I Wish Berlin Would Quit

Many visitors to Berlin are surprised to learn it can be hard to find a place to go for a drink in the evening without staining their hair and clothes with cigarette smoke. The “Raucher Bar” was they commonly refer to themselves is a regular feature of many night time haunts. At first it was part of the fun of the city, a remaining piece of the old days, or a symbol of the freedom & lawlessness that one can experience with the drinking in public and all hours bars, cafes, & clubs. These days, it’s a nuisance and I have become frustrated on more than one occasion that while wondering a neighborhood with friends looking for a place to sit down and have a cocktail, we had to compromise, or simply choose the least smokey bar available.

As one study on social smokers confirms there is no difference, in terms of risk of heart disease, between having less than one cigarette a day, and smoking a pack a day. And yet many Berliners, and perhaps Germans in general frequently say “I only smoke when I’m out with friends and drinking”. I wonder what these people will think when they explain to their kids that they never were addicted to cigarettes and yet still suffered similar consequences.



Unexpected Rewards of the Internet

For New Years Eve / Zuzanna’s birthday we found a nice hotel in Meissen, Germany, a town known for its porcelain, wineries, and its fairy tale like old town center complete with a grand castle “Albrechtsburg” which dates back to the 15th century.

While we didn’t hold back in finding the nicest possible room & hotel in town (which really didn’t cost as one would imagine), our hotel, the Park Hotel Meissen, still felt modest. For sure, it was beautiful from the outside, elegant on the inside, the spa offered several different sauna rooms, beautification and massage treatments and a giant room with a direct view over the River Elbe and the castle, but our room wasn’t outfitted with any of the extra amenities that are sometimes expected when shooting for top quality at a hotel. The space was enough for us, the fixtures were good quality, working, and working, and one of the walls of our room looked out over the entire property, which certainly felt nice. But anyhow, keeping humble, we were happy with what we had and didn’t think about it again.

The next day however, while looking over the fire escape route and floor plan, I noticed we had the largest room on our floor. It was a funny elbow joint shaped room; the building made a very broad “V” shape, and our room was directly center where the two wings met. To fill out the odd shapes this resulted in, our room had a lot of extra space where all the others have a very consistent rectangular shape. It was also clear our room was larger than the others, and when looking at it from the outside, was also easy to see we had the best view with our floor to ceiling windows. So the next thought for me was, why us?

I came to my own conclusion on this final question, while viewing the rest of the guests around us, primarily folks in their 50’s 60’s and 70’s, all speaking German. We were most likely the youngest guests by at least 20 years in the fairest of cases, and for that, probably also the most Internet literate. What’s more I’d used my booking.com account which by now had a long history of bookings around the world, in 4 different continents, and usually leaving a review for the hotel. Without knowing what their business account view on my booking was, I would guess they had some idea of the likelihood of my writing a review and also of the potential I would pass along some kind of word of mouth or better yet, share photos online in Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.

We also booked 2 massages and facials at the Spa, so perhaps the room selection was a reward for the additional value our stay promised the hotel.  And of course this may have all just been random, no preferences given in the room we received. But was it really?


Take Care of the People, the Products, and the Profits

From The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

This passage really resonated with me. There are a lot of crappy companies and a lot of disloyal employees. If a CEO cares about keeping a great team, he needs to make his company a great place to work. Things always go bad, and if your company is a crappy place to work, when things get hard, people will leave. Do yourself a favour and make your company a good place to work. Reward your employees, give promotions before they are asked for, and give visibility to people who have made huge achievements. Don’t let people get bored. And help them see the big picture that is how their  job at your company fits into their career.

In Ben’s words:

  • Being a good company doesn’t matter when things go well, but it can be the difference between life and death when things go wrong.
  • Things always go wrong.
  • Being a good company is an end in itself.

When things go well, the reasons to stay at the company are many:

  • Your career path is wide open because as the company grows lots of interesting jobs naturally open up.
  • Your friends and family think you are a genius for choosing to work at the “it” company before anyone else knew it was “it”.
  • Your résumé gets stronger by working at a blue-chip company in its heyday.
  • Oh and hey you’re getting rich.

Things Always Go Wrong

There has never been a company in the history of the world that had a monotonically increasing stock price. In bad companies, when the economics disappear, so do the employees, the spiral begins: The company declines in value, the best employees leave, the company declines in value, the best employees leave. Spirals are extremely difficult to reverse.


Blue Zone Meetup Group #1

Last night we hosted a dinner for 7 guests, 9 including ourselves. The theme was the blue zones. The idea was to spend time together with other people, sharing a meal using the same recipes as the people around the planet who live significantly longer than others (100 or more years).
Our guests were German, Indian, Israeli, American, and Polish (not including Zuzanna and I representing another Pole & American). Each of whom was new to Berlin, except for one of the Germans who had spent most of her life living in Australia. We were all from another place, but together for the common interest of health and happy living. Though we came together as strangers through the meetup group I created to host the event, by the end of the evening we were all making plans to meet again, and Zuzanna may have found a really great polish connection here – it was delightful to hear them speaking in Polish.
The idea of eating healthy organic sustainably grown plant based fruits and vegetables, with some red wine and sourdough bread, over conversations of family, life, backgrounds, food, health, and sustainable lifestyle was truly enriching and left a big warm happy place in my heart. The food was delicious, the conversation and time together with positive and multi-cultural folks was wonderful.
People in blue zones live longer because they surround themselves with friends and family each day or several times a week. They keep active into their 90’s and beyond with gardening, walking, and working around their homes (many claimed to continue their sexual activities well into their 90’s and beyond). They don’t have much money, and therefore have to live on the vegetables they can grow in their own gardens & farms. Meat is out of their price range except for a village annual slaughter (however the California 7th day adventists are vegetarian), or can afford from what little currency they can earn or trade with to buy produce at the markets. They keep low stress lifestyles and believe in a greater good (usually via religion), leaving the worry of their fate to a higher power.
To finish off our meal we each shared a photo of somebody special in our lives who wasn’t present but had a huge place in our hearts and minds. Transcending the event and group present, the activity encouraged the idea of spending more face to face time with loved ones.
I just wanted to share this, as a moment in time. To look back on, but since I’m sharing this with the public, I do want to recommend others give more time to be with friends and family. To focus on staying physically active, low on stress, eating food you can prepare from scratch (and having a lifestyle that affords the ability to do so).
One of the more popular stories of the blue zone people, is of a man from Ikaria, Greece. Who was diagnosed with lung cancer when he was in his mid-60’s living in Floria working as a house painter, he was told he had 6-9 months to live by multiple doctors. Resolving to die in peace (and be buried for <$200 in Greece instead of thousands in the US) he moved home to spend out his remaining days with his parents in Ikaria. After months of walking up and down the hillsides of the Island, sleeping in basic conditions in his parent’s 2 bedroom home on a stepped vineyard,  spending afternoons drinking wine with his friends, and eating the vegetables he could grow on his land; he started to feel better, months turned to years, his breathing improved. At the time of the printing of the NYT article about him in 2012 he was 102. Ikaria is one of the blue zones, along with Okinawa, Sardinia, Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula, and Loma Linda, California.
25 years later the greek man went back to Florida to see his doctors and try to find out what happened. But he couldn’t get in touch with them because they had all already died.
Life is short! Don’t stress, spend more time with friends and family and being active, and eating healthy foods (and less meat).

I’m excited about the future.

I’m excited about the future. When people aren’t afraid of the police. When we don’t have to watch the road and use gasoline to get around town. When fresh local produce is in abundance and the big food industry isn’t in control. Where a nice dinner out with friends costs less then $20. When fast food restaurants and Starbucks aren’t on every corner. A society where arts and culture are promoted and supported by the government and community. Where people from all over the world can interact and keep their cultural identity, speak their own language, and still communicate with one another. Where you can go out all night and there is no last call. Where you can go to a cafe and not see everyone staring at their phones. Public transportation is available in abundance and you can literally cross the country for $40. Trips to Paris and Rome only take a couple hours and can cost less then $100.In the future I imagine education doesn’t require a 6 figure investment or taking on student loans and renting a large spacey 2 bedroom flat in the middle of town costs less than $1200. In my ideal future you can take a bottle of wine to the park and have a picnic without getting a fine. Where parents of new born children can have 1-2 years paid time off to raise their kids without losing their jobs or their income. Where we are not pressured by our employer to work overtime and if we don’t feel well we can call in sick and take 2,3 even 5 days off to get better before returning to our desk. And where we’re not only required to take two weeks vacation, we get five or six weeks paid time off to recover, get out enjoy the world, and be refreshed and ready for work again.

This is a future I would love to have and I can’t wait for it.
Only it’s not the future, its Berlin.

Cucumber – The Jesus Fruit

Just remember this – cucumber is not a pointless garnish. It is not just something you throw into water in a hotel lobby to look chi chi.

  • They have “high levels of bioactive phytochemicals such as cucurbitacins, lignans and flavonoids. Many of these compounds have anticancer, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-diabetic, antibacterial, anti-fungal, painkilling, wound-healing and laxative properties, making cucumbers an ideal cure-all.”
  • “cucurbitacins could block the signaling pathways that are essential for cancer cell growth and survival.”
  • “Cucurbitacin B’s ability to inhibit tumor growth and induce cancer cell apoptosis may lead to new and efficient cancer treatments to fight pancreatic cancer.”
  • “Cucumbers contain lariciresinol, pinoresinol and secoisolariciresino – three lignans associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease as well as several types of cancer. These include breast, uterine, ovarian and prostate cancers.”
  • “A 2010 study, published in Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases, found that these three compounds could protect your heart by lowering vascular inflammation and endothelial dysfunction.”



On Mindfulness of Possession Sustainability

  • Use things to last, don’t abuse them. Always start and finish in the best possible way for long lifespan.
  • Use things for their full lifespan. In many cases just because a newer better version of an item exists, is not a valid reason to replace it. If a working version is in possession, continue using it until it can’t be used anymore.
  • Repair or repurpose things which would otherwise be considered to be at the end of their life. This may give a whole new life, and void the need to replace it.
  • Don’t acquire things that wont last. When considering to purchase or come into possession of something, consider how long you will likely need it for. If you wont need it much or potentially at all, and it is just nice to have, consider not getting it, or finding a temporary solution such as borrowing it from someone else. And if the quality appears to be so low that you can’t get a reasonable life of use out of it, look for better quality.
  • Don’t pay for more than the minimum if the quality is the same. Vanity and popularity lead to irrational purchase & acquisition justifications. Just because the brand appears to be more prestigious, or the design is more attractive, the cost may not actually justify a tangible increase of value, rather speculative. In such cases consider how long the more expensive yet not higher quality item will last compared to its economical competition. If the difference is marginal or even worse, purchase for lifespan. The total cost of ownership could be twice as much on an item which has the same return of value of its entire lifespan.

Outlier Economy

In Malcolm Gladwell’s novel “Outliers”, several examples are given for individuals who significantly outperformed their peers. Detailing all of the aligned elements in their lives from social economic factors, well in place before before their birth, to extremely well timed technological innovations, which all together gave the individuals an advantage for success which would only become apparent years later when every little margin of advantage added together turned into one extremely valuable constellation which would in turn enable them to achieve feats, and take advantage opportunities that are only available once in history.

The concept of outliers is not just a phenomenon of successful individuals. It applies to success in general in a society, and in the present labor economy which is more competitive than any other time in history.

As the factory model falls apart to a new technology of efficiency, we can’t just learn a skill to prosper. It is not enough to simply learn something valuable. It is just too easy to learn new skills. Anyone can learn the expertise of another from some Youtube videos in just a few lessons totaling less than a couple hours of learning and experimenting. The technology is not difficult to acquire, as technology becomes increasingly affordable, anyone can own the tools necessary to do the work of the pros.

In order to get the top 10% margin of benefits in this economy, you have to be your own outlier. Standing out beyond your peers in all ways possible. This includes all forms of minutiae in presentation, social etiquette, timing, experience, and specialty. You can’t just be good at learning, and motivated. You need to be sharper than the competition, have as much or more experience than the competition. Follow up better than the competition, keep a cooler head and speak with the vocabulary, make every moment perfect, and still somehow appear to be a killer deal as far as monetary commitment is concerned.

Communication Hacking

Was it always difficult to stay in touch? Or is this a new thing?

Perhaps it’a byproduct of the Internet. Email, texting, chat, video messages. It’s moving ahead so rapidly, the protocols are evolving faster than we can memorize the terms.

If you value keeping your relationships fresh, as I do. Then it can be a bit troubling to feel like it has become harder to just write a note to a friend or colleague and trust they’ll respond.

Lots of testing and analysis on this subject has concluded that people are too distracted. You can’t send an email with more than 5 sentences and expect a response. Chances are it was too long to read, so the recipient set it aside for later, and then 80% of the time the recipient forgets to reply. Probably because they got another 30 emails since they first opened yours, and there are already new emails to read later which will mostly be forgotten as well.

What a wonderful world.

This being the case, the best way to get a response to an email if a response isn’t received within 48 hours of sending, is to send a follow up. And if the follow up doesn’t get a response, or perhaps it does, but the response is just a “yes I plan to get back to you today” kind of message, then after 48 hours another follow up message can do the trick. And so it goes. After the 4th or 5th follow up an “ok I’ll assume you’re not interested or are in some serious trouble, should I call for help?” is probably an acceptable bow out.

See, the way people process the messages they receive is fragmented. If they get a message that requires more than a basic response like “[Message] ‘do you like ice cream?’ [Response] yes I like ice cream”.  The recipient will need to take more time to think about it. They will look at the email many times, even up to 20 or more if question in the email contains conditional issues.  And the more time that is needed [the more that is asked in a message] the greater the chance the message will never be responded to.

An email like “Do you want to meet for drinks in a couple weeks?” Is simple. This can be responded to almost immediately, spare maybe a glance at the calendar. It might take the recipient 3-5 views of the email to reply. Once to see it, once more after checking the calendar, but not yet ready to respond. And then finally a third time (we’d hope) to say yes “I am free, what day works for you?”.  If the recipient has multiple calendars, and possibly pending engagements with other people, the amount of views before being able to response increases, as does the likelihood they will ever reply.

Add more layers on complications, and the number of views increases, to the point where, unless the recipient is highly motivated to make the plan, you may have just overwhelmed them, and you won’t hear back unless they are worried about offending you, which generally might just create a “sorry I’m way to busy right now, let me get back to you”. This cop out, is really just a way of saying “It is too difficult for me to analyze your request and provide a respectable response back”. Sadly many people are too busy these days too, but they’ve just defaulted to not replying if it isn’t super easy to do so. Apparently, not responding to emails just doesn’t count as a diss in the modern world. It’s not a diss to ignore someone if we like their photos on Facebook right? (sarcasm)

In work settings: when dealing with these situations, there may be motivation to respond and work through complicated requests via email, from colleagues and potential partners out of the sheer desire to keep their jobs/business positive. But this context doesn’t automatically generate immunity to failure, and if the recipient has nothing obvious to lose by ignoring your message–even if they have nothing agains’t you–then you may also be out of luck, simply because they will have more time for other pressing issues by ignoring you.

This last topic, communicating with people who don’t have a strong motivation to respond, in fact we can say, they are the recipients who stand to lose time by responding to a pitch email, is the most difficult and a really big focus for me. A fool proof solution does not exist, however repetition, simplicity, and a positive manner can go a long way.

How do we keep the 2 way messages flowing? If single sentence emails are the most response friendly, yet least able to carry the information needed to get the next step.  How do we pitch and not scare?

I’ve taken to experimenting with automatic reminders. The idea is basic, I track all emails I’ve sent in the last two days. If I haven’t gotten a response on day #2, I write a reminder, or continuation of the last email, but always maximum 1 sentence in length, and the reminder shouldn’t somehow add information, this would add complexity, adding additional time for the recipient to process or decide not to at all. Then I schedule the reminder email to be sent in 2 days or less depending on the urgency of the communication, only if the recipient doesn’t respond to the original message first. 

This works. It probably wont work forever, in an ever evolving world of communication, we adapt to stimuli by decreasing our tolerance for interruption. And if too many people use the same method, the results will have diminishing returns. So then what?

What ever it takes.


The Conflict of Online Social Networks

With this new year rolling out, I find myself coming back to a topic of personal improvement that has been on my mind for a while: Social Networks. How they appropriately can support relationships and communication, and how they detract from relationships and communication.

It’s been said a number of times that people actually find themselves isolated from a physical social life when using online social networks, in some cases, even doing so in place of interacting with people in the physical realm. While there is a bump of excitement when friends like or comment on an update we posted to our Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Vine, Youtube, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Flickr, etc. (and in some cases strangers or exclusively virtual acquaintances), the long term value really doesn’t work out to much more than this little emotional bump. And then it’s gone, with nothing left, not memories, no stories to pass along. Quite an empty social interaction really.

Personally, I haven’t read about any studies on the effects of using social networks versus spending time with people face to face, but recently I began to look back through all the time I’ve invested into social networks, the people I have connected with there, what I get out of it, and then I looked back at my face to face world; similar to the social network parts: the time I invest, the people I connect with, and what I get out of them. Turns out, from the online social networks, the biggest value has been that people know what I’m up to, and I know some of the things going on in their life too. That’s about it. Aggravating this, turns out, with all the algorithms managing the things we get in our social network “feeds”, we’re not even getting all of the updates from our friends, just those programmed to meet our ‘expectations’ for things we would like to see, based on some programmers work. In the face to face realm, the people that I spend time with is far fewer compared to the online group, but those that I do see and speak to, provide more important moments for me. Turns out, there’s a lot of people who will take time to connect and communicate with me online, but have never once made the effort to do anything with me in person. No coffee chats. No parties. No help with work or personal life issues. That’s something I seek to change.

I just finished a year off from work and when I got back I pursued finding work aggressively, online and offline. The online efforts got me one small job, but the offline efforts, even those like walking up and down the street talking with businesses, got me multiple jobs, which have been worth easily 8-10 times more value than the one job I found online. That’s right, the return on investment in face to face time got me more work than the efforts I made online. And believe me I spent a lot of time generating some opportunities online. I guess the people who I could meet in person had a stronger impression and really focused on my needs. Those online, might have been too distracted, or I wasn’t communicating properly through the text and updates, etc. Who knows. The results are still obvious.

This wasn’t a scientific experiment, surely there are many opportunities for people to explore online alone, with no need to leave their computer. But there are just as many people baffled by the dependance of others to online networking and communication dependance. And those people trust a face they met in person, and would rather discuss important topics than spell it all out in an email, or schedule a video chat.

I know I’m not alone, many folks feel the pain of the rush to be online, some are just over whelmed with all the things that can be done online now. Many get by still just fine with brick and mortal style, it’s nice to see. But then there are all the others who I know I will not stay in touch with unless I stay online. And that’s the thing that’s on my mind the most now. How offline can I be and not fall out of touch? Should I just go 95% offline, saving the few moments I do login, to reply to email and respond to a Facebook message or some other online only activity? I would like to stay offline. In my own experiment, I will focus in doing more offline. We’ll see how it goes. I hope I can offer some more insights on that.

I’ll keep you posted.