A day in Warsaw

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The next morning, November 12, my flight to Warsaw was not only very early, but also departing from Frankfurt. And it is not fun to get up really early to try to beat the traffic, and the clock, in the Autobahn. I heard that you won’t really get a speeding ticket in the Autobahn. I sure as heck hope that is true, because I broke my speed record in a utility vehicle (my experience with supercars in closed circuits don’t count). And a red flashing light was fired as I sped by the radars at least three times… Ooopss.

The truth is that I should know better. In a drive of over two hours, speeding like a demon will only save you 6 minutes (I clocked it against the GPS initial estimate). So, c’mon, really? Am I going to risk my life and other people’s for 6 stupid minutes? I should know better. And I promise, just like I did when I had the motorcycle accident a few years ago, that my days of speeding are over. Maybe writing it here will help me keep that promise.

So I got to the airport in time, read the newspaper, pondered on how hideous and awful the Wall Street Journal is and how hard the Financial Times is trying to not be, and boarded my plane. That’s all I can remember. All of a sudden I was in Warsaw.

Warsaw has an excellent and affordable public bus that went from the airport to the city center, and you can pay with credit card. So while the taxis are not expensive (unless you board one of those “exclusive” ones), I decided to test it. Perfect.

I checked in at the Sofitel Victoria hotel, unpacked, took my laptop, and went to my meeting. The meeting went very well, but there was something uncanny about it.

I met one senior executive, one engineer, one sales exec, and one business development exec from a listed Polish technology company. They ranged widely in ages from an early fifties man to an early twenties woman. The uncanny part is that, with their differences in English level, background, age and even style, I could not, for the life of me, “read” their reactions, if they had any. I thought I was in Iceland!

After a long explanation they stared at me. Just like that. No clue what they were thinking. No clue how to proceed. The only reason that led me to believe that they understood what I was saying was that they spoke good English, and that once in a while they asked a relevant question. But boy was it hard to keep it “fluid”! And I mean no disrespect, at all. They were all nice. Particularly the very professional young woman, who tried hard to make sure everyone was engaged and who definitely made me feel welcome. But still, it was awkward. Maybe I was tired. After all I adapt very quickly to dealing with Arabs, Japanese, French or American business partners. Perhaps I was just tired. Did I say that twice? OK, tired it is.

So, let’s get an early dinner and go to sleep as soon as I can.

I “yelped” the surroundings of my hotel, and decided to go to a nearby traditional restaurant that was highly rated enough. I got there at 19:55h, requested a menu in English, which they did have, and proceeded to read the whole thing to make sure I ordered the most delicious option in the long list. 10 minutes later, I was ready, so I call the waitress, who informs me “sorry but the kitchen closed at 20:00h, only beer now”. Whaaaaat? “You have to be kidding me”, but I guess they don’t do “kidding” here.

Now I was annoyed, besides tired and hungry. It was very dark. And it was getting cold. Is that how one turns into a vampire?

I tried two more places, same thing: kitchen closed. Fr Xst shake! I know we Spaniards are a bit extreme having dinner minutes before midnight, but an 8:00pm cutout time, really?

In any case, I ended up in Caffé Nero, a very nice cafe with delicious quiches and cakes next to the University entrance. Their tea selection was so nice I felt like lounging there! But I had to return to the hotel as soon as possible, because, of course, the next day I had… you guessed it, another early morning flight.

A day in Vienna, a weekend in Valencia, a day in Barcelona, and two days in Stuttgart

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November 6, after an online demo to a customer in Colombia, a follow up call with business partners in London, and a call with some Swiss investors, I flew to Vienna.

150mph (240kmh) tail winds allowed us to arrive 40 minutes early, which is usually a good thing. But not always. “Red eye” flights are all night flights in which the best thing you can do is sleep. It’s not easy to sleep on a plane, with service and people going up and down, announcements, lights, and crying babies. But it is even harder if they cut an already pretty short flight (around 7 hours) by 40 minutes!

In any case, upon arrival, of course, it was raining, and I had to go straight to my meeting because I did not take the summer time change into account, and I had no time to waste (as a matter of fact, I arrived almost an hour late. Sorry again!!).

The best part, apart from the meeting which ended up being excellent, was binge taken for dinner to Weingut Mayer am Pfarrplatz (Beethoven’s historic house) where excellent conversation ensued, and then going to the famous Cafe Landtmann where, unfortunately, I spent most of the time talking on the phone with a customer in the USA instead of socializing with my gracious hosts.

Sometimes I hate time zones, although I have a potential business partner in Dubai who has been trying to arrange a call with me for weeks now, and due to my traveling and time zones, it has been unsuccessful so far. I bet you he hates them more than I do!

After a wonderful weekend in Valencia with my kids, and a quick meeting in Barcelona with Norwegian customers attending the Gartner IT Expo, I flew to Stuttgart.

A very thick fog, which I’m told it’s common in Stuttgart, welcomed me to this Southern German town. Before I left the airport I had another “welcome”: the rental car trying to over-charge me. Good thing my awesome travel agent will take care of all that.

Once in the car, I entered the destination address into the GPS, not paying attention to a slight difference in the street name. What’s up with these Germans and their 6 different streets spelled identically except for slight variations (haupt, main, etc)?

After drive through the very thick fog, long traffic jams, and heavy road construction, I arrived at what I thought it was my destination. But there was definitely no hotel in that cul-de-sac quaint destination. So I checked the address again, added the stupid “haupt” (I’m the stupid one, of course), double checked with my phone, and hit the Autobahn again. By the time I arrived, it was late. Again. Another night of less than ideal sleep. Great. If I keep accumulating sleep deficit, it could be dangerous. I need some sleep. But this email, and that call, and the overdue form to fill, and the planning of next morning’s meeting and… screw it, I am off to bed.

The next day I drove to Ehrling for a meeting at the big and shiny IBM Customer center. They have impressive facilities: telepresence rooms, a buffet cafeteria with all the ethnic options you can handle, screens everywhere… One anecdote: as I was delivering my presentation in a large meeting room, the blinds started to open. I thought that was going to let too much light and that would interfere with the projector, but before I could say anything, the blinds stopped. Apparently they have a luminosity sensor, and they detect when the projector is on, so they don’t let too much light, while making sure it’s not too dark. Cool.

I really tried to go to bed early, but dinner, driving and working (again) got in the way. Oh, well, I will sleep tomorrow on the plane. For a change. My “second bedroom”.

The Circumvention Tech Festival

November 4th I had a very interesting non-business meeting in New America NYC, 199 Lafayette (New York). I met Sandra Ordonez of OpenITP, one of the organizers of The Circumvention Tech Festival.

OpenITP is an American project that supports the software developers and communities that design and develop anti-surveillance and anti-censorship in the internet (“circumvention tools”), allowing citizens to communicate directly and freely in their own terms. Their objective is to identify opportunities to improve and increase the distribution of these tools.

Right now they are organizing the Circumvention Tech Festival, event that will bring the international anti-surveillance and anti-censorship community to Valencia (Spain) March 1-6, 2015. Developers, activists, journalists, citizens, NGOs and more joining forces.

The festival will consist of a week of conferences, workshops, hackathons, and social gatherings featuring many of the Internet Freedom community’s flagship events. It will also feature two community-run series – one in English and one in Spanish, as well as public events designed to familiarize the local Valencian community with FLOSS privacy and security tools and their communities.

Website in English: www.circumventionfestival.org

Website in Spanish: www.circumventionfestival.es

Would you like to contribute? They need:

  • Small donations to help pay for Internet infrastructure, coffee, evening events, and marketing materials
  • Companies that want to setup a table in our security & privacy expo
  • Bilingual volunteers that can help man the festival for a few hours a day
  • Spanish and English speakers, that want to give a talk, or organize a hackathon/workshop relating to the FLOSS security/privacy space

Don’t miss this amazing festival, and try to help in any way you can!

Meetings in New York: ICEX, IBM Research, and lawyers at Wilmerhale

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On Monday November 3rd, right after a call with a Frost & Sullivan analyst, I was invited to the seminar “Spain: Global Platform for International Business Investment”. The event took place in the evening at Jones Day’s headquarters. The usual suspects were there, all in their dark suits and ties. The usual message was there too “Spain is a great place to invest, the government has taken the right steps and now things are finally looking up”. The usual BS crap. So, since there was not much new going on, I shook hands, met the one company I wanted to meet, and left before the event even started, taking some pictures of the grand dame of NY (the Chrysler Building, of course) on the way.

November 4th was a busy day. First I met with some IBM Research scientists at IBM offices in 590 Madison Avenue. It was very interesting, but given the nature of the meeting, and NDA agreements, I prefer not to mention anything about it. I already got in trouble once for posting information that, although in IBM’s website already, was under NDA.

After that meeting, and a quick stop at the office in SoHo (with a pit stop at Pearl River Market to buy Moroheiya green noodles and furakake), I went to New America NYC to meet Sandra from OpenITP. More about that in another post.

On my way to my next meeting I had time to stop at Takahachi bakery. Yum!

That last meeting of the day took place at 7 World Trade Center (one of the brand new towers substituting the attacked – albeit “by whom” remains a debatable question –Twin Towers), on the 45th floor, with amazing views.

It was at the NY office of renowned law firm Wilmerhale. We met to discuss my legal options regarding some corporate move. Another “still secret” corporate information, sorry. I’m having a blast with this sweet moment, and I wish I could share it. All will be revealed in due course. The only part of the meeting I can talk about here and now was the Telepresence Room we used to connect with their Palo Alto office. It was one of those very fancy and expensive Cisco set ups, where Cisco provides everything, even the chairs, at a ridiculously high price. They even throw in a “free“ T1 line! No wonder the image and sound quality is amazing. It truly is “the best thing to being there”.

It was interesting to see the difference between the NY lawyer (dark suit and tie) sitting on my left, and his Palo Alto counterpart (plain shirt and sports vest) speaking from a life-size screen image.

After the very interesting meeting I left feeling I was in good (and extremely expensive) hands.

A few days in Lima and Bogota

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LIMA October 26-30

After the nice weekend in New York I met with my friend and workmate Alvaro in Lima.

Following the advice of our friend Jose Carlos, who lives there, we stayed at the NM Lima Hotel, and it was the right choice, with a great quality / price and location. Perhaps the modern decor does not always work, but it’s nice the effort they have put into it. Although Halloween was just around the corner, the fake spider net in the lift required us to bend down every time we used it.

Of course the highlight of Lima is always gastronomy. Starting with the simple Punta Sal where we went upon arrival to eat ceviche, tiraditos, chicha morada and cherimoya delight, the truth is that we enjoyed like children.

In the evening I went with Alvaro to Lima 27. Beautiful architecture and interesting decor, with amazing food that we ate in the terrace. Not easy to describe with words, but through photos and descriptions you get the idea: lobster carpaccio with truffles, scallops (the most incredibly delicious that I’ve tried in my life) with mushroom sauce, etc.

Next day Alvaro went out with his friends in Lima, and I went to dinner with Jose Carlos and Germán, another friend who had just arrived from Chile. This time we went to the Japanese restaurant Hanzo.

Lima has the second largest Japanese settlement in the world, outside Japan, after Sao Paulo, which is why the Japanese restaurants in Lima are usually good. This is no exception. Although the menu is not very original, the quality of the dishes is amazing. Even the architecture is very interesting.

The last day we went to eat with Jose Carlos to Bravo. And “¡bravo!” they deserve. Great quinoa with tuna and Amazonian fish with thick sauce. The dessert we shared: cherimoya, mango sorbet and chocolate pearls, was gone in a second.

At night Alvaro and I went to Tanta, by the most famous Peruvian chef: Gaston Curio. Although it is a “simple” place, with a menu that includes “sanguiches” (sandwiches), the truth is that everything was very delicious, including my fish stuffed with seafood and rice.

Special mention: the fresh, natural juices we enjoyed everywhere, one of my weaknesses. In Lima they are surprised that almost everywhere else in the world we have to turn most of the time to bottled juice, but not everyone is fortunate enough to have such delicious fruits growing in their backyard!

Lest it be said, it was not all culinary tourism. We also worked: meetings in Oracle, the National Telemedicine Center, the first genome sequencing project in Peru, or the renewal of the largest medical imaging outsourcing contract in Latin America.

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BOGOTA October 30-November 1

Bogota is not nearly as violent and scary as it was years ago. Mexico or Caracas have overtaken Colombia as a scarier destination. But when the first thing you see upon arriving in your hotel is a bullet impact in the front door, it brings you back memories of scarier times.

Even weirder was the fact that Bogotanos seem to get so much into the halloween spirit: everybody had dressed up for it. To the point where I had a business meeting with a tech company in a glass office building, and was greeted by a “vampire-policewoman” who led me to the office of the CEO who was dressed as “Chucky-meets-Frankenstein”, with full facial makeup and blood-stained rubber ax included. It was not easy to maintain my concentration and business tone, to say the least.

Back in the infamous hotel, chosen purely by location and not quality, I was moved to another room because of a plumbing problem, which also got rid of the incredible noise, since the first room had a window that did not close and the second one had a window that did not open.

But location was truly convenient for our work, with the added bonus of being really close to the Javeriana University, which meant a very young and hip vibe and a plethora of really affordable places to eat; we’re talking 3.5 euros lunch including two dishes, freshly squeezed fruit juice, and dessert.

Nevertheless, the best meal we had was at a very interesting (although slightly “hipster”) and inventive restaurant nearby: El Ciervo y el Oso. ”Ciervo” (“deer” in Spanish) for vegetarian menu, and “Oso” (“bear” in Spanish) for carnivorous menu. Ha!

Pina Bausch dance company at the Howard Gilman Opera House Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM)

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Between my trip to Mexico and the next one to Peru and Colombia, I spent a weekend in New York, and took the opportunity to go with my wife and her ex-husband to see “Kontakthof” by Pina Bausch dance company at the Howard Gilman Opera House Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM).

Before the show we went to a South African restaurant in Brooklyn called Madiba. Interesting mix of flavors and decor, great seafood imported directly from Mozambique, rustic atmosphere and somewhat “hipster” but not too much despite being in Brooklyn.

The performance did not disappoint me, because since I saw the documentary “Pina” I have been a fan of her choreography. The group is very heterogeneous, and solid, and the varied and interesting performance, with moments of humor (which aroused reactions of “simplistic and reactive” absurd hilarity from the crowd) and moments of great tension as it reflected sexual abuse or body objectification of women by men.

Although it can be said that the choreography (let me call it “script” for its obvious figurative component) bears the passage of time, since it was created decades ago, as usual it is in the details where the voice of the author is, a window into her inner world, beyond social commentary that a superficial glance reveals. From the “deviant” character to the subtly different reaction (unconscious, natural, or rehearsed?) of each female dancer against male harassment, if we pay attention and go beyond the absurd (like the “ducks projection”) or the interesting but obvious multilingual broken stories, we find the richness and depth that elevate the play to the status of a masterpiece.

Wearable review: Withings Pulse Ox, WS-30 WiFi scale, and Blood Pressure Monitor

Due to the launch of the biosensors module for my company’s medical imaging and data solution a few days ago, the Withings company sent me a biosensor (wearable) Withings Pulse Ox, manometer BPM and WiFi WS-30 scale for testing and integration tests ahead of some national projects we are about to sign in London and Santiago de Chile.

All three came in luxury packaging, and were relatively easy to connect and set up, at least for a “tinkerer” (there are people who gets annoyed if I use “hacker” as a synonym, although it is) like me.

The WS-30 scale is connected via WiFi, and sends the weight and BMI, either to the “cloud” or to another application (data accessible via API) and synchronizes it with the phone, either Apple’s iOS or Android, as in my case, by its own application or connection with third-party applications.

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The BPM blood pressure cuff is one of those devices that doctors place around a patients’ arm and inflate to measure blood pressure. In this case it’s the same, but driven by a phone, and measurements are wirelessly synchronized as explained above in the case of  the scale, but there is also the option of using a USB cable.

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Finally, the Pulse Ox is a “bracelet-type” or “clock” device showing (depending on configuration) with each press of its single button: day / time, blood oxygen level (SpO2) and pulse, quantity and quality of sleep, steps, distance and elevation. It’s really light and comfortable to wear, easy to use, and I like its design.

Pulse Ox

These are certainly excellent devices, and I really appreciate them opening access to the data, unlike others (like Basis).

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I shall not comment on the benefits and dangers of this “quantify-self” trend to quantify all personal activities (although in my case I do it for work and aim to provide data and monitoring to certain patients in a simple, integrated mode). What is certain is that with the “internet of things” (IoT) there is no escape from this trend of quantifying that some denounce as “reductionist” or “dehumanizing”, while others see as a panacea to solve all kinds of problems. I prefer to focus my efforts in trying to make sure that if it has to happen, it is an open, integrated, interoperable, and privacy-safeguarded accessible way. And that’s what I’m working on (or rather my great team of developers).

The market for these devices is growing at full speed, although they are not exactly cheap (yet). Each has advantages and disadvantages. From Intel to Apple through Nike and Samsung, many multinationals are betting that soon everyone will wear a device like these in one form or another, even in the fabric of their shirt. The last to arrive is the last one I expected, specially since they seem to have done it so well: Microsoft, with its “Band”, which not only provides connection from iOS devices, Android, or Windows Mobile of course, but also has advanced sensors like constant pulse reading or GPS.

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This is getting interesting!

Several days in Mexico

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After such a nice weekend, I returned to my usual travel pace. This time the first stop was Mexico.

My friends, in addition to distributors, “the Germinales” (three generations with the same name), treated me extremely well, inviting me to great restaurants, and taking care of everything from transportation to bills. It is a pleasure doing business with them because they understand the human aspect which we often tend to forget, including myself.

The first day Germinal “senior” picked me up from the airport and took me straight to eat at a restaurant called “El Sabor del Tiempo”. Very genuine and traditional. Although we asked the “mesero” to recommend non-spicy(hot) dishes, he served us a very spicy but delicious roast. Though I suppose the food in Southeast Asia has hardened me, because I was able to finish it and Germinal did not;)

At this meal he told me about the book “Los Señores del Narco“, which details, with figures and document evidence, the close relationship between Mexican drug traffickers and politicians, and other countries for decades. Germinal told me that he witnessed, when he built hospitals in the Sierra, 40 years ago, the drug flights aided by the military, whom even loaded the aircraft with drugs. And having seen that, when he read about it in the book he realized that it is an extremely detailed and accurate research. So I’ve already ordered it and will be my next read after finishing the Wittgenstein book I’m reading, not enjoying, now.

Violence and crime are unfortunately common in Mexico and monopolize the social debate. And no wonder: in the few days I was there I heard so many cases of corruption and violence that mad eme sick. In fact people are tired of it, and there are constant demonstrations that block traffic in downtown Mexico City, but of course, necessary as they are, it will not change anything.

Speaking of traffic, it is spectacular to see and transit through the “raised” toll road bridges in several levels (at a point I counted up to 5 levels) above the constant traffic jam that is Mexico City. These elevated toll roads under concession to companies like the OHL consortium, allow those who can afford it, to drive at a sufficient speed and avoid the despair “hell” below. Very “Dantesque” with all those levels. By the way I noticed that selling electronic passes is done by people walking in the highway entrance with moving vehicles, providing the passes and charging them through the window.

Other curious “asphalt settlers” are the “organ players”, which in some cases pay the police to modify the the traffic light and have more time to do business soliciting coins, not because of the music with which they “delight” (or more like “punish”) the drivers at traffic lights, but the feat that it is to keep these ancient organs working, and to lug them around town every day.

The most memorable meal was certainly in San Angel Inn, a beautiful “hacienda” (there are not that many left in the city) which included ant larvae, not “eggs”, because as Germinal Jr. said “imagine what it would take to pull the ants by their antennae in order to extract the eggs”. Then I took a seasonal dish “stuffed peppers with nutmeg and pomegranate sauce”; and for dessert, “nun’s farts” (meringue with cream and berries, which by the way Mexico is the largest producer in the world), a name that offended the lady we had next to our table, but not so much as to prevent her from ordering the dish herself.

That afternoon we went to the Central Military Hospital, where I was told that “no jokes here”: the mere injury to a military policeman carries a sentence of nine months in jail! No wonder everything was new, shiny, and very organized.

The next day I went to a meeting at IBM Mexico, located in a building that looks like a bunker in an area called Santa Fe. Interesting area that used to be the dumping ground for the city and now houses huge glass buildings, headquarters of multinationals and residences of “people who want to look like they are rich but can not even pay the rental fee” as a Mexican friend said.

The last day, after an early and very interesting business meeting with Germ again, on our way to the airport, he took me to the Swiss Pastry House, recently bought by a Catalan couple. Of course now they make great Catalan sweets, and since it was “the day of the dead”, they had a great commemorative assortment, like “altars” (apparently the day of the dead people go to the cemetery taking the favorite food and drink of their dead, and eat and drink away in a night of celebration) or Catrinas (elegantly dressed female skeletons common in Mexican popular iconography). There I was treated to some typical Catalonian sweets for my in-laws, who were still in my apartment in Manhattan before returning to Canada, to taste.

Then they took me to the airport. On the way I was told that despite being new, the terminal collapsed, so there is a ramp (downwards on arrival, climb on departure).

After lunch at a Spanish restaurant in the airport, I went to the gate without going through passport control, just that name checking with boarding pass they do before security. Amazing, especially for a country with so much violence that even have “Secure Taxis”, yet they warn you that sometimes even secure taxis are not even secure.

Well, because of business, before leaving Mexico I was already coordinating the date of my next visit in late November.

¡Hasta la vista, amigos!

Nice weekend in New York with my in-laws

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Three weeks ago I enjoyed a nice week at home in New York. My in-laws came to visit from Canada, and my wife took the opportunity to try new recipes using some very fresh ingredients bought in the weekend-only Farmer’s Market just around the corner, on 23rd st in Chelsea. Despite being small, they seem to carry everything, even “tea champagne” (fermented kombucha with ginger).

From polenta with swiss chards and mushrooms, to homemade apple pie (New Yorkers know their apples: whenever you can, try the “honey crisp”, you won’t regret it), it’s a real pleasure to enjoy such delicious and healthy dishes.

Taking advantage of the last days of nice weather we also went to the American Museum of Natural History, in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. I never get tired of that museum, and always learn new things there. This time the most shocking display allowed us to look at a recent extinction in the face: “Lonesome George”, the last tortoise of its species, from Galapagos, was in display as a reminder of the number of species that we are destroying in our blind rush of unsustainable consumerism.

I also discovered the inspiring words of Theodore Roosevelt inscribed at the entrance of the museum. I especially liked the “Manhood” one (see photo).