My new OnePlus One phone is amazing

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I have just bought a OnePlus One phone, and have been using it for a couple of days. Let me tell you: it’s AMAZING.

If you have never heard of the company, don’t worry, you’re not alone. But you should definitely check it out, because their phones are incredibly high quality, high specs, and low price (mine was $349). No catch:

  • Qualcomm© Snapdragon™ 801 processor with 2.5GHz Quad-core CPUs
  • Adreno 330 GPU, 578MHz
  • 64 GB eMMC 5.0
  • 3 GB LP-DDR3 RAM, 1866MHz
  • global 4G LTE
  • NFC5.5″ 1080p display
  • 13 megapixel 6 lens camera
  • Tri-microphone with noise cancellation

I decided to get one of these because my Samsung Galaxy S II was getting old, and I wanted to go from the limited stock Android, full of my cell carrier’s bloatware, to a more open and free Cyanogen Mod (11S), which will also allow me to experiment with advanced cell cryptography.

Purchasing one of these phones is not that easy. I guess they want to control the huge demand they are experiencing. But I got an invitation, so I decided to use it ;-)

Upon receiving the package I felt something I had not feel since the first iPhone: like a fan-boy. Sorry Apple, you lost your touch long time ago, and many of us just despise how you do not care about user’s rights and freedoms.

OnePlus has put a lot of care in every detail. And after a couple of days of spending too much time using the phone (who wouldn’t?) I must say even the batter life is amazing!

AWESOME JOB, OnePlus guys!

Meeting at Dell Solution Center in New York

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Last Thursday I met with executives from Dell in the Dell Solution Center in New York to explore potential collaborations between my company and Dell.

Funny how large companies have adopted this system of offices / “solution” centers to make presentations to clients spread across major cities in the world. With telecommuting gaining ground but face to face still being something fundamental in business, it makes much more sense than it seems.

Spain – U.S. Chamber of Commerce Reception

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Last Wednesday I was invited to attend a reception honoring the new Chairman of the Spain – U.S. Chamber of Commerce, retired Ambassador Alan D. Solomon, at Hunton & Williams.

Located at 200 Park Avenue, NY – Met Life building, floor 52 (if I remember correctly) the views were outstanding.

It was definitely a “business attire” reception, with everyone wearing a suit, and only a couple of us “daring” not to wear a tie. It cracks me up.

Most of the major Spanish companies were represented, and I had a chance to ask Inaki Berenger for a recommendation for a good investment bank (thanks Inaki!), to catch up with friends like Alejandro Cremades, and to listen to the excellent and funny speech by Mr. Solomon, who I am sure will be a great Chairman of the Chamber.

In Lisbon, London, Valencia and Paris

I was in Lisbon, London, Valencia, and Paris for a day each last week, including flights, and meetings, so too short for individual long blog posts… or even picture galleries!

Some of the anecdotes in those trips:

– My flight to Lisbon was delayed 2:05h. The airline, TAP-Portugalia, tried really hard to departure 1:55h late at most, since after two hours delay they have to compensate passengers monetarily. But they couldn’t make it. I wonder how many affected passengers will actually file a claim and follow through.

In any case, that delay jeopardized my meeting schedule, but I was finally able to pull it through, including a nice lunch with the President of IBM Portugal (in other countries they are called “Country Manager”, but not in Portugal), in the private executive dining room.

– In London I tweeted this true story:

I was surprised at the airport hotel trying to be really hip. Nothing wrong with it, but they fell short of the coveted “cool” level.

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I did enjoy a nice walk along the Thames river, in the South Bank area, near the National Theater. I wish I had more time to explore the used books pop-up market there.

– In Valencia I enjoyed two wonderful weekends with my family. I know every parent thinks their children are special, but every second I spend with mine is a real treasure. Some highlights? Trekking up the mountain, doing a “photographic safari” in my parent’s backyard, and the fact that my wife flew all the way from New York just to spend the weekend with us! She’s wonderful.

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– In Paris I also had to rush, arriving in Orly airport early in the morning, meeting one of our business partners in central Paris, having a quick lunch with my mother and nephew across the street from Palais Garnier Opera House, and flying with my wife out of Charles De Gaulle airport.

We expected heavy security, and long lines, considering the Air France pilot’s strike had just been called off, and the heightened security alert level, but there was none of that! It was, as a matter of fact, one of the easiest and most pleasant check-in / security check / boarding processes in the whole trip.

And now, finally, back in New York, for a couple of weeks at least!

I was forced to hack into Schiphol Airport wifi

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A couple weeks ago I was at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. Of course, when I arrive in an airport with enough time ahead of my boarding, I look for a plug and wifi. Luckily Schiphol is an excellent airport, offering both. The only problem is that every time I clicked on the “Enjoy unlimited free wifi – Connect” button, I got an “Unknown error 0″ message back.

Don’t tell me “Enjoy unlimited free wifi” and then try to prevent me from accessing it. That is cruel and just wrong. I was told to “Enjoy unlimited free wifi”, so I had to. To celebrate Free Software Day, you know.

I looked into the code, and saw an error. But luckily I also saw the way to by-pass it. All you have to do is to manually enter the correct URL, select the “Internet Voucher” option, and enter “schipholfreaccess” in both the ID and password fields (and accept the conditions). It will not give you an access screen, but you will be able to “Enjoy unlimited free wifi”.

Who said hackers are not obedient?

;-p

In The Netherlands: Utrecht and Amsterdam

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As soon as I arrived in Utrecht, Diederik took me to a lunch at a very nice restaurant, inside an industrial complex: Zuiver. Both him and the waiter suggested the smoked eel salad, and I must agree, it was delicious.
Then, after a couple of very interesting meetings, he took me to dinner to another very nice restaurant, this time in the colorful and very touristy Red Light District: ANNA, where we had pre-appetizer, appetizer, main course, pre-dessert, and dessert.

Back in the hotel room, I found this interesting “no weed smoking allowed in the room” notice:

The next day I had a meeting at IBM Netherlands. The surprise came after the meeting: outdoors BBQ party, with DJ!

The best thing was that I finally had a chance to try one of the culinary creations of IBM’s Watson Cognitive Computer. It was a “Bengali Butternut BBQ Sauce”. It was definitely different, and delicious. Apparently I was not the only one who liked it!

Milan and Rome

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On Monday September 15 I flew from New York to Milan, and went straight to a business meeting. From there I took the train to Rome. Although I was quite tired upon arrival, I had to stay awake until it was “local time to go to bed” to avoid jet-lag, so I took a stroll through the Piazza della Repubblica, where I had a Panini di melanzana e mozzarella, and Piazza Santa Maria Maggiore, where I had a Gelato di canoli (yes, canoli flavor, not a canoli).

The next day, after my meeting, I took the Leonardo Express to Rome’s airport, now called Leonardo da Vinci. The train ticket is €14, but beware of the “hidden fine”! Let me tell you what happened to me, so you can avoid the trap when you attempt to do the same:
I bought the train ticket from the automatic ticket dispenser in the station. I used my credit card, and the machine made me choose the train. I chose one with 20 minutes, plenty of time to go to the tracks and board. The first odd thing is that they only show the track of the Leonardo Express two minutes before it departs, but since it always departs from the same, unmarked, track, or so I learned later, you can go to that track (I believe it is number 22) without waiting for the display to tell you so.
At NO point I was told, by the machine or signs that were sufficiently visible, or in English (or even Italian, since I can speak basic Italian), that I had to “cancel” (or machine-stamp) the ticket.
So I boarded the train, and just as we were arriving into the airport, the conductor showed up, and asked for my ticket. I did present it, and here is the absurd dialog that ensued:

– Sir, you did not “cancel” the ticket, you have to pay a €50 fine.
– Excuse me? I just bought the ticket, I paid with my credit card, here is the receipt.
– Yes, but you did not “cancel” the ticket. The fine is €50.
– How was I supposed to know this? I saw no signs, and this is a train used mostly by tourist, so you can’t expect local customs and regulations to be known without indication.
– I’m sure they put a sign somewhere, anyway you have to pay €50.
– OK, let’s think about this for a second: the reason why some train tickets have to be time-stamped, or “cancelled” as you call it, is because they are open, and therefore time-stamping avoids a second use. But this train company has conductors to “cancel” the tickets on board. Besides, the machine made me choose a time, so I did not buy an open ticket, so why the need to cancel it?
– Because if you don’t cancel the ticket, the gates at the airport will not open. – By then we had arrived to the airport, and everybody was leaving the train –
– OK, if that is the problem, then let me talk to the station manager.

She scribbled something on the ticket, pierced FOUR holes through it, and left, quite disappointed that she did not collect the “let’s abuse the unsuspecting tourist” tax.

When exiting the platform I saw the automatic gates through which passengers had to go, by scanning their ticket. But I also saw one with a station employee, checking tickets manually and opening the gate. So I walked toward him, in order to explain, or request an explanation. But then I thought: “when in Rome…”. How would a contemporary Roman citizen handle this? I timed my steps right, put my thumb over the scribble, and walked right past the employee and open gate. No questions, no explanations, no wasted time, and no €50 fine.
Arrivederci!

In Singapore, day 3: Makansutra Gluttons Bay

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So much traveling, flying, walking, sitting and time zone changes make your body ache, so some exercise is absolutely necessary. In my case, I try to book hotels with swimming pool, so I can swim. In the case of Singapore, given the year round mild climate, I felt like swimming in the outdoors swimming pool to start my third day.

I spent most of the day working, meeting with potential customers. But I had reserved the best for last.

My wife, who by the way was back from her weekend in the Caribbean (I’m not the only one who works hard and “has to endure” tough trips), had sent me this article about Singapore’s street food hawker centers. Although long, it is completely worth reading:
http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2007/09/03/three-chopsticks

So I decided I had to try those. And I went straight to the most famous one: Makansutra Gluttons Bay. Awesome!
In a corner by the Esplanade Theaters and Mall, there is a small stretch with a dozen street food vendors and tables. Do not expect luxury: the trays, plates and silverware are made of plastic, the tables, many of them “comunal”, and chairs are of the most basic variety, and you even have to ask for paper napkins. Do not expect crowd sophistication: a mix of, ay 75% locals and 25% tourists, in jeans and t-shirts. But, we were all there for one thing only: the food. And food they serve you. Incredibly delicious and exquisite food.

While the prices are not dirt cheap, most dishes are a few dollars, so anyone can enjoy a feast. But the key is the variety and gourmet level of the food. I had a seriously hard time choosing, even taking into account that I do not like spicy food, which rules out roughly half of the offering. Still, here is what I had, after much walking up and down, and asking questions:

  • From the Gluttons Bar: coconut and lime juice first, then barley lime.
  • From Old Satay Club: Indian veal crepes (instead of their famous Mee Goreng). Very tender, soft and delicate, with a rich and creamy sauce that apparently they cook for 8 hours with a mix of many spices. Finger-licking good.
  • From Huat Huat: White Carrot Cake (instead of their signature 10 hour BBQ Chicken Wings). It was neither white (rather yellow), nor carrot (it had eggs, spices, seafood, and many other things, but no carrot), nor cake (more like a fancy omelette). But delicious nonetheless.
  • From Thai Yummy Food: lobster balls, and mango green sticky rice with coconut cream. Sweet and surprisingly rich and delicious.
  • From the Sweet Spot: I had to, I must have a duran dessert. So I did. Even although it was covered in ice-cream, with chunks of mango and jelly, the incredibly strong odor of the duran was very obtrusively in your face. While the texture is very tender, the flavor is not mild either. As a matter of fact, I had to endure the aftertaste for over two days! But, mission accomplished.

With my stomach recklessly full, and my taste buds totally excited, I returned to the hotel taking a nice long walk, and admitting that Singapore’s fame as a foodie paradise is very well deserved.

One more food surprise was waiting for me at the last minute: the day of my departure, the flight was SO early that the hotel did not have the breakfast buffet open yet, so I decided to take a quick bite at the airport. Since most places were closed at the airport’s food stall, I had no choice but to go to Hong Kong Sheng Kee Dessert. Lucky me! I had wonderful buns (one filled with “sweet yolk” and the other one with black sesame “mud”) and an osmantius and aloevera drink. The perfect way to end an amazing trip.

Since I might return for my business, here are some places and things to do to keep in mind:

Singapore’s colonial heritage at and around the grassy Padang (an open field in the heart of downtown), starting from Raffles Hotel and ending up at nearby Boat Quay or Clifford Pier; an after-dark stroll through Club Street; a walk down Little India’s Serangoon Road and Mustafa Centre; perusing hip shops and cafes along Arab Street; visiting some flea market (like Zouk flea & easy, Flea Fly Flo Fun, or MAAO Marketlive); jazz at Harry’s; live blues at the Crazy Elephant; all night beach parties on Sentosa Island (if I go with my wife); eating black pepper crabs at the East Coast Seafood Centre; juicy Kobe steaks at CUT by Wolfgang Puck; sushi at Shinji by Kanesaka; exquisite Chinese fare at Summer Pavilion Restaurant; an Indian feast at Rang Mahal; dining in a classic black-and-white colonial bungalow at P.S. Cafe at Harding Road; and of course, more outdoor hawker centers!

Singapore wacky laws

During this trip I have gotten to understand Singapore’s unique history, multicultural – and even more importantly, multi-religion – composition, and political background, better, which leads to an uncommon legislative history and social regulation needs. Having said that, there is a souvenir industry revolving around Singapore’s wacky laws. From mugs to magnets, from t-shirts to shot glasses, all kind of mementos make fun of these fines, that have earned Singapore “the FINE city” nickname:

  • Giving a public speech: $2,000
  • Skateboarding: $500
  • Possession of pornography: $500. Note: even being naked in your own house or hotel room, if visible from the outside, could be considered “pornography”!
  • Smoking: $500
  • Littering: $1,000 first conviction, $5,000 and community labor second conviction
  • Not flushing the toilet: $150
  • Dancing without license: $5,000
  • Urinating in elevators: $1,000
  • Chewing gum: $1,000
  • Graffiti: caning and jail
  • Hugging in public without permission of the other person: fine and possible jail
  • Criticizing religion = sedition!
  • Introducing a stranger as your good friend and speak well of him on false grounds = abetment
  • Connecting on unsecured Wi-Fi hotspots = hacking
  • Oral and anal sex was illegal until 2007 unless it lead to vaginal sexual intercourse!
  • Homosexual relations (even in private) = 2 years in jail

In Singapore, day 2: Suntec City, Din Tai Fung, Gardens by the Bay, and Marina Sands Bay

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In the morning I had a business meeting with Dr. Ho at Suntec City, (home of the world largest HD screen), where I also attended the Medical Asia trade show. It wasn’t easy to get there, because the Formula 1 preparations had many streets closed to pedestrians, so I had to navigate my way around a maze of hotels and shopping malls. In one of them, the Marina Square, I saw a Mr. Bean’s Teddy & Me theme restaurant, and a few steps later a store clerk that looked exactly like Eva Mendes in her early twenties tried to flirt with me. Quite a surreal morning.

The meeting with Dr. Ho went well, but the trade show was quite weak, so by the afternoon, I had covered every single exhibitor.

The first thing I did before going anywhere else was have lunch at a landmark restaurant: Din Tai Fung. No wonder it has a Michelin Star and made it to the New York Times top 10 chain restaurants in the world. Their Xiao Long Bao was absolutely exquisite. The problem with tasting such delicacies is that now I am spoiled, and will not be satisfied with any less than the famous 18-folds.

After that delicious lunch, I crossed the Helix Bridge, going past the lotus shaped and oddly named Art Science Museum, through the Marina Bay Sands, straight into Gardens by the Bay.

Costing over S$1 billion, it which looks like something out of a science fiction movie. The Bay Garden South section features 18 striking “supertrees,” which are tall constructions made of steel and concrete modeled after giant mammoth trees that are illuminated at night. Twice a day the play a music/lights show (“Supertree Rhapsody” I believe they called it) that is worth watching. I caught mine at 20:45h.

An aerial walkway connects the two biggest trees. The IndoChine restaurant is located on top of the tallest tree, which is 164 ft/50 m high. Some of these trees produce electricity with solar cells. They serve as vertical gardens, but they also ventilate and irrigate the gigantic state-of-the-art conservatories housing 220,000 plants from endangered habitats.

The Flower Dome has plants that grow in temperate Mediterranean and subtropical climate zones, while the Cloud Forest recreates a cool mountain forest of the tropics including an artificial cloud mountain with a 115-ft/35-m waterfall. One can’t help but wonder if, very soon, we will be talking about nature in past tense, and visiting artificial domes to be able to experience “wonders from the past” like flowers or animals.

Four Heritage Gardens feature Chinese, Indian, Malay and Colonial Gardens surrounding the Supertree Grove at the northwestern corner.

Striking as it is when you first see it, it is even more spectacular if it’s dark when you leave, and look back.

Before leaving for Singapore, I asked fellow NY expat Iñaki Berenguer, who goes to Singapore often, for suggestions: “Lo que no te puedes perder es subir arriba del hotel que tiene el barco en la azotea (marina sands bay) y tomar un drink mientras ves las vistas” (“You can’t miss going on top of the hotel with the boat on top (marina sands bay) and have a drink while enjoying the views”) he told me.

Obvious as that sounds, he’s absolutely right. The view is breathtaking, and the atmosphere is not as touristy as one would imagine. Or perhaps it’s the fact that there are so many expats in Singapore that rarely anyone seems like a tourist any more.

Before calling it a day, I watched the cheesy but cute nightly water and light show by the bay. Perhaps an even more interesting “show” were the luxury cars parked in front of hotels: a constant display of excess, a reminder of the socioeconomic differences that are prevalent in the whole world, and rapidly becoming extremely apparent in SE Asia.