Math Formula

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

3 Simple Steps To A Perfect Day

1) Ask yourself: For the next 30 minutes, do I want to do something I will remember, or will be remembered for?
2) Do something that is worth remembering, or being remembered for, for the next 29 minutes.
3) Take 1 minute to go back to 1)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Power Of Eating Alone - In Silence

Many people make big mental efforts during the morning shower. Not only do they make their daily schedule, but they also mentally prepare for meetings and make important decisions.
This doesn't come as a surprise, because for many people, the morning shower is one of the rare moments when they are truly with themselves and simply let their thoughts flow.

Afterwards, for the annoying morning commute, you either sleep (which, apart from drawing certain conclusions while dreaming, cannot quite be considered a very active activity) or you are exposed to some form of stimulation. Stupid morning shows on radio; plug in your headphones and your favorite band, on full volume of course; or if you are really motivated, read a book. That way or the other, you are not with yourself and your thoughts - and won't be during the whole day anymore.

Thus, let me ask you something: When was the last time you ate alone, at home and in true silence? That means no radio. No TV show. No computer. And of course, also not texting, reading, whatsoever at your ubiquitious pocket-computer.

Obviously, it is great to go for lunch with your family, have a barbecue with your friends, or a candlelight-dinner with your significant other. There are even books which recommend to never eat alone. Obviously, there is much to gain from such talks and events.

In fact, there was also a time I totally avoided eating alone. When I served national service at the Red Cross, I didn't feel very good mentally. In such moments, eating alone was quite counter-productive, because it triggered even more depressing and negative thoughts - I do totally recommend seeking for company in such occasions, and even the TV might make good company at times.

Most of the time, however, your subconscious is your biggest, unique treasure. You just need to open a door, instead of trying to constantly kill it with audio and video stimulations, in order to "let it out".

A perfect way of doing so is eating alone - in silence! Sounds ridiculous and / or boring? Give it a try, it comes for free and won't hurt!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Dostoyevsky On Midlife Crisis

A few days ago, I posted a great example about how Dostoyevsky showed great insights into human nature, which are still perfectly valid today.

Here is another quote from "The Idiot":
Yet, he shall not find peace for the rest of his life! It's not at all a reassuring thought to him that he fulfilled his duties; on the contrary, there is even something provocative about it. He might think: "So that's what I wasted all my life on; that's what stopped me from inventing gun powder! Wouldn't it be for these obstacles, I would have definitely invented gun powder or discovered America, I don't know for sure which; but invented or discovered something I would have for sure!"
So, apparently that's how midlife crisis was described 140 years ago!

P.S.: As you might have guessed already, this quote is not from the official version. For whatever reason, this passage is not present in any of the English versions I could get my hands on, so I've translated it myself. In the German version, this is in the Chapter I of Part IV and reads as follows:
Er kann trotzdem sein ganzes Leben lang nicht zur seelischen Ruhe gelangen! Für ihn ist es keineswegs ein beruhigender, tröstlicher Gedanke, daß er seine menschlichen Pflichten so gut erfüllt hat; dieser Gedanke hat sogar im Gegenteil für ihn etwas Aufreizendes: »Also das ist es«, sagt er sich, »worauf ich mein ganzes Leben verwendet habe; das ist es, was mich an Händen und Füßen gebunden hat; das ist es, was mich gehindert hat, das Pulver zu erfinden! Wäre dieses Hindernis nicht gewesen, dann hätte ich vielleicht sicher entweder das Pulver erfunden oder Amerika entdeckt; ich weiß noch nicht genau, was; aber erfunden oder entdeckt hätte ich sicherlich etwas!«

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

And Why Did You Go To Bosnia At All?

Ironically, even though I have spent two years in BiH now already, I haven't thought about covering that frequently asked question here on this blog. However, recently I ran into this very nice blog post from Snježana about foreigners in ex-Yugoslavia, so it crossed my mind to share my story as well.
In the light of Scott Hanselman, I will give the gift of my keystrokes not only to her, but to all of you.

So why did I go to Bosnia at all?
Some background about myself and my family first. My father's parents were "Danube Swabians" (Donauschwaben) who lived in Slavonia, in a small village some 40km from Osijek. Even though some of them did speak some Serbo-Croatian, their main language was some obscure dialect of German (with quite an undeniable Croatian influence). Also, culturally they rather perceived themselves and were perceived as "Germans in Slavonia".
By the end of the WW II, they had to escape from the partisans, and landed in Upper Austria.

As much as I was aware of that fact, it didn't really play a role in my childhood in the 90's. I had a rough picture were my ancestors had originated from, but I grew up as an Austrian child with Austrian dialect and Austrian habits. Also, I wasn't particularly interested into where exactly they had lived, how they had lived, and how they had ended up in Austria at all. Yet, in the very back of my mind some connection remained.

Studying in Vienna, I started working for a company which does business in Europe and beyond. For various reasons, I was quite open to the idea of working and living abroad as well.

First, that's what job advisors keep telling you - whatever you do, gain some experience abroad first! I think I never really understood the reason behind, and rather took it for some fancy bla-bla - until I realized that it does make a difference (which I will not go into now, though, but maybe in some "Bosnia-aftermath" which it is too early for now).

Second, I was fond of travelling even before; so why not extend the journey and stay somewhere even longer, say, two years? Obviously, the perspective that you get and the experience you gain is way more than on a typical weeks to month trip. Getting to know habits, language, people ...

Third, of course this was a great work opportunity as well. Taking responsibility for a big project and making nice money always comes handy.

So, yes, I was ready to go abroad. But why exactly Bosnia, then?

Well, simply because it happened. There arose this opportunity for this project in BiH, at a moment I was ready for it.
Thus, I cannot claim that living in BiH is what I have always dreamed of - but when the opportunity arose, I was more than ready to take it (or maybe the opportunity arose exactly because I was ready for it?), and I haven't regretted it a single moment.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Dreadful Crimes - At All Times?

"Dreadful crimes? But I can assure you that crimes just as dreadful, and probably more horrible, have occurred before our times, and at all times, and not only here in Russia, but everywhere else as well. And in my opinion it is not at all likely that such murders will cease to occur for a very long time to come. The only difference is that in former times there was less publicity, while now everyone talks and writes freely about such things--which fact gives the impression that such crimes have only now sprung into existence."

Who knows me a little bit (or follows this blog and therefore knows why I try to avoid news) might realize that this sounds quite a bit like me.

However, this is a quote from Fyodor Dostoyevsky's "The Idiot", written in 1869.

150 years later, I cannot help being surprised about how accurate this is even today.

It makes me wonder, once again: Apart from us driving cars, exchanging messages within seconds online and eating Big Macs, what has substantially changed for society as a whole in the meantime?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Tragedy Of Public Spending In Six Sentences

Political leaders are supposed to give precise spending forecasts, even when the details of the projects to be approached are not yet known.

If a project budget is not fully used up, the politician is said to be a poor forecaster, and less money than actually needed will be allocated to her future projects. Thus, a project budget is always fully used.

If the forecasts are exceeded, the politician is said to be a poor forecaster as well, plus he has to struggle to get the additional funds needed. Thus, there is an incentive to make the initial forecast bigger than actually expected.

As there is no incentive to counter these increased costs, always more money is spent than actually needed.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Updated Blog Style

After more than a year of writing this blog and a extremely lame layout and overall look & feel, I felt it was about time to make a small redesign and several improvments for things that always bothered me.

First of all, you will note a new theme - instead of the blue font on what background you will now find a combination of dark colors (black, grey) and orange.

Next, I tried to get rid all the unnecessary clutter on the page - label overview, archive, about me section are all now cut away from the main page. Instead, I created dedicated pages for archive and a quite rudimentary "about" page as well.

Furthermore, I found that I did not offer any possibilites to get in touch with me - so here they are!

Finally, I moved to feed burner for feed generation, which also allows subscribing via email now.

And what do you, dear reader, think about the new design? Each kind of feedback is truly welcome!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Should I Eat That Apple Today Or Tomorrow? - Part II

In last week's post, I discussed the question of a whether a free good should always be consumed, or if it might make sense to abstain from consumption under certain circumstances.

We went through four examples of consumption.
In example 1 and 2, the saturation factor was low (\(s = 0.2\)).
In example 1, the consumer always consumed, and gross utility \(g = 26\).
In example 2, the consumer abstained in period 2, and gross utility \(g = 20\).

In example 3 and 4, the saturation factor was high (\(s = 0.6\)).
In example 3, the consumer always consumed, and gross utility \(g = 18\).
In example 4, the consumer abstained in period 2, and gross utility \(g = 20\).

So, here is the answer to our initial question: You should eat or not eat the apple depending on the saturation factor \(s\) ! For a big \(s\) , not consuming in period 2 was better; for a small \(s\), consuming was better.

However, at which threshold does the decision change?

Let's make a step back first. As you might have noticed, I only varied the decision for period 2, and here's why.

In period 1, consuming is always superior to not consuming. There was no prior period from which the consumer might still be saturated, so he always consumes. Thus, we can assume \(c_1 = 1\), and can disregard the consumption decision from now on.

As we have seen, changing the decision in period 2 has an effect on the gross utility, so \(c_2\) remains a variable to be considered.

However, period 3 can be disregarded again. Why? If \(c_2\) was 0, there is no saturation, and similar to period 1, consumption is better. If \(c_3\) was 1, there is saturation, but there is no 4th period to save consumption for, so again, consumption is better. Thus, \(c_3 = 1\) , and can be disregarded further on.
The only variable to maximize against is \(c_2\).

In the light of the above, let's reconsider our gross utility function:
\(c_1 = 1\)
\(c_2 =\) to be seen
\(c_3 = 1\)
\(u_1 = a c_1  = a\)
\(u_2 = a c_2 (1 - c_1 s) = a c_2 (1 - s)\)
\(u_3 = a c_3 (1 - c_2 s) = a (1 - c_2) s) = a - a c_2 s\)

\(g = u_1 + u_2 + u_3 = a + a _2 (1 - s) +  a - a c_2 s = \)
\(2 a + a c_2 - a c_2 s - a _2 s = \)
\(2 a + a _2 - 2 a _2 s = 2 a + a _2 (1 - 2s)\)

Now we can directly compare the two outcomes with each other; the gross utility in case of consumption in period 2 (which is , and the gross utility in case of no consumption in period 2.

So, for \(c_2 = 1, g\) would be: \(2 a + a (1 - 2s)\)
And for \(c_2 = 0, g\) would be: \(2 a + 0 = 2a\)

So, this question can be formulated as inequation:


\(2 a + a (1 - 2s) > 2 a\)
\(a (1 - 2s) > 0\)
\(1 - 2s > 0\)
\(1 > 2 s\)
\(1/2 > s\)
\(s < 1/2\)


So, if the saturation factor \(s < 1/2\), gross utility is bigger with \(c_2 = 1\).
For \(s > 1/2\), gross utility is bigger with \(c_2 = 0\).
For \(s = 1/2\), the consumer is indifferent, so the gross utility is equal.

Conclusion
Of course, your real saturation factor \(s\) is hardly known. However, I find it quite interesting to keep in mind that for a big saturation factor, I should rather consider not consuming. The bigger the impact on the reduction of the satisfaction of tomorrow's consumption, the more I should be inclined to defer consumption.

Critique
As I mentioned above, I'm well aware of the fact that this model is still very weak.

First of all, the approach of trying to quantify utility of consumption, especially of non-tangible goods might be quite inappropriate. After all, that's the major weakness of the homo economicus altogher, right?
As a defense, I'd like to see the approach chosen not as a purely numerical, but rather as a concept as whole. You can imagine and include whatever you want into this utility function.

Second, the assumptions and constraints are very restrictive. Consequently, the results might not only be inaccurate, but even wrong and misleading.
The assumptions should incrementally be loosened in further research. I intent to do so in upcoming weeks.

Third, some empirical studies should be conducted, until the theory can eventually be rejected (Karl Popper again).

I hope that I managed to make my point, and am looking forward to all kind of additional critique and feedback.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Should I Eat That Apple Today Or Tomorrow? - Part I

Disclaimer: The study conducted is not at all scientific, and this is by purpose. I know it has several flaws.
Apart from that, there might be several other studies on that topic already. Still, here are my thoughts. You have been warned!

Imagine a basket of apples, which is magically re-filled every day with fresh apples. You have free access to that basket, you are not starving, and you are generally fond of apples.
Every day you can either take one apple, eat and enjoy it; or reject to do so.
Should you eat an apple every day, just because it is free, or can it make sense to constrain yourself on certain days, in order to enjoy it even more the next day?

Not too surprising, the answer is, similar to all questions that are worth being asked at all: It depends!
According to the first model I will present today, it depends on one factor only: On your individual saturation factor. If eating an apple today reduces your level of satisfaction tomorrow by more than a half, skip the apple today; otherwise, eat it.

I will try to explain my chain of thought, as easy and clearly as possible. That's for three reasons:
  • I want to show you that a micro-economic model is nothing that's for university graduates and PhD's only (alright I'll admit, that idea is credited to Karl Popper)
  • I want to show myself that this micro-economic model is nothing that's for university graduates and PhD's only
  • I know this theory is still very weak and probably has fundamental flaws. Probably even similar theories already exist, which I do not know about. Still, I want to fail fast, in order to improve it.
Basic idea
We are talking about the consumption of a freely available good.
This could be an apple, a glass of water, watching TV, or having sex (whereas arguably some of the assumptions made below do not hold).
Each period (say, a day), the consumer faces the decision whether to consume that good or not. Consumption provides some form of satisfaction, which I will further on refer to as utility. The good is assumed to be saturating. If it was consumed in previous periods, it keeps providing utility, but less than in previous periods - because the consumer gets saturated (the technical term is marginal utility).
The consumer wants to maximize her gross utility - the sum of the utility provided every day. How should she decide every day in order to maximize gross utility?


Assumptions
As this is the first version of the model, assumptions are very restrictive. I'll try to weaken some of these in the upcoming weeks; of course also your input and ideas are warmly welcome!

Assumption 1:
There is only one free good, which saturates the consumer.

Assumption 2:
The good provides some form of utility, but is not necessary to survive.

Assumption 3:
The consumption decision is to be made every period (e.g., a day). The amount consumed cannot be chosen, only whether to consume or not at all. Goods cannot be taken and donated, which might provide some utility, too. They can only be consumed or not.

Assumption 4:
If the good was already consumed in the directly precedent period, utility is reduced linearly by the saturation factor. Imagine watching TV every day. Clearly, the level of enjoyment in each period is not that high each time, as if you would watch only once a month.

Assumption 5:
Contrary to a typical spending function, the consumer is indifferent between consuming the apple today or tomorrow. The apple today provides exactly the same utility as the apple tomorrow (in accordance with A4, given no apple was consumed the day prior to that).

Assumption 6:
Consumption of the good in one period does NOT provide utility in the following periods. However, according to A4, if consumed again, utility is reduced.

Assumption 7:
The consumer seeks to optimize the overall utility gained; that is, the sum of all utilities (resulting from A5 and A6).

Analysis
Alright, being well prepared with these assumptions, it gets slightly mathematical now. Don't worry, I'll try to keep it as short and easy as possible. I hear the critics among you already shouting about homo economicus misusage - and rightly so. Let me respond to this critique at the end.

The variables we'll use are as follows:
  • \(c(t)\) refers to the consumption of the good in the period t. In each period, it can be either 0 (no consumption) or 1 (consumption).
  • \(u(t)\) refers to the utility gained in period t. According to A2 and A4, this depends on the consumption in t, and also the previous period. That is: \[u(t) = f(c(t), c(t-1))\]
  • \(g\) is the gross utility. According to A5, this is the sum of all u(t) over all periods. This is the value to be maximized.
  • The utility factor \(a\). According to A2 and A5, this is the level of utility one single unit of the good (e.g., one apple) would provide if none was consumed in the previous period.
  • The saturation factor \(s\): How much the utility is reduced in period t if the good was consumed in the previous period already, and therefore the consumer is saturated a little bit already. This results from A4. This factor can be any value between 0 and 1. The higher it is, the less the additional utility gained in the period after consumption.
  • The utility function \(f\): How all of the aforementioned variables are related. Resulting from A4, A5 and A6, we can say: \[u(t) = a c(t) - a c(t) c(t-1) s = a c(t) (1 - c(t-1) s)\]
That was a little bit theoretical now, so let me give you an example.

Example 1
Let's look at the consumption of apples across three days.

On the first day, the consumer is totally into apples, so he'll eat the apple. For the sake of that example, let's also eat it on day 2 and 3. So: \[c_1 = 1, c_2 = 1, c_3 = 1\]
Choosing of factor \(a\) is arbitrary, so why not make it 10 (so \(a = 10\))?
Saturation factor \(s\) would be subject to empirical studies; however, I'll just as arbitrarily set it to 0.2 (\(s = 0.2\)).
Question: What is the utility u in each of the 3 periods? What is the gross utility?

Let's start with the utilities in each period.
Utility in first period \(u_1\) is straightforward, because there was no previous period and therefore no saturation to take into account. Thus \[u_1 = a c_1 (1 - c_0 s) = 10 ⋅ 1 (1 - 0 ⋅ 0.2) = 10\]

Utility in second period we get by simply filling into the utility function f:
\[u_2 = a c_2 (1 - c_1 s) = 10 ⋅  1 ⋅ (1 - 1 ⋅ 0.2) = 10 (1 - 0.2) = 8\]

The same is true for period 3:
\[u_3 = a c_3 (1 - c_2 s) = 10 ⋅ 1 ⋅ (1 - 1 ⋅ 0.2) = 10 (1 - 0.2) = 8\]

The gross utility g is the sum of those three:
\[g = u_1 + u_2  + u_3 = 10 + 8 + 8 = 26\]

We can sum up this example as follows:

Period 1 2 3
c(t) 1 1 1
u(t) 108 8
g 10 18 26

Table 1

Wasn't too hard, was it? So let's directly dive into a second example, which empirically comes close to our final answer already.

Example 2
Now, let's assume that the consumer consumed the good in period 1 (similar to example 1, \(c_1 = 1\)). There is no previous period, so the consumer is not at all saturated, so abstinence does not make sense. In period 2 however, the consumer abstains from consumption (\(c_2 = 0\)).
In period 3, he consumes again (\(c_3 = 1)\).
Question: What is the utility u in each of the 3 periods? What is the gross utility?

Similar to the method from above,
\(u_1 = a c_1 = 10\)
\(u_2 = a c_2 (1 - c_1 s) = 10 ⋅ 0 ⋅ (1 - 0.2) = 0\)
\(u_3 = a c_3 (1 - c_2 s) = 10 ⋅ 1 ⋅ (1 - 0 ⋅ 0.2) = 10\)
\(g = 20\)


... or in table representation:
Period 1 2 3
c(t) 1 0 1
u(t) 100 10
g 10 10 20

Table 2


\(g = 20\) is less that in example 1, where \(g = 26\)! That's an interesting finding, because now we know that given an utility factor \(a = 10\) and saturation factor \(s = 0.2\), it does NOT make sense to abstain from consumption. On the contrary, the good should always be consumed!
Let's repeat those two examples, but with another saturation factor s instead; say, \(s = 0.6\).

Example 3
Same setup as in example 1, the consumer always consumes, but \(s = 0.6\).
\(c_1 = 1\)
\(c_2 = 1\)
\(c_3 = 1\)

so:

\(u_1 = a c _1 = 10\)
\(u_2 = a c_2(1 - c_1 s) = 10 ⋅ 1 ⋅ (1 - 0.6) = 4\)
\(u_3 = a c_3 (1 - c_2 s) = 10 ⋅ 1 ⋅ (1 - 1 ⋅ 0.6) = 4\)
\(g = 18\)

Period 1 2 3
c(t) 1 1 1
u(t) 104 4
g 10 14 18

Table 3


Example 4
Same setup as in example 2, the consumer abstains in period 2, but \(s = 0.6\)

\(c_1 = 1\)
\(c_2 = 0\)
\(c_3 = 1\)

\(u_1 = a c _1 = 10\)
\(u_2 = a c_2(1 - c_1 s) = 10 ⋅ 0 ⋅ (1 - 0.6) = 0\)
\(u_3 = a c_3 (1 - c_2 s) = 10 ⋅ 1 ⋅ (1 - 0 ⋅ 0.6) = 10\)
\(g = 20\)

Period 1 2 3
c(t) 1 0 1
u(t) 100 10
g 10 10 20

Table 4

Now the results are the other way around - it pays off now to abstain in period 2!
A modification in the utility factor would not make any difference, because it would simply result in a higher or lower overall utility.

Alright, we're almost there. I want to leave it up to the reader to draw his own conclusions, until I will offer mine during next week.


Update:
Should I Eat That Apple Today Or Tomorrow? - Part II can be found here

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Electronic Communication Is Dead - Long Live Electronic Communication

In the past-PC-age we entered a couple of years ago, mobile devices and ubiquitous internet access have spread enormously.
Consequently, also electronic communication has increased significantly. For a variety of applications, electronic communication is not only a replacement, but even superior to face-to-face communication.

I will further on refer to that as real communication. That's not to say that writing an e-mail or Facebook status updates are unreal; of course they are not. Yet, from my point of view, it's just not as real as talking to somebody while sitting next to him or her.

Electronic communication is a great tool when time or geographical distances have to be overcome. Sometimes, it's also helpful to address a bigger audience.

However, I strongly feel that way too often electronic communication is also chosen even when real communication would easily be feasible. That's sad. Call me conservative, but I truly believe in the value and beauty of real communication. As much as modern platforms try to position themselves as 'social networks', in their very core they are not social at all. People sitting in front of their computers are NOT social; be it 10, 100, or 100 millions of them.

Among the major reasons why electronic communication is preferred over real communication are the aforementioned. Another one is that it's simply that much easier to find out about shared interests and topics to talk about, compared to real conversations, which might be time-consuming and maybe even boring until a topic of shared interest is discovered.

Enough of ranting, and time to offer an alternative.

Why not combine those too - the possibilities that modern devices and technologies offer, resulting in real talks and discussions? I think there is a chance that electronic communication does not have to replace real communication; it might support and facilitate it instead!

Expect more on that topic soon from my side.

If that caught your attention, please leave a comment below, and I'll make sure I'll keep you up to date.

Electronic communication is dead - long live electronic communication ... as a facilitator for real communication!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Buchrezension: Christian Felber - 50 Vorschläge für eine gerechtere Welt

Disclaimer: This is a review of Christian Felber's 50 Vorschläge für eine gerechtere Welt. As far as I know, this book is only available in German, which is why I'll also write the review in German. Sorry to my English-speaking fellows.


Source: christian-felber.at


Wie schon der Klappentext von "50 Vorschläge für eine gerechtere Welt" nahelegt, wird in diesem Buch keine wissenschaftliche Analyse von Einkommensgerechtigkeit, Entwicklungshilfe, Staatsverschuldung und die Rolle von TNCs (Transnational Corporations) im globalen Wirtschaftsleben vorgenommen, sondern Christian Felber's subjektive Auffassung der Welt dargestellt. Ein Blick auf das Inhaltsverzeichnis ("Zinsen runter!", "Börsen auf euren Platz!", "Zähmung von Konzernen") spricht eine ebenso klare Sprache.

Weiters - und auch das muss man ihm zugute halten - erwartet er nicht,  dass sämtliche seiner 50 Vorschläge auf Zustimmung stoßen, sondern "... wichtig ist, dass das Nachdenken über Alternativen angeregt wird".

Die Erwartungen des Lesers von Vornherein derart zu kanalisieren zeugt von Authentizität, spricht mich an und veranlasst mich, auf den kommenden 330 Seiten stets wachsam vor blinder Zustimmung und kritisch zu sein.

Keine Frage, Christian Felber wählt seine Worte mit Bedacht und ist sehr geschickt darin, passende Zahlen und Statistiken seinem Standpunkt gemäß zu zitieren. Eine große Bandbreite von gesellschaftlichen und wirtschaftlichen Themen wird angesprochen - globale und nationale Steuern, die Rolle von Weltbank, IMF und WTO in einer globalisierten Wirtschaftswelt, Umweltverschmutzung, Mindestlohn und Grundeinkommen, Patente, Agrarwirtschaft, nachhaltige Entwicklung, ...
Leider ist mein Wissensstand in vielen von diesen Themen auf Binsenweisheiten beschränkt, sodass es mir schwer fällt, mir über den Wahrheitsgehalt der angegeben Hypothesen und die Sinnhaftigkeit der vorgeschlagenen Lösungen ein Urteil zu bilden.

Über mindestens zwei der Vorschläge meine ich aber, ein gewisses Verständnis zu haben. Diese beiden Vorschläge veranlassen mich zu Kritik nicht nur den Inhalt betreffend, sondern auch die Herangehensweise.

Vorschlag (1) Ein neues Bretton Woods
Um spekulativen Attacken auf Währungen Einhalt zu gebieten und Währungsstabilität zu gewährleisten, schlägt Felber ein System "fixer Wechselkurse" auf globaler Ebene vor, für das der Euro eine gute Vorstufe darstellen würde.
Er räumt zwar kurz ein, dass damit sämtliche Staaten ein äußerst wichtiges Instrument der Finanzpolitik aus der Hand geben würden, relativiert dies aber sogleich wieder, indem er sogar noch einen Schritt weiter geht und weltweit besser koordinierte oder sogar zentralisierte Wirtschaftspolitik fordert - die offenbar nicht einmal im Euroraum möglich noch von den EU-Bürgern gewünscht ist!

Denjenigen Lesern, die nicht zufällig Finanzpolitik studiert haben, eine Lösung derart in den Mund zu legen, ohne zumindest ausreichend auf die Risiken und Nebenwirkungen hinzuweisen, steht meiner Auffassung nach der von Felber selbst geforderten Transparenz, Toleranz und Offenheit diametral gegenüber.

Vorschlag (19) Globale einheitliche Konzernbesteuerung
Felber fordert hier global einheitliche Steuersätze für Konzerne und kritisiert Steuerflucht in Steueroasen.
Auf Seite 146 schreibt er: "Eine effektive Sofortmaßnahme gegen Steuerflucht wäre die Erhöhung der Zahl der BetriebsprüferInnen ... In Österreich ist die Zahl der BetriebsprüferInnen zwischen 2000 und 2004 um 13 Prozent auf 1554 gesunken ... Hinter dem Personalabbau kann nur das ideologische Motiv des Rückzugs des Staates stecken."

Auch hier wird nur eine Alternative - die freie Interpretation der Tatsachen durch Felber - dargestellt und als einzige Möglichkeit präsentiert. Kann es nicht auch sein, dass durch technologische Errungenschaften, verbesserte Computersysteme, bessere automatisierte Prüfungen, mehr Effizienz, ... der Personalabbau möglich wurde?

Wiederum zwingt Felber seinen Rückschluss auf, und lässt dem Leser keinen Spielraum, sich ein eigenes Bild des dargestellten Sachverhaltes zu bilden.

Natürlich ist es ein bisschen unfair von mir, aus über 300 Seiten, teilweise sicher gut durchdachten und recherchierten Materials, zwei Absätze herauszusuchen und auf diesen herumzuhacken. Jedoch, wenn sich mir derartige Fragen stellen, bei den beiden Sachgebieten, von denen ich meine etwas zu verstehen - wie mag es sich wohl mit den anderen verhalten, bei denen ich über weniger Vorwissen verfüge?

Für ebenfalls etwas unglücklich halte ich die inflationäre Verwendung des Wortes "Demokratie", die Felber vor, hinter, und neben alles stellt. Tatsachen sind in dieser dichotomen Darstellung entweder strikt demokratisch (= unbedingt gut und positiv) oder undemokratisch (= unbedingt böse, schlecht, negativ).

Auch wenn Felber Sprecher von Attac Österreich ist, macht ihn das nicht automatisch zum Sprachrohr der "globalen Zivilgesellschaft", die wohl mehrere Ausprägungen, Dimensionen und Strömungen hat. Ein Beispiel dazu (S. 187): " ... genau das wäre aber das Prinzip der 'Ernährungssouveränität', das von den sozialen Bewegungen des Südens und der globalen Zivilgesellschaft eingefordert wird."

Aller Kritik zum Trotz muss ich Felber ein großes Lob aussprechen. Es ist ihm gelungen, sein selbsternanntes Ziel zu erreichen - mich zum Nachdenken anzuregen. Vieles war mir komplett neu und werde ich künftig in einem anderen Licht betrachten und hinterfragen.
Einem Jeden, der offen für alternative Gedanken über Gesellschaft, Wirtschaft und Umwelt, und bereit ist, diesen mit einer gesunden Portion Skepsis und kritischem Denken zu begegnen, sei dieses Werk ans Herz gelegt.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Typical Day ... In The Life Of An IT Project Leader

When talking with friends and relatives, a question that I'm asked quite frequently is "... and what exactly do you do at your job?". Answering that somebody decided to give my current job the title "IT project leader" wouldn't help too much.
First, because the majority of people don't work in IT and consequently don't have a clear picture about daily business.
Second, because I've come to realize that even within the IT industry there is a huge variety of possible "project leader" responsibilities and tasks.
And third, as you might know, job titles don't mean too much anyways.

Thus, I've decided to describe what a typical day in my current job looks like.

Background

Some background information first: I'm currently working on a project in a Bosnian-Herzegovinian administration. The project is funded by the European Union and the main goal is to bring the country closer to EU standards in the field of VAT and customs legislation and procedures, and with regard to the IT systems used. I'm in charge of the IT part of that project.

So, my small team and I normally start working at 8.30. We are not particularly strict on the working hours, however we do not allow flexitime nor tele-working. I'm strongly convinced that there is no replacement for sitting next to each other and discussing face-to-face.

Mondays ...

On Mondays, we get the week started with a short review of the previous week's achievements, problems encountered, and questions arisen. We also discuss this week's main tasks, technical questions and make key decisions together.
Among other reasons, I think this is an important team building measure, helps to develop common knowledge, and represents a platform to encourage team members to share what they are proud of and improve their communication skills.
Apart from that, we call for a meeting spontaneously at need or simply discuss informally with each other anytime.

Source: actupinc.com

Daily Business

On other days, I might have meetings with representatives of the local administration. We talk about their exact requirements for certain IT programs we are about to develop, testing and training for these programs, knowledge transfer to local employees, hardware issues and administrative stuff.
Unfortunately, my local language skills are still far from sufficient to discuss important matters, so half of the time is lost in translation.

Depending on which stage we are in one of our sub-projects, I would typically spend some time on planning activities then. Which additional information do we need to make the next steps? Whom do I get this information from? Which technology should we use for that project? What should that program look like? How busy are my colleagues at the moment, and which of these planning or pre-development tasks should I delegate to them? Which sub-tasks should be done for that project, how are they related, and until when should they be done? On which hardware infrastructure will we install that system, and whom do we need for that? When are the meeting rooms for testing available, and whom should we invite to it?

A scrum board, similar to the one used by us. Source: nicoulaj.github.com

As we are that small a team, I do some programming too. Sometimes, that comes as a nice alternation to all these meetings and planning stuff, which are not always particularly amusing. Furthermore, it helps me to better understand what's going on beneath the surface of our programs.

Every now and then, I grab a chair and sit with members of my team directly to check their progress or problems encountered. Even though I try to avoid micro-managing as much as possible and sit with them only when they call me, I sometimes take the freedom and check spontaneously when I feel that circumstances demand it. For example, when we agreed that a certain user interface form should be provided within two days, and I haven't heard anything from him for four days.
Again, I want to give them the possibility to show what they are proud of, and establish and maintain trust between each other. In case somebody is stuck somewhere, I like to ask such basic questions until they have broken the problem to such small chunks that the solution comes inevitably to them (that is, I take the role of a rubber duck).

Since I'm responsible for the products that we deliver, I also test the software before any of our clients sees it. This is the moment when all the various parts that my colleagues worked on are connected, and potential design or usability issues show. Sometimes I have to turn colleagues down on their proposals, because they would not be do-able in reasonable time, or would not make sense to the final users, even though they might be nice from a technicians point of view.
Part of my job prior to delivering a product is to write guidelines and handbooks for the users. Not very entertaining, but necessary.

Challenges

However, there are also some challenges that are out of our control. For example, sometimes expectations from the EU and the beneficiary are not quite in line with each other; we act as an intermediary between them and have to find some solution.

A huge obstacle for progress in Bosnia-Herzegovina as a whole is politics. No government for quite a while, no key-decisions made, budgetary problems, ... These impediments have a negative impact on our work, too, because by the end of the day, whatever we do and provide is subject to legal boundaries.

Personally, I strongly believe in all my colleagues' intrinsic motivation, and do everything I can to remove all potential barriers, in order to enable them to do their best job.

Working Environment

Our working environment is a little bit suboptimal. Our chairs might have been acceptable some 15 years ago, but are definitely not any more now; in our office, there is no real window to the outside world, and for weeks we have been suffering in the heat, because the one and only guy who would know how to fix the air condition is on vacation.

Well, at least our office is not in the basement. Source: notesondigital.com

Once a quarter, I meet with representatives of the European Delegation and assistance directors of the local administration to discuss the overall progress of our project and obstacles encountered. Quality of and participation at these meetings varies.

Fridays ...

By the end of the week, I have to provide a report for the European Delegation in Sarajevo, which monitors the progress of our project against certain performance indicators.

Conclusion

For the non IT guys among you, I hope that I managed to create a rough picture of my work. For the IT guys, I hope that I made you smile at least once or twice when recognizing certain things from your workaday life ;-).

Generally speaking, it seems to me that most people (including me) have no clue what most other people are actually doing in their job. Some "typical days" I already found on the web include:
Still, more "typical days" would be totally interesting - so why not share yours in the comments below?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Why I Try To Avoid News - Part II

A few days ago, I outlined what made me trying to avoid news. Today, let me tell you why I stuck to that approach.

First, I think it is important to realize what makes journalists, news agencies and TV stations provide news at all. While there are of course some with the best intentions, I'm quite convinced that the majority of news is broadcasted for mainly one reason: entertainment. Consequently, you cannot expect to be purely informed about certain issues, when TV stations generate their profit out of your entertainment.

Second, have a close look at the composition of news. I'm not aware of any scientific studies on that topic, but I claim that most news are of the type: "X said Y about Z", where the source information is only the actual event Z. Technically speaking, the signal to noise ratio is quite high. Why would I care what any self-proclaimed expert thinks about a certain topic? Even more, when her today's opinion is rejected by another self-proclaimed expert the other day.

Third, I strongly sense that following mass-media draws your attention to certain events, for example, robberies in your neighborhood, suicides or plan crashes. People who follow media regularly tend to over-estimate the likelihood of such eventsNassim Nicholas Taleb refers to this perception as "ludic fallacy". The only way to escape this deception is simply avoiding news altogether.

Forth, as much as I try to filter all information I'm exposed to and to take it with a "grain of salt", and as much I would trust all journalists to do a faithful job (which I don't), there is still no way to protect me from shaping my mind in a certain direction.
Imagine reading a newspaper which reports about the great successes of a political party every day. I bet that if you keep reading that newspaper for a year, you will be more inclined to believe that this actually is a successful party, even though that is contrary to your initial beliefs.
And now think about reading a newspaper which focuses on the negative aspects of that party only. Again, I bet your perception will be totally different.
The only protective measure I can think about is avoiding this kind of news altogether.

Fifth, I wonder, what would I actually gain by following news? Does it make any difference in my daily life whether this year's rice harvest in China was a successful one? Will the supermarket around the corner stop selling beer, because the Higgs Boson was found (or, in accordance with #2 from above, because somebody said that the Higgs Boson was found).
Things that are likely to have an impact on me I will hear about sooner or later anyways, so no need to seek for them actively.

I understand that this position sounds pretty rough and ignorant. After all, you are still a human being and should care what surrounds you, right? I totally agree; but that doesn't stop me from deciding how I want to spend my time (which, according to some, is the most precious resource you have). I think you can care for others and be genuinely interested in the people around you - and still try to avoid news.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Why I Try To Avoid News - Part I

Until February 2011, I used to follow news frequently. Reading teletext, watching news on TV in the evening, constantly hitting F5 on my favorite online news pages, waiting for updates in Google Reader ... I think I was close to being news-addicted. But then something happened that instantly gave me a tremendous amount of additional free time, plus a new perspective to perceive certain things. While the world passionately followed the events surrounding the Arab Spring, I kept my TV black and stopped following news for good.

Some people are quite surprised when I tell them about this decision and cannot imagine a single day without news. But how do you know about the latest elections? Don't you care about the poor child that was killed the other day? How will you know that the oil price is about to rise, we will be on the border to a collapse of the financial system, and the USA will attack Iran?

Well, there are a couple of reasons, so let me elaborate.

First of all, let me tell you why I initially started that experiment with myself. In the upcoming days, I will outline why I stayed with it ever since then.

It was in 2009 when I first got in touch with the idea of not following news, when I read Nassim Nicholas Taleb's generally inspiring, mind-provoking The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. Even though his works deeply shaped my way of thinking about probability, randomness and other aspects until today, the idea of not following any news any more seemed quite rigid to me back then. However, the seed had been planted.

When in January and February 2011 the Egyptian masses started assembling on the Tahrir Square daily, I was totally bought by the happenings. Just nine months before, I had had a great time there myself, and now I followed the events from far away. Al-Jazeera live stream, Facebook, Blogs ... I was totally into this stuff, several hours a day. Eventually, the peaceful demonstrations where interrupted violently.
It is not too surprising that there were contrary reports about the reason for the both-sided violence. One side claimed that the protesters had started throwing stones; the other side claimed there were shots from the army, and the protesters had to defend themselves.
How can I verify one claim or the other, from a 2.000 km distance? What if both of the reporters are right, not only because politics demand the according report, but because they report what they really saw and experienced from their point of view?

Frustrated and depressed, I turned off Al-Jazeera, and didn't open it or any other news page ever since then again.

In the upcoming days, I will explain why I stayed with this approach, and what I think I gained from it.


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

When Your Boss Calls You, It's Never A Good Sign

My high school teacher in bookkeeping was a nice person, with our well-being in mind all the time. Even though she was a little bit inconvenient occasionally, I'm inclined to think that she did also that with best intentions.
And similar to many of my teachers (I attended a high school for IT and business administration), she had worked in the private sector several years before becoming a teacher.

Thus, she would tell us innocent students a story from the "real business world" every now and then.

"When I still worked in that company, we were afraid whenever the telephone rang and the display showed the extension from our boss.", she began one day.
The story-telling attitude she showed now awoke some of us, as it was known already that at times the bottom line of the story could be interesting. Yes indeed, sometimes even more interesting than continue playing Counter-Strike.

So, one of the motivated dudes in the first row devotedly asked: "But how's that, why were you afraid? Maybe he just wanted to inform you about something?"
"Wrong", she replied, holding her breath for a second. "For it was known, when the boss calls you, it's for one of two reasons: Either he has some nasty task for you ... or he rants at you. When your boss calls you, it's never a good sign."


I'm still surprised about the purity of Management 1.0Theory X attitude shown in that one sentence.

Do you remember #4 of the 13 top habits of how not to manage?
"4. Only contact them when something is wrong, but never praise them" (me)
I think common sense tells you how wrong that behaviour is, so let me propose something else instead:

Respect and credit what somebody is proud of! Do it frequently, at least by showing genuine interest. (me)

It doesn't matter whether it's a co-worker, a child or your parents - all of them will appreciate your interest. Even if it's something small which might seem insignificant to you, for them it's maybe not, so it least praise their effort. Maybe it was done better than the time before?

Whatever it is, let them know ... and mean it!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

My Top 4 (Work-Related) Mistakes

When I wrote about my motivation to write this blog a few months ago, among the reasons I described there was the possibility to reflect upon my mistakes later and learn from them.

A crucial part of learning from mistakes is acknowledging them. While this is rather inappropriate for some mistakes (say, having cheated on your wife, especially when she doesn't yet know about it), others qualify for being announced publicly.
I think there are two main functions of such a public confession:

  1. You show that you are past the point where you feel ashamed, and are ready to move on.
  2. You allow others to learn from your mistakes, which not only helps them, but also establishes a certain level of trust among you

In the light of the above, I will today share my biggest work-related mistakes so far. Maybe I'll share some non-work-related ones in the future as well.

Please note that due to my IT-background, some of these might sound a little bit nerdy. I'll try my best to cover the IT-stuff as much as possible.

My biggest mistakes:

No. 4, Shopping carts

When I was in high school, I was short of money all the time. So, imagine a big shopping mall. On the entrance, dozens and hundreds of shopping carts are available for customers. However, once the customers return with carts full of stuff they don't need anyways, and loaded more of these items into the trunk of their car than fit into it, they obviously don't feel like walking those fifty meters back to the entrance of the mall. No, instead they prefer to leave the shopping carts directly where they parked their car.

So, the shopping carts have to get back to the entrance, in order to be filled with new customer's wishes. The carts being unable to move themselves, somebody is required to push them. And that somebody was me, every Saturday afternoon.

Naturally, you don't only push one cart at a time, because the continuous stream of customers would simply overwhelm you. Instead, you are required to take multiple carts at once, say, 20 to 25.
Strangely, the 25th shopping cart in the front of the queue develops something like its own will, which might be contrary to the young lad pushing it.

Thus, I once lost control over it, and the carts crashed into a brand new, golden BMW, which was parked innocently over there, and leaving a nice scratch along the driver's side.
Now, that would still be understandable; that's not the mistake I want to talk about. Yet, to make it even worse, I thought that nobody had seen me, and simply moved on without informing anybody.

However, when I was called to the information desk five minutes later, facing a rightfully upset customer kind of falsified my former assumption.
Taught me an interesting lesson about honesty, tough!

No. 3, Broke the Build

During my time as an intern in the first software development company I worked for, the senior developer was preparing a presentation of our software to some key-clients the other day. Therefore, he told us to hold back with our most recent changes, in order not to introduce new bugs that close to the presentation.
However, me still being simply inexperienced with version control systems, I could not see the potential harm of a small check-in.

Useless to say, that "small check-in" was not quite compatible with the rest of the repository, and obviously broke the build.

Cost the senior developer half a day, and me a beer :-)

No. 2, Test it faster!

Later on in my development career, I noticed that one of the systems we were developing became increasingly slow the more data we added. Initially, it was fast enough (remember, everything is fast for small n), but the more data we added, the slower it became; to the point, where it was not test- and usable at all any more.

Now, instead of searching for the root-cause of the performance issues, I simply introduced a debug-switch which would prevent loading more than 25 entries from the database at once. Bang, problem solved!

I think you can imagine what happened once we turned that switch off again to test in a real-world environment ....

No. 1, Ignore the need for feedback

Being entrusted with managing my first IT-project on my own, we had to re-develop a legacy system, plus adding certain features. It was agreed that in a first phase, the features of the existing system should be copied, the data migrated into the new system, and the users start working on it in order to give feedback about usability issues. In a second phase, the new features should be added.

However, once we were close to releasing the first version, the client changed his mind and did not want to go to production without the new features.
In strict violation of a very important principle, "version 1 sucks but ship it anyway" (see also here), I was too weak to resist him back then.

Of course, once we finally introduced the full new version including new features, there were still several glitches, because it was the first time users started really working with it. The resulting changes caused a big delay in the project schedule and consequently, it was not quite "on budget" anymore either.


Dear former colleagues and current co-workers, bosses and clients, please excuse both my mistakes mentioned, as well as all the big and small ones I forgot to mention. If you think there is a nice complementary to this list, feel free to leave a comment below ;-)

So, these are my biggest work-related mistakes (so far) ... and what are yours?

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Long And Winding Road Of Funding A Business

A couple of weeks ago, I boldly announced that I'm claiming my share of the mobile market. As much as I already could imagine back then how naive that calculation is, I thought that if I could convince only 1% of the mobile clients, I'd make a fortune overnight. Quite surprisingly, though, this did not yet happen. What had I screwed up?

In the meantime, I started attending an online course about "Technology Entrepreneurship", provided by Stanford professor Chuck Eesley and hosted on venture-lab.org.

The course is split into two main parts: First of all, two "warm-up" activities, in order to learn first basic steps, and to build a team for the second part, in which we will perform further steps to bring a "business idea" to actual execution.

As the first part is done, I will quickly summarize what I learned up to now, and how this shapes my overall perception of founding a business.

The first warm-up activity was simply brainstorming business ideas, disregarding whether they sound anyhow promising or not. There are several techniques that help you coming up with ideas, but if your mind is on fire already, ideas of all kinds pop up automagically all the time anyways. I was outright amazed by the overall eagerness shared by all colleagues, and the funny ideas we came up with! Retailing alcohol to Saudi-Arabia? A sex shop for religious people? Or a stove made of wooden?

The next step was to agree on the five "best" and the five "worst" ideas, and create a business canvas model for it. The idea I had chosen was about a mobile application for automatically recognizing the current state of a physical chessboard. Using the business canvas forces you to think about certain aspects of turning this idea into a business, e.g., customer segments, marketing, core activities, partners and revenue streams.

Already in the course of doing this, we found that even an apparently bad idea might have certain positive aspects as well. Going even further, the second task was to take any "worst" idea of another team, and try to promote it as good as possible. Check the result:



Not that bad, after all, is it?

So, first key finding for me is: Each idea can turn into a promising one! (Chuck Eesley provides more comprehensive thoughts on the topic here.)

Next, Chuck doesn't get tired to stress the importance of team composition. Lacking experience in that field, I cannot quite judge on it, but it makes perfectly sense to me. Founding a business without knowing whether your co-founder snores would be kind of similar to marrying after a heavy night in Las Vegas.

But most of all, I'm getting more and more convinced that simply having "a killer idea" is not enough. Far from it. To be clear, it is an important prerequisite. But it is not enough, it is the actual execution that matters a million times more.

So, I don't yet know what it takes to fund a business. At least I know now that it's nothing enough to have an idea. Still, everything starts with an idea - even the long and winding road of founding a business.

P.S.: Already now, I'm very thankful to all my colleagues for the great experiences and good brainstorming made up to now. Looking forward to continue working with you guys!


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Neophobiac Or Neophiliac ... And What Are You?

"If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses." -- Henry Ford (despite the questionableness of this quote)
As some of you might have heard already, the upcoming incarnation of Microsoft Windows will offer a completely new user experience called Metro. It is expected to look roughly like this:

Source: microsoft.com
Apparently, they are trying to create the same experience on all devices in the future - be it a desktop PC, a tablet, or a smartphone. As for all things newly invented or changed, the press, current and potential users, bloggers, ... are pretty divided into two groups
  • The ones defending what is today, opposing change, willing to stick to what they've come to know over the past decade.
  • And then there are the others, who are outright nuts for the new style, ignoring it's potential glitches and shortcomings
In psychology, two technical terms are used to describe the two extremes of the spectrum:
  • Neophobia is "the fear of new things or experiences", on the contrary to 
  • Neophilia, which describes a person with strong affinity to novelty.
However, a person is not always purely the one or the other, but might be rather neophile regarding certain questions (for example, enjoying the new immediately iPhone once it's released), and rather neophobe regarding other (for example, denying that humans are descendants of apes). Also, one's attitude towards novelty is most likely to change over time. Who might have been wildly seeking for change and revolution in early years might take exactly the opposite stand once he's older (and in some rare cases, vice versa).

I'm quite convinced that each society and organization needs both types. People who drive innovation and change on the one hand, but at the same time, others who do not follow them blindly, but see to some reality check every now and then and throttle the craziest ideas.

All in all, this makes me wonder, which stand you should take? Should you promote change and new ideas? After all, you will not be able to stop change anyways ... like it or not, your children will not even know what this VHS was back then, so better get rid of it now and start adopting new things accordingly!
Or should you rather wait and see what happens, for many new ideas and technologies are doomed to disappear after a couple of years anyways, so why adopt at all? Something in between? If so, when and under which circumstances?

As you see, dear reader, I cannot come to any conclusion on this (maybe there is none). So for me, the question remains, neophobiac or neophiliac ... and what are you?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Free Auto Currency Converter Now Available On the Android Market

Dear all,

I am happy to announce that as of now, my first mobile application Auto Currency Converter is available on the Android Market (totally free of charge).

Taken from the description there:

Automatically convert currencies! Just start the app, and see immediately the conversion between your most probable currencies. A totally simple and easy to understand screen handling.
Further features:
  • Support for more than 170 countries and more than 130 currencies
  • Automatically maps your native and the current country to a currency
  • On app start, automatically provides conversion between your most probable choice
  • Keeping track of your most recent conversions, and thus providing even better suggestions
  • Capability for offline conversion (NO Internet required)
  • Fully automated update of all exchange rates
  • Conversion in both directions (from base to target currency, and vice versa) at the same time

Thanks to your feedback, I was able to improve the user interface a little bit. The final version looks like this:

First screen of Auto Currency Converter

If you have Android, you might want to check it out.

Each comment and rating on the market would be highly appreciated. Thanks for your support!



Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Progress Report: My First Mobile Application

A couple of weeks ago, I made a bold claim on this place: I want a tiny little piece of the mobile development cake. So, three weeks later, how am I doing with my first mobile application? Time for a quick update!

As I indicated in the last post already, I'll try to sharpen the knife on a simple, yet maybe useful application: a currency converter. Unlike other converters, though, on mine it is NOT required to select base and target currency yourself. Instead my converter has the ability to automatically "guess" your most probable conversion (based on your native and current location), and consequently I call it Auto Currency Converter.

Key features are:

  • Support for more than 170 countries and more than 130 currencies
  • Automatically maps a country to a currency
  • On app start, automatically provides conversion between your most probable choice
  • Keeping track of your most recent conversions, and thus providing even better suggestions
  • Capability for offline conversion (NO Internet required)
  • Fully automated update of all exchange rates
  • Conversion in both directions (from base to target currency, and vice verse) at the same time


In order to get feedback from potential users as early as possible (remember, I want to fail fast and fail often), here is the first draft of the user interface:


First draft of the user interface of the Auto Currency Converter
Even if you are not interested in my self-estimation of the progress and don't continue reading, I want to ask for your first impressions on that draft. You like it, you hate it, you would never use an app with such awful a background color, or you would love an icon of an unicorn in the upper right corner - whatever it is, please drop a comment below.

I'll describe the progress against three different dimensions: 1.) State of achievement; 2.) Problems encountered; 3.) Future activities.

1. State of achievement
I familiarized myself with the development environment (Eclipse with Android SDK). Running the device emulator is a bit slow at time, but it's doing a fairly good job.

The Android documentation is pretty good either, and for all the things that are not fully covered there, odds are that somebody else encountered a similar challenge already. For most questions arising I found an answer on the web very fast.

Accessing the Yahoo Finance service for exchange rates is not a big deal, either. I am happy to say that all calculation-related modules are in a proper test harness, as simple as they may be.

What I'm really impressed about is the great, flawless, built in SQLite database in Android. Easy to use and just working! I'm using the database both for the exchange rates and keeping track of the user's last conversions.

So, most features envisaged are in place. Also, I managed to provide a first draft of the user interface.

2. Problems encountered
As expected, the biggest challenge for me will be the user interface.

For a small application like this, providing the required functionality is a piece of cake; providing a good-looking user interface for me is not. Not only are there some challenges unique in mobile development, but even more, it is simply time consuming.

Ensuring the application

  • looks good several different devices (imagine a smartphone vs. a tablet screen) and
  • different operating system versions (most smartphones still run Android 2.x, but some nice features were added in 3.x, which I want to use if available)
  • supports both landscape and portrait screens (and ideally, also the transition between those two)
  • finding proper free icons
  • supporting different user-languages and preferences (what should be displayed as "08.02.2012" in most European countries should better be "02/08/2012" in the US)
etc. ... it simply sums up.

Some of the other potential challenges I did not face up to now (such as marketing and the likes), simply because I did not yet publish my application.

3. Future activities
Most features are in place; what remains to be done is polishing up the user interface.

What I have not yet decided, is whether to include ads (the easiest choice probably being Google's AdMob) in that first application, or not. I guess users are most likely much more opposed to ads if they are introduced later, compared to having seen them from the very beginning.
On the other hand, if I keep seeing this first app as a pure learning field, and may be a "reputation builder", there is no need for ads at all.

Oh yes, and then, finally, I should publish the app as well, and make people aware of it.

Apart from that, there is another thing that concerns me: I think that I totally lack any vision of what exactly I actually want to achieve (not with this first application, but with the others yet in the pipe). What can I provide?
Even though I know I should have a clear picture on that upfront, I hope it will work the opposite for me and will evolve over time.

For the moment, I'm just interested in getting my first mobile application done, and I feel that I'm on a good track. In order to progress further, I need your help. I would be very grateful for a brief comment about your first impression of the screenshot above.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Keeping Your Mind On Fire

As I mentioned in my memories about Mexico, among the things I value most during travelling is having time to think about topics apart from my daily routine. In his excellent essay How To Be A Free ThinkerScott Berkun recognizes that  "... many of history’s great spiritual leaders chose to step away from their cultures and their worlds for a time." Clearly, there aren't too many things more inspiring than foreign cultures and environment.

For the good or for the bad, however, most of us are more or less bound to their place of living, and their daily routine (which, I guess, for most people is working, unless you adopted a 4 hour workweek). So, that made me wonder, what can you do to keep your mind on fire, even in a potentially mind- and idea-suppressing environment?

In the last week, I paid close attention to what does inspire me, and what provokes me to think about issues that really matter to me. Of course, people care about different issues, and consequently, for many of them different approaches might work out.

However, here are my thoughts:
  • Reading, ideally about a variety of different topics. What I'm onto these days is Mindfire (again by Scott Berkun; obviously a primer for this article) a master thesis about the political and economic transformation in Central-Eastern Europe, Management 3.0 (Jurgen Appelo) and I just finished novel price winner Ivo Andric's masterpiece The Bridge on the Drina
  • Physical exercises. Long hours of sitting in office do not only cause pain in the back, it's also pain for your brain. After jogging, swimming, skiing, mattress-sports or maybe just a walk my mind is not only open, but actually even full of energy for new stuff.
  • Wandering around with open eyes and open ears. I'm trying to re-invent the curiosity which I used to have as a child (pretty much to the sorrow of the people facing my constant questions).
  • Make notes. Since a few weeks, I don't leave home without my pocket Moleskine anymore. Whenever something interesting catches my attention, I write it down to came back to the issue later, or to discuss it with somebody who might be interested as well, or may be even offer some explanation. Since I'm doing that, I'm also surprised myself about how many questions are around in that brain over a day. It simply doesn't stop anymore once you've started!
  • A beer. Or maybe two. I'm fairly certain that this is absolutely necessary to re-adjust your body every now and then, and I think there is more than one example of a great thing that was initiated over a couple of pints in a bar.
  • Discussions with other curious or passionate people. Ideally ... well, see the point before.
  • Theater and exhibitions. Totally diving into another time or place might have impacts similar to travelling. Just that it's much cheaper, closer by, easier to reach, and in the morning you'll still wake up in your own bed again.

In case you look for some inspiration or idea on anything, you might try one or two of these approaches. 
Of course, there might be many and more approaches ... so I wonder, what are yours?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

13 Top Habits of How NOT to Manage

There is always plenty of advise about how to do things. How to bind a tie, how to lose weight, well even how to get pregnant. Also I described a few ideas recently, for example, how to improve your communication, how to motivate children, and how to fail.

Well, sometimes it's more helpful to see how NOT to do things (as described by Scott Berkun in has essay Creative Thinking Hacks, section "Inversion"), in order to come up with a clearer picture how to address things properly.

For instance, you might think about how not to do business. Part of doing business is also managing a business. Perfect examples of how NOT to manage can be seen in the great TV series The Office (UK), and it's US and German adoptions.

"I'm similar to God. He's not that visible all the time either, yet has a good image". Source: http://www.az-online.de/nachrichten/stars/buero-ekel-stromberg-seine-fiesesten-sprueche-fotostrecke-458009.html (translation mine)

Thus, I kept an open eye about what annoys me about bosses, what I hear others complain about, what I hear leaders and managers consider wrong (or they consider good, and I added it to this list nevertheless) ... I think in pretty much everybody's daily routine there are plenty of opportunities to witness something similar.

So, my Top 13 Habits of How NOT to Manage list is as follows (not in order):

  1. Leave your subordinates in permanent uncertainty, about future projects, their position, their task
  2. Threat them as resources, and ignore their personality and feelings
  3. Just talk about yourself in a showing-off way all the time
  4. Only contact them when something is wrong, but never praise them
  5. Disturb them all the time when you have nothing else to do (preferably in order to talk about yourself in a showing-off way)
  6. Strictly follow a Theory X approach of motivation 
  7. Don't respond to their requests on time
  8. If you do, by all means avoid a clear message, but rather use some cloudy (also relates to the "uncertainty" mentioned above)
  9. Express yourself in a super arrogant, self-praising means in general
  10. In case of immediate threat of one of your dear fellows leaving your company, simply suggest a raise in payment instead of asking for the underlying reasons for her dissatisfaction
  11. Break your promises
  12. Closely observe whatever they are doing, on a very frequent basis (that is, micro manage them)
  13. Give unclear instructions
If you are in a managing or coordinating position yourself, do your colleagues the favor and think for a minute or two whether you might be guilty for some of the aforementioned. It does not mind that doing the opposite makes you a good manager right away, but it will definitely contribute to some improvement.

I'm sure I forget something, and there are several others absolute don'ts for managers ... so please let me know, which ones are you aware of? What annoys you most about your bosses or colleagues?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Just a Tiny Little Piece of that Tempting Cake

Every now and then, when I hear about some major invention, two things happen: First, I refuse using it altogether - I don't need this, nobody will use it, and so on (pretty much a non-early adopter as possible). Second, I finally yield, and then I cannot stop wondering myself why to hell that invention didn't come to my mind earlier. After all, it's that obvious that exactly this is needed by millions!

I remember that was the case when Google became big 'all of a sudden' (which I initially rejected in favor of that vintage thing called altavista.com), it was the same with Facebook (which I was very convinced I would never need), and it was the same with Twitter (which I'm still proud of not using!). All of them build on a fairly simple technical foundation, yet their usage and impact was straight amazing. I promised myself not to let it happen again.

When I was in Prague for New Years Eve, I was surrounded by my friend's smartphones all the time. Over a sample size of 14 heads and shoulders, smartphone penetration reached about two thirds. And the applications, holy crap! For example, you can make a panorama picture of your friends, whose heads are then automatically detected and used as moving targets for shooting (well, you can argue about the usefulness of that). And of course, games like Cut the Rope, Angry Birds or my colleagues' successful poker. Not to mention the actually useful applications. GPS sensor, camera, ... millions of possibilities.

And millions of users, too. Namely, over 200 million on iOS, and most likely by the time well over 200 million on Android, too. A few more impressive numbers from byterevel.com:

  • 15 billion apps downloaded from the App Store
  • 200+ million users of iDevices worldwide
  • $2.5 billion has been paid to developers
So there we go ... in total, some 400 million mobile users ... or should I rather say, potential clients? As you might have anticipated by how surprised I am about the various possibilities and these amazing figures, I am totally new to the smartphone world. I am about adopting very late once again ... but I hope it will not be too late. The pot is simply too big and too tempting. Ladies and Gentlemen, let me hereby announce that I claim my appropriate share of the mobile development cake!



As a starting point, I already purchased a tablet, an Acer A500, for what a developer do I make without any equipment (ha, finally found some proper excuse for myself to buy a tablet!).

I am totally aware of the fact that the aforementioned claim is totally naive and without any serious thinking. It sounds like a child having big plans to become a music star or actor once she's grown up. Well, I don't care. I simply feel that now is the right time to give it a shot, against all odds, so that's what I'll do.

I'm inclined to make some simple calculation:

400 million users. If, by any chance, I hit the jackpot and one of my apps turns out to be a super-super hit, and I reach only 0.1 % of the users, and if each of them only pays 1$ ... that's still some 400k!

Well, I already found it's not quite that easy. Furthermore, from a technical point, I'm starting at essentially zero. I do have some knowledge in Java and programming in general, though, so I expect this to be the smallest problem (I decided to start with Android first. For Apple development the initial investment would have been an additional development machine).

The major challenges I'm prepared for are as follows:
  • Design, User Interface, Graphics ... I know that this is one of my weak points. Think I'll see how it goes, ask for advice here and there, and maybe look for a helping hand in case this turns out to be necessary
  • PR, Marketing, and more specifically, buzz marketing. Literally, zero experience there. Contacts to magazines, blogs, online stores, Web 2.0 measures, psychology of the masses (animal spirits) and so on ... well, if I reach that point, I'll know I have reached a lot already, but then the real challenges begin.
  • Though competition. Naturally, a huge pot attracts many others either. Roughly half a million apps on App Store speak a clear language.
  • Ideas. I strongly feel that's the key point. There are several idea-provoking approaches, and I had a few ones already. For learning purposes, I decided to start with a simple currency converter. There are tons out there already, but as far as I could see up to know, none of them has that particular feature ... so stay tuned here if you're interested ;-)
  • .. plus of course all the other unknown unknowns
So, TL;DR, why am I writing this at all? First, I wanted to let you all know about my new tablet ;-). Second, that's some form of PR either, right (even though I don't doubt any real PR guy couldn't stop shaking his head over what I'm writing here)?

Third and most of all, it is self-commitment! Ever since I stumbled upon Leo Babauta's 7 steps to turn your self improvement desires into reality (3. Commit thyself, big time), I found that it really helps me to stay focused onto something once I told others about it, which is what I'm doing now.

And staying focused and committed I want ... in order to get at least a tiny little piece of that tempting cake. If nothing else, I'm looking forward to facing all those challenges, and you are invited to join me on that journey.

P.S.: What do you miss most on your smartphone? In which regard do existing apps and games suck, where do you see some potential improvement? Got any other funny or useful idea? Just let me know!

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