Language and its importance to our development



As recent migrants to Spain, the question of language raises its head almost daily. We don’t speak much Spanish but are acutely aware that we need to. If we want to enjoy this country to its fullest we have to. Otherwise we will always be isolated and dependent on a handful of like minded expats who also haven’t put in the work to learn the local language.

Yesterday we were surprised to come across a school in the hills behind us in Marbella that is a German School with a Spanish bilingual stream. Who would have thought that this would be available. We had been grappling with the question of language for family offsprings. As we are English speakers in Spain on German passports, German should be part of the mix we have been thinking. And here was a possible solution. English at home, German and Spanish at school.

So while checking the school’s website, the TED newsletter dropped into my inbox and I decided to view some on a Sunday for fun. Don’t normally get the time. And I discovered a talk from a previous TED session, in fact from 2011, that was totally fascinating. It was about language and what that meant to human evolution.

In fact the point this speaker, Mark Pagel, made amongst other amazing points was that having a universal language allows people to share ideas, innovate and create together and this was what was causing such enormous growth in our technological advances across the board.

In my lifetime alone, the mobile phone, internet, organ transplants, space trips, natural regrowth of human organs and so much more has appeared. Far more I think than previous generations have experienced. And the reason for that is that we can steal ideas so much quicker if we can understand the language that somebody else used when developing and describing his invention.

As a total different story though, but very much along the same principle of language, that popped into my inbox was a report (5 of them and worth reading) by Steve Blank on China and his recent visit. Talking about such things as China’s innovation hubs, investments & VCs. China invests (both private and state funds) in billions of dollars every year in innovation mostly in telecommunications, media and technology.

Yet at the same time, China bans contact to the rest of the world. No YouTube, no Google, no Facebook, no Twitter, no Flickr. All of the people and info sharing tools are restricted to Chinese products that China’s authorities are able to control and censor where required.

So the contrast between what Mark Pagel states and what China does highlights the principle that the more people can talk to each other in a common language across all borders the better and easier new technologies can be developed.

What does that mean for China, and as a matter of fact for Vietnam a country also dictated and censored by its communist government, and the billions that that country invests in innovation hubs? It’s not going to be as effective. In fact it is mostly more focused on copying and making something from overseas work in China rather than inventing something totally new and adding to the development of the world. The 10th Groupon site anybody? Sure. It’s available in China.

Imagine if China opened it’s doors to international thought – or at least allowed its citizens to. What this amazing giant could achieve. With it’s hard learning and hard working citizens who are alway striving to get better at what they are doing, this huge world power player could contribute so much to the well being of the global community. If only it opened its doors to the language of the global community.

Technology joins us together

Remembrance Day: November 11.

You can roll your eyes and groan at how technology has disturbed our lives. When my kids visit they spend more time on their iPhones than talking to us. Easy access to technology can be really disruptive. But then you come across an example of the good side and you know that like everything in this world there is a flip side.

A really touching blog post by a writer whom I follow made me reflect on how great technology can be. Dave is disabled and a wheelchair user. And he is Canadian, at the moment working in the UK. He wrote about a chance meeting and discussion he had about war graves in the UK. And yes, weird topic. But he had discussed with some locals about a nearby graveyard honouring fallen soldiers during World Wars. And Dave’s father had served in the second world war for the Canadian Air Force.

On Remembrance day, observed on November 11,  he and his partner wanted to visit the graveyard but couldn’t find the details online. So he wrote a blog post about his experience and called on his readers for help. And there it was. Details of websites and info readily provided by some of his blog readers.

I’m totally against war myself. I tend to think it’s a bunch of politicians following their power kicks. At the end of the day I have seen Brits get on with Germans, I’m German and I married a Brit.., (so World War II?), Vietnamese and Americans get on (Vietnamese War?) and Japanese and Americans? (Word War II?) and I’m sure I could recite a huge long list.

But as much as I am against war, I am fully in support of those people who get sent out to make those wars happen. They are not to blame. And I am for fully supporting veterans in all and any way that may be necessary.

So I sympathised with Dave and his wishing to visit graves of war heroes. And so it was really touching to see the response to his request for help to find the memorial graveyard. He got exactly what he was looking for. It’s wonderful see the best of people like that. More often we see the nasties, the trolls. And I suppose it is because they make the loudest and nastiest noise. But then you see how our internet community can do the good stuff too and you know it’s good after all.

Sometimes it’s not the sexy designs that do it

The Mophie

The winner for modern technology gadgets can be anything else but another cool designer gadget. It can be something that makes life easier, rather than funkier. Something that extends the battery life of your favourite gadget such as your smart phone for instance.

The wondrous problem of the iPhone or equivalent is that it can do so much that its battery dies very quickly. So the sexiest design thingie will be a battery extender/charger. Thinking of that is true genius. Because rather than rushing after the technology innovation train, here is something that makes perfect sense.

It’s a revolution. Quietly. Significantly. It’s a bit like the disposable nappy. Or instant coffee. The microwave oven.  The light bulb. The take away pizza. Nothing sexy with any of these. But they revolutionised our lives in a significant way. I know. I had kids during the time of linen nappies. Boy do I know about it.

So I hear about a company who does just that. The Mophie. And they supply the mophie juice pack air amongst other products. Never mind the cutsie name. It’s a thing you attach to your iPhone and it extends your battery life by adding more battery. How ingenious. Here are some bright spark engineers who know exactly what the issue is. Power!

Because at the end of the day, your lovely gadgets are useless without power. No more showing off, no more twittering up a storm to tell all other cool people what cooler stuff you are doing. No more Facebooking, or instagraming your photos. In fact no more photos.

All the tools that allow you to show off, announce what an awesome person your are, what amazing things you get up to, how unbelievably popular you are and so much more. None of the above are worth anything if you don’t have battery power.

Sad isn’t it. When our main way of communicating with peeps (hey you don’t know that means people, where have you been..) is reduced to 140 characters… And what’s more, you end up doing more twitter stuff than actual talking to each other. Imagine sitting in a group of ‘with it people’. And all they are doing is thumbing their iPhones so they can tell people who are not with them what a fabulous time they are having with people they are with but with whom they don’t have time to talk because they are thumbing on Twitter to their followers.

Does that make sense? Whatever. There’s Mophie who will allow you to do this endlessly. Hallelujah.

What did your mother teach you?

In the ‘good’ old days sons learned their work skills from their fathers and daughters learned housekeeping and baby care from their mothers. Kids also learned from their mothers that boys need never do housework and that girls should find a husband to obey and clean up after. Or else.

So why are we surprised that girls don’t make it into the boardroom, senior positions at Universities, top of the heap in government and other civil services? It’s generations of mothers who have instilled into their girls’ psyche that they should bow before their lord and master. Even movies still carry on teaching us this weird power play.

You might shrug your shoulders and say that those mothers are a generation ago. No, even two generations ago and that modern moms are teaching their girls that the world is their oyster and that they do not have to bow down to boys anymore.

That could be possible. But it’s not this generation of moms of teenagers and young adults. Regrettably. There are many households of young couples where the male partner does no housework at all and wants the woman to cook, wash and iron for him. Raise your hand if you know of any…. Raise your hand if you think this is normal.

It’s going to take a whole lot more than girls being top of end of school examination results. The number of girls graduating from University isn’t going to change the status quo either. This is definitely the case in the UK. And the girls are graduating in Science, Engineering, Architecture, Rocket Science and more. All those previously in the male domain.

But then you see something on Ted and that makes your hopes come alive again that the girls are going to show what they are made of. Three girls that swept the top prizes of the first Google Science Fair speak of their achievements. Watch it and be impressed.

I’m just hoping that their moms are the modern ones. The ones that have told their girls that they need not stand back because they happen to be girls. They can do anything they want. And they are equal citizens. Not slaves in the household. Not second fiddle in the work environment. They can do it! As well as anybody else. Go girls. I have high hopes for you.

What are you really selling?

It’s always an interesting question that needs asking and answering when in business. What are you really selling? Because at the end of the day every business sells something. Getting that right is probably the key to your success.

Can’t be that difficult surely? Actually it’s not that straight forward. I was reminded of that fact again reading about Apple which has hit the news quite a bit with Steve Jobs resigning due to ill health. Or that is what we imagine is the reason.

What is Apple selling? You can list the cool gadgets, the fabulous computers the amazing Air laptop and presume that Apple is selling technology. However, in an interesting article in the New York Times it seems more likely that Apple is in fact selling content. Media. And the gadgets that go with the media are just incidental.

Sure Apple is making money on the iPad, iPhone, iPod and the laptop range. But when all is said and done check out iTunes and the App Store and never mind the software that Apple sells for its gadgets and one realises that in fact Apple could be considered a publisher/seller of content rather than a technology company.

So Apple sells entertainment and educational content. Music, films, videos, podcasts, books! And TV? Watch this space as Apple makes itself felt in this area as well. And of course people need the gadgets to enjoy all of this.

And another thing, I use my iPhone more for watching TV series on than to phone with. Phoning? I use Skype.

So what are you selling? You might think you are selling a plumbing or a landscape service. But in both cases it’s something else. The plumber sells a clean and smell free house, the landscape designer sells aesthetics and value added to a property. Pampers is all about convenience. And fashion is about feeling good about yourself and not too much about actual clothes.

But going back to Apple. Amazing how the landscape has changed. Spotting the fact that people want access to the content they want to enjoy wherever they are, that’s the genius of Steve Jobs. Of course making cool toys to go with that is super genius.

Steve Jobs a visionary steps down

Steve Jobs has resigned as chief executive of Apple. As much as this has been anticipated due to Mr Jobs’ ill health it is still a shock to the technology and entertainment industry.

Yet can one truly attribute the success of a huge company such as Apple, profits of $7.3bn on revenues of $28.6bn and now valued higher than Microsoft (who would have ever thought that possible) to one single person?

Just one visionary?

It seems that this is true. One person is able to motivate thousands of workers, make his creative teams produce the most amazing stuff that people didn’t even know they wanted to buy in the millions of unit at a premium priced amount?

And yet it seems. Stories abound, and more will be told as his autobiography gets launched, about how his quest for ‘something awesome’ inspired his workers to deliver and how those who didn’t deliver didn’t stay around for much longer.

And perhaps this was a difficult company to work at. There was always the expectation to do much better than the market’s competitors. The pressure of hunting for the ultimate ‘cool’ idea and translating it into a well functioning reality is truly a heavy burden to carry.

But isn’t that what puts meaning to your life? A work for something that is fun, worthwhile, challenging yet ultimately achievable, applauded by people and admired by many. The ultimate high.

It’s the kind of work that people dream about one should think.

So where are these leaders in politics? Why do we not have a Steve Jobs as President of the United States? A visionary who can pull people together and get them to deliver on new things for people that they did not even know they wanted?

Quite frankly, there will be more folk out there mourning the departure of Steve Job from Apple than when Obama leaves the White House.

Smart phones set to empower people in Africa

In an interesting article in the Guardian a review is presented on the uptake of mobile phones in Africa. This isn’t entirely earth shattering news. The South African mobile phone operates have been operating in Africa for a while. What is interesting are the applications of this technology.

Besides the use of mobile phones for banking which I’ve commented on in a previous post quite a while ago, the smart phone use is also increasing with some great results.

In Uganda for instance the microfinance organisation Grameen has found a great use for smart phones. They have appointed community knowledge workers (CKWs), trained them up in the use of smart phones and have them moving around in their designated areas providing support to farming communities.

Relevant information is sent through to their phones. This might cover weather forecasts, farming conditions, information on best practices for crops, yields, market prices and much more.

The use of mobile phones is particularly relevant in an area where electricity supply is not a given. Computers are therefore not always an option. Smart phones can bridge that gap quite easily and are of course a lot more mobile.

In the meantime Grameen has trained up about 500 CKWs in 32 Ugandan districts reaching more than 20 000 households or more or less 100 000 people. And Grameen’s spokesperson says that they are aiming to reach a million.

Best kind of Aid there is. Empowering local people to help themselves by using a touch of technology to spread the word.

Steve Jobs announces the end of the PC during his Keynote speech

So daughter and boy-friend went off to the WWDC (Apple Developer Conference). They build aps for gadgets so its a work conference they are attending. Very clever children that I have.

Tickets were very expensive. Sold out in a few hours. The queue for the Keynote address extended around a few blocks. Daughter was number 1904 in the queue half way through the process. Can you imagine that? People standing in line for a sales pitch? How many times have you done that. Not often I would imagine.

But then Apple is not your average company. And people will queue up to hear what the latest and most awesome stuff will be that will cost a lot of money and that people will camp overnight for outside the stores the day before launch.

In a way it’s not really surprising that Steve Jobs, famous CEO, would announce the end of the PC in said keynote. This is the message coming from one of the inventors of the personal computer and the company that makes the amazing laptops and desktops to die for. And yes I’m biased, typing this on a MacBook Air. (show off I know)

And that’s what is so incredible about this company and why its immediate future is secure. They have moved their enterprise away from their core business knowing and of course instigating at the same time that the PC will be dead. Well, ok still used by graphic designers, film makers and anybody else who needs powerful computing capacity.

But remember the PC market has depended on the man in the street for its phenomenal growth. Now that part of the market is about to migrate onto a hand held device. And I’m not talking the Air laptop either.

Before any of you with monitors on steroids start yelling me down let me just give you an example. I’ve been on computers since 1981. Yip. Little IBM square box with strange looking monitor. Using DOS. I’ve been used to working on at least a 15ins monitor.

Yet it took me less than half a day to adapt to my new machine the 11ins MacBook Air. It was amazing. Migrating to smaller monitors is not going to be an issue. Eventually with the iCloud on the horizon content will be in cyberspace. Tools will be online or stacked on your hand held gadget.

Our own in-house entertainment and communications system carried in our handbag. Oh did I mention that my Air fits into my handbag? Yip, she does.

However, it’s not only the courage of Apple to work towards phasing out computers that is amazing. It’s also their focused attention to detail that makes them such a successful company. This article on their 10 year celebration in the retail business is an eye opener.

The anniversary poster in their shops discusses what they have learned. And the obsession to detail that the company has is amazing. That’s truly a sign of a company that knows how to do it. Watch, notice, improve repeat ad nauseam. That’s one of the characteristics of successful companies and Apple has it in bucket fulls.

Good-bye PC. Hello total mobility. Can’t wait.

Are Twitter and Facebook really a must for small businesses?

I have a problem with this push towards making everybody do the Twitter and Facebook thing. And this includes small businesses. There are many people who manage to live life fully without these two tools and the same applies to small businesses.

Especially for the small business owner, there is no time available to sit on Twitter sending out endless tweets. Keeping a Facebook page interesting and fresh requires a fair amount of time. Do you have it as an entrepreneur?

Actually no. In reality, just trying to keep your clients happy is about all you have time for. In fact as investments go, spending the time on focusing on the needs of your customers will give you a much higher return than sending out tweets on what you ate for breakfast or what you gave your mom on mother’s day.

And yes of course your tweets could be about your business as well.

At this stage the social media marketing expert will start to yell out the benefits of a powerful tribe on Twitter. Mmh. You see if you are close to your customer, you don’t actually need Twitter. Your customers will have the courage to deal with you direct. They won’t need to voice their opinion on Twitter because you are so inaccessible that they have to use a tool such as Twitter to air their grievances.

As with all new inventions there are always some evangelists who go totally nuts about the benefits of the thing that they are passionate about. In many cases, because they are so enthusiastic, they can’t actually see that their new favourite can possibly not be for everybody.

They might even think their solution is a universal one when in fact it might serve only a small market. Sure there are millions of Twitter and Facebook users. But don’t get blown over by the statistics. In many cases the Twitter account holders are in fact not active and the numbers that get bandied about are not accurate.

Facebook as well is in effect a photo sharing space. That’s what it has grown up to become. It is not necessarily a full on business support application but of course can be used most effectively by some. But not by everybody.

For the small business owner there are constant decisions to be made as to how to build the business, what to spend one’s hugely important time on and how to keep your customers happy.

In most cases Twitter or Facebook are not the route to take especially if your target market is not even social media savvy. If your target market is the older generation because you make false teeth, or walkers then you can be assured that Facebook is probably not going to work for you.

So when deciding on whether you should get yourself involved in social media don’t go with a knee-jerk reaction and head for it because there are so many people making a noise about it. Think hard as to whether you have the time available to do it properly. If not, stay away.

The computer is dead long live computing

New dev in computers in Japan

A few years ago I wrote a post on this blog stating that the computer as we know it is dead. And I got a lot of flack for that statement. But let’s fact it. It’s really only a matter of time before our fav gadgets start looking quite different to what we are used to.

In fact as development speeds up most of our toys and appliances, homes, life styles you name it will have changed immensely. Now we can all pretend that ain’t going to happen and keep our heads firmly in the sad. Or otherwise you could embrace it and have some serious fun.

Fun – head stuck in sand, fun – head stuck in sand. No brainer surely.

Computer developments in Japan show some exciting new stuff. Can’t wait for a new computer along those lines. Of course I really want it to work on my lap, but maybe they can bring out a mobile gadget that opens like a table. And perch the gadget on the ‘table’.

However they do this bring it on. As much as I love my Mac I am so sick and tired of a hot lap from the battery and now in Vietnam with the hot weather I have to constantly have a fan on me to cool the machine off. Lots of head colds follow that process. I’m ready to move…

Japanese developers with new computer gadgets.

I’m also loving other developments. My very ancient iPhone (yes I’m still using one of the first models to come out) takes quite nice pics. Good enough for my blogs.

And eventually, when the budget allows, I will migrate to whatever tablet is small enough and one which will allow me to phone, email, watch movies, take pics and video. One bit of technology to cover all requirements. Can’t wait. It’s coming. Watch this space.

So well done to Japanese developers for these cool advancements in the land of computing. Keep on going. It’s looking great.