in this game, what the reasons are for our sitting on the bench, watching the US and the Far East fight it out. I think we lack a common European conscience, still in early development, which drives us to consume European, when possible, in the same way Americans and Asians do. Just remember, when you are next shopping, for trainers, or an electric car, your consumer choices shape global geopolitics Length: 979 character

348. Rescued by coronavirus?

It seems the UK is coming to the end of its winter lockdown, with schools opening to students last week, after over two months of confinement, and restaurants and pubs able to open their outdoor facilities on the 12 th of April. I have found myself, in light of these news, as excited and looking forward to a humble pint with friends in the local pub’s beer garden as I would have been, pre-pandemic, to a two week long haul trip to an exotic location. This is an incredible moderation of expectations, a recalibration of excitement which, if able to be maintained, is doubtless a recipe for enhanced happiness in our society. If the effect is lasting, and we find equal pleasure in simple, everyday pursuits as we used to seek in expensive, once or twice a year extravaganzas, we will have a lot to thank coronavirus for, a rehabilitation of sorts, a last minute rescue from a pandemic of unsustainable consumerism and baseline boredom. Oh, man, I cannot wait for that garden pint, I hope it’s sun

347. Is the intention what counts?

I was playing a quick online chess game this morning, against a random opponent. In fairness, I was not playing well, just passing time and having one of those dense, uninspired days. My opponent was playing better and was on top for most of the game. My not particularly strong moves and meek attempts at combinations were met, through the app’s chat, with several ‘Lol’, ‘Easy’ and finally the absolutely right, but downright rude, ‘Moving pieces randomly is not chess’. Turns out, in the end, I did develop a game winning combination, to which he smarted ‘Just luck’. I normally don’t engage, but, being dense this morning, I told him what I thought of him, risking banning from the app in these days of political correctness. He answered he did not mean to offend me. I was left nearly speechless, but managed to ask him what he meant to do. ‘Just having fun’, he said. Do some people lose their manners and empathy online, or do I just meet idiots online I have been lucky not to meet elsewhere?

346. Good news... we exist!

I’ve just been through a Kafkian experience, more of the ‘The Trial’ type than the ‘The metamorphosis’ type, two books you must read, if you haven’t. Last week, the company I’ve spent the last 15 years building in Spain, exporting globally, creating high quality employment, paying significant taxes and Social Security fees and achieving a relatively high profile in local and national media, was inspected by the tax office, to ascertain whether we exist or are a shell created to make bogus VAT claims. This is a due to our VAT returns being consistently negative, as most of our revenue comes from exports. The inspector’s verdict, to our relief, is that we do exist. I had no idea how to explain to our 50 team members and their families, had the decision gone the opposite way. Of course, it couldn’t, and that is the difference between our Western reality and Kafka’s universes, created to expose the mindless stupidity bureaucracies are capable of, as just illustrated by our Taxation Ministr

345. The Brexit zoo and the arrogance of Empire

There is an article in the politics section of British media today about the confusion of British Brexiteers living in Spain finding their existence complicated by the UK leaving the EU, an outcome they voted for. Firstly, Brexiteers living in Spain should be in the Natural History section, not politics. These fascinating creatures are not as unexpected as you think. People who emigrate tend to be more patriotic than those remaining in their country of origin, they see their homeland through rose tinted glasses, away from everyday problems those staying contend with. And British culture, since the Empire, has been one of emigrating without integrating. Brits move abroad for access to farmland (Africa), opportunity to trade with local natural resources and cheap labour (India), or sunshine and sangria (Spain). But they do not integrate, their tradition is remaining staunchly British and mingling amongst their own in their expat clubs, mixing as little as possible with local communities

344. Estonia, a trust based model

I am reading a very informative book, which I recommend to anyone interested in our society and the choices facing it. It’s titled ‘How to fix the future’, by Andrew Keen. Right now, a third of the way through, I am learning a lot about Estonia, to this point not precisely my Mastermind speciality subject. This tiny Baltic state are trailblazing what they call a trust based model, an implementation of democracy built on maximum transparency, on all public actions of all agents being firstly, online, and secondly, fully transparent. Citizens get notified the very moment a government agency opens their file, to review their tax return, check their number plate or use their data. Conversely, citizens are identified by a fool proof digital ID card system, making them accountable for all their online actions and comments. Transparency and accountability over privacy. The result seems to be a functional digital democracy with high trust in government, and some hope for the rest of us Length:

343. The ugly vaccine truth

I am following with interest the vaccine distribution saga. The EU is complaining, and rightly so, that it is not getting the supplies contractually committed, due to export restrictions in other countries. The UK, the US and India, to name a few, are, by different, open or stealthy methods, blocking those exports, maybe also rightly so. In the meantime, fraudulent vaccine supplies are appearing and many who get a chance are jumping the vaccine queues, to get ahead, regardless of their need, putting their wish for a holiday, for example, ahead of the lives of the vulnerable. This is a sorry state of affairs. It turns out that the vaccine is not only a prevention method for a specific illness, but a diagnostic method for several others, lack of solidarity and selfishness, short sightedness and low integrity, both at the individual and national levels, since states are, after all, an imperfect reflection of the imperfections of their citizens. Time to show some patience and stay cool? Le

342. The fear of failure prison

What is fear of failure? That feeling preventing you from doing, or even worse, fully committing to, things you may succeed at. Let’s be clear. You are going to fail. A lot. Unless you do nothing. Failure is the way that you learn to succeed, success being a building built by piling not bricks, but failures on top of each other. The more you fail, the closer to success you get. Many, however, worried they may fail, don’t try, giving up the chance to succeed. Winston Churchill, a pretty successful person by all accounts, told us: ‘Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts’. You will succeed when you throw yourself fully into everything you do, accepting success and failure as possible outcomes, enjoying the former and learning from the latter, to turn it into success. You will be set free, able to realise your full potential only when, as Kipling’s fantastic ‘If’ poem teaches us, you treat success and failure, those two impostors, just the sam

341. The future comes, one day at a time

Sometimes I think I am too impatient for the future to arrive. I wish things went faster. I want to jump to the point when my business projects arrive at that ever elusive success destination. Or to my next holiday. Or to the end of a cold, grey winter, to the weekend or, nowadays, after a year of coronavirus pandemic, to vaccination, a pint in a pub or a meal out with friends. This, I think, is natural, a trait probably shared by all humans. We set our mind on a destination, both distant and uncertain and, since we don’t like waiting, and we hate uncertainty, we immediately wish we were already there, preferring the certainty of success to the toil of its pursuit. Alas, the future does not work that way, and it cares little   for our wishes. It arrives, precisely and reliably, one minute, one hour or one day at a time, whatever your chosen unit may be. Once you understand this you realise you better enjoy the process, make the most of it, as it will be what most of your time is spent

340. Do what you like, or like what you do

This is a fundamental choice that probably divides humanity into 2 distinct groups. On the red corner (no political connotations to the colour, just playing with a boxing ring analogy) are those that wish they could do only what they like. A lot of their time is spent regretting having to do things they don’t want to do and feeling generally unhappy and frustrated by the opportunity cost of those activities. On the blue corner, those who like whatever they have to do. Since they have to do it anyway, they make the most of it, enjoy it, and avoid all the frustration and regret. This different attitude tends to also make them more successful at whatever they are doing and, by succeeding, frees them up to do more of what they like to do more. Like Neo, in The Matrix, you can choose your pill, or corner in this case. The path to the blue corner is easy, it starts by liking whatever you are doing right now, and, since you are now reading or watching Twitteretter, subscribing and sharing Len

339. Is this what Youtube thinks of me?

I’ve gone on Youtube this morning to find myself greeted by an ad in which Nigel Farage is trying to sell me some financial product. I am not sure exactly what, since I did not stay to watch the full advert. Since my observation is that Farage seems to have an aversion for truth and has in my opinion failed to ever communicate honestly, I would by default stay well clear of any financial products he associates with. I am however regretting my haste now, hoping the ad will appear again on a future visit. I failed to understand that it is important, for my future protection, to indeed know which brand thinks it a good idea to use Farage as their front man. This choice, I think, speaks clearly to their values and is a stark warning to anyone considering their products. Having come to this realisation, I am no longer offended by Youtube’s choice of advert, but rather grateful for their convoluted attempt to protect me from entering into the wrong financial relationships Length: 981 charact

338. When civil servants don't understand service or civility

A conversation has just been related to me between a normal person (the adjective is intentional) and a Spanish policewoman. Let me set the scene. There is significant debate in Spain, relevant in essence to other countries, about the appropriateness of Spanish high earning youtubers decamping to Andorra to avoid (or evade, depending on perspective) taxation. The chat that occupies us was about a specific youtuber, who earnt 4 million euros in 2020 and would have to pay 42% income tax in Spain. The policewoman, a civil servant, was of the opinion that going to Andorra was the right thing to do. She, in his situation, would do the same, as 1.6 million is an excessive amount of tax to pay. There seems to be no connection, in her mind (I am assuming against available evidence that she must have one) between the state’s ability to pay her wages and fund her service and its ability to collect just tax proceeds. What hope do we have when even those paid by taxes encourage tax avoidance? Leng

337. The birth rate recession

Huge amounts of airtime and ink have been spent chronicling the economic recession resulting from the pandemic. Apparently, the biggest economic contraction in 300 years. However, another, simultaneous, worrying and much more unexpected recession seems to be going on as a consequence of the pandemic. Whilst the economic slowdown, given the restrictions on activity imposed by the virus, is fully understandable, this second one is counterintuitive. I am talking about the birth rate recession. Spain just reported a 25% drop in births in January and February, 9 months after the first lockdown, apparently replicated in other countries. It seems that, contrary to what you might have expected, at a time when one of the very few activities available to the population was making babies, most decided to go for box sets instead. Spain already has a natality problem, so this is quite concerning. It seems that it may become a case of ‘Your country needs you…to spend some money and make some babies’

336. Your country needs you... to spend your money

Quite a few of you, especially if you are in the UK, will remember the famous poster of a finger pointing, handlebar moustachioed Lord Kitchener, issued by the British Department of War at the start of the WWI, with the message: ‘Your country needs you’. A hugely successful campaign, which has become one of the XX century’s iconic images and which got millions of British recruits to take up arms and leave their lives and physical and mental health in the trenches of Belgium and Northern France. The slogan is being recovered after the biggest economic contraction in 300 years, caused by the pandemic. It turns out that, unable to spend their money, Britons alone (I imagine the same applies elsewhere) have saved over £180Bn. The trouble is, saving can become a habit, just as consuming was, pre-pandemic. So, after years of being told we don’t save enough, now that we finally managed it thanks to an aggressive virus, we are being told to drop it and spend in 1920s fashion, another parallel

335. All men are equal in their promises, it is their deeds that make them different

The title is one of my favourite quotes, which I have tried to live my life by. It is from ‘The Miser’, a great Moliere classic, incisive and thought provoking, as all his work. The meaning is clear. What one promises does not matter, only what one delivers does. What got me thinking about this, specifically, was the Chancellor’s announcement of a 1% pay rise for NHS workers. I remembered the famous, or I think we now can really start calling it infamous, Brexit bus. An extra 350 million per day for the NHS. The pay rise equates to 450 million per year. Then I realised, maybe we misunderstood and Boris Johnson and Co never meant pounds, but rather, pence. But even then, this week’s pay rise would only be a third of that downgraded promise. The trouble is that politics and government are based on a promise to delivery premise, on the citizenship voting on the basis of promises and, those benefiting from that vote, delivering on such promises. Something in this cycle seems a tad broken L

334. The importance of a letter

Many of you may remember the heady days of ‘Clap for the NHS’, the times of the first lockdown, when many regularly came out of their houses to express appreciation for the doctors and nurses on the front of the battle against coronavirus. Health workers, as we call them, were immensely popular and hugely appreciated by our society, happy to dispense with profligacy cheap, empty, rewards. Clapping, after all, is free. The UK Chancellor, a member of the government elected by a majority of those doing the clapping has revealed a meagre pay increase of 1% for health workers, adeptly borrowing the oft repeated slogan and, by changing a letter, delivering ‘Crap for the NHS’. We will soon see whether this, missed real opportunity to show meaningful appreciation, is a government miscalculation or whether the rest of society, the clappers, will shrug their shoulders, get on with paying as little tax as possible, and join the crappers. I hope I am, but do not expect to be, pleasantly surprised

333. Am I a romantic?

Firstly, note the indefinite article, ‘a’. The question is not whether I am romantic, but whether I am a romantic. I miss, with regretful nostalgia, the carefree performances of Paul Morphy, the XIX century American chess master, Pedro Delgado, the 1980s Spanish cycling maverick or JPR Williams, the beer guzzling, smoking, fearless and vertiginously sideburned Welsh rugby great. They all practiced their discipline not as a discipline, but as an art. They chose the unexpected, surprising and uncertain, all out attack, over the safety first calculated prowess of those who follow them. I do of course appreciate metronomic precision and the work and preparation that engenders it, but I long for the times when a romantic approach to your sport could win the day, when you were afraid to stop watching, for a single instant, as you may miss the unmissable, fail to witness art painted on the blank canvas of the chequered board, the snaking Alpine roads or the green grass of the Welsh pitches Le

332. Wise bureaucrats

This was actually written in Chile nearly 3 years ago, but only published today I have often heard the expression soulless bureaucracy. I often myself want to also add brainless. However, although this can be nearly always true of bureaucracies, bureaucrats sometimes have souls, and even their own, independent brains. If you don’t know it yet, you should read the story of Aristide de Sousa, the Portuguese Consul in Bordeaux, in 1940. De Sousa contravened the direct orders of his government, and issued visas to close on 30,000 Jews escaping the Nazi advance. Bureaucracies being what they are, the visas were respected. With the help of his assistants, he was responsible for the biggest single evacuation of Jews during the II World War. An unsung hero, an unassuming act of bravery which will survive, eternally, in the lives of all those descendants who only exist thanks to the disobedience of one man, hired and trained to obey. I pour myself a Bordeaux Grand Cru, and raise my glass, in si

331. The trouble with conservative thinking

The inability of conservatives to run health or education systems, nowhere more apparent than in the UK, may be baffling but it is, in fact, logical. Two insidious ideas sustain conservative thinking. First, success is understood in economic terms, your bank balance a perfect proxy of your productivity and value. Second, lack of success is a choice, due to laziness or lesser morality. Conservatives are ideologically incapable of seeing failure as lack of opportunity (for people) or funding (for systems). Without this most obvious explanation, what is left? Failure by choice. Inefficiency, laziness. Our underpaid, unsuccessful nurses and teachers are lazy and will cheat if possible. The solution? Fill the NHS with unproductive management layers to improve efficiency. Use an algorithm ill designed by consultants to correct for the cheating by our teachers when issuing grades. If you wilfully eliminate the obvious cause of problems, your solutions will appear, and be, wilfully stupid Leng

330. Democrracy or autocracy, what is better?

Let me start by nailing my colours to the mast. Democracy, all the way. The only system that can empower all citizens, protect minorities, enshrine civil liberties and avoid abuse of power. However, it has its problems. It is functional when leaders and parties place the interest of the citizenship above their own, govern for all and not just for their side. Otherwise, it swings wildly in cycles of power which are used by each faction to undo the progress made by the previous incumbents, fighting oppositions which oppose for opposition’s sake. The ideal for democracy to progress is for moderate groups to alternate power, keeping a somewhat general direction of travel, moderated towards their political leaning but built on their predecessors’ achievements. With today’s polarisation, this is not what we are seeing in UK, US, Spain and other countries and, when we do not, democracy becomes ineffective, gridlocked, and autocracies shine in comparison by their ability to get things done Len

329. Life should be the experience

One thing we are all missing during the lockdown is experiences. We have become a society which punctuates a generally grey, monotonous existence, with exhilarating experiences organised by a thriving industry. Long haul trips, city breaks, spa weekends, adrenaline chasing adventures and cultural events. This rainbow of colour has now been replaced by the monotonous repetition of the lockdown, for most, every day the same as the one before and the one that follows, which many are struggling with. This brings into focus what might be a fundamental problem with our so called normal existence, the greyness of the days between the punctuations. We only have one life, as far as we know, and accepting that daily irrelevance and making do with the occasional bright spot is a surrender of sorts, giving in to the demands life places upon us, instead of placing demands on it. Don’t get me wrong, experiences are great, but everyday needs be an experience, the punctuations should be just variety L