Very interesting insights from the UBS Forum 2017

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Yesterday Giles and Magda invited me to attend the annual UBS Forum at the beautiful Rosewood Hotel, one of those hotels in a renovated palace in the heart of London, with a resident dog.

Held in major financial cities across Europe, the UBS Forum is presented under the banner “sharper opinions – smarter decisions”, where UBS specialists and external experts provide insights on key topics. This years’ speakers and topics were:

  • Jamie Broderick, CEO, UBS Wealth Management UK; and David Rowe, Managing Director, UBS Wealth Management: “Global and UK economic outlook for 2017 and beyond”
  • Paul Donovan, Chief Global Economist, UBS Wealth Management; and Caroline Simmons, Deputy-head, Investment Office, UK, UBS Wealth Management: “where the investment opportunities lie in 2017 and beyond”
  • Paul Craven, former Goldman turned behavioral economist: “the Status Quo bias and why people default to doing nothing and/or not changing” and “the loser’s game”
  • Tim Kent-Robinson, Head of Client Investment Specialists, UBS Wealth Management: “Implementing the House View”

There was also a Panel discussion and Audience Q&A, facilitated by a “clicker” with which the audience voted on several issues. Surprisingly enough the majority of the audience was in agreement with Theresa May’s handling of Brexit, even though they said it would damage the UK’s interests. Talk about Status Quo bias!! Definitely, the UK is the land of unquestioned Status Quo.

Here are some of the most interesting takeaway points and quotes I wrote down:

  • UBS has a cool simulator: “The end game? You have just been appointed as all-commanding leader of a major country. You have control over the monetary, fiscal, and foreign policy of your country.”

  • The “Risks” (last) slide in the presentations was choke full of tiny print and was displayed for 3 seconds

  • A Mexican car exported to the USA has crossed the border over 20 times before ever reaching the end-consumer

  • The 2008 financial crisis took away credit -> Without credit income inequality rises and consumption drops -> creating a shift from “economics of aspiration” to “economics of envy” (“your neighbor buys a car, you buy a car… it does not matter if your neighbor paid cash and you took a loan”, but what if you can’t get a loan?) -> leading to resentment which leads to populism

  • Domestic investors understand local politics better, therefore reacting more calmly to political uncertainty

  • “If you give money to an American, they will spend it”

  • “China will grow 6.25% to 6.5%. Why? Because President Jinping wants that”

  • The FTSE return last year was 17%, BUT if you take out the best performing 5 days, then it was only 1%

  • “Nationalism, prejudice and discrimination leads to inefficient markets and the waste of perfectly good human capital which leads to less growth and economic damage” (SIC, but wake up: that’s how they see you)

  • The Loser’s Game is an old research paper, but completely worth reading it

  • Prospect Theory: Potential gains encourage risk aversion, potential losses encourage DOUBLE risk taking

  • An amazing Status Quo bias example is the reason behind Europe’s “two levels” of organ donations

  • An amazing example of the Decoy Effect or Anchoring Effect is The Economist subscriptions options (number 6 in this list)

  • If you think you are in control (the “driver of the elephant”), check out the Jastrow Illusion

This Revolution needs a Revolution

Yesterday I went with my wife and son to visit the Victoria & Albert’s Museum exhibition You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970. The aim of the exhibition was quite clear:

How have the finished and unfinished revolutions of the late 1960s changed the way we live today and think about the future?

I was very much looking forward to visiting the exhibition. It is SO timely, and SO needed, I thought.

After visiting it, I left enraged. Why? After all, it was very well “put together”, full of artifacts and information, with a fancy sound system, and beautifully arranged and orchestrated.

ORGANIZED

More importantly, it was not a nostalgic attempt at regurgitating old revolutionary slogans.

What enraged me is how co-opted the whole collection felt. How all those efforts and sacrifices, how all that energy and suffering from past revolutionaries, has been assimilated by the system.

From the ® Registered slogans to the “no photographs” signs at the entrance (to which I, OF COURSE, paid no attention to whatsoever):

® slogan!

To the texts denouncing powerful corporations and states controlling Western media making it difficult to broadcast alternative opinions. You don’t say??!! How about adding “even museums”?

You don't say??!!

Of course, the whole thing had a watered down flavor, “ready for the masses to consume it” (at over£17 or over $20 per ticket). Not just because of the large dedicated-store (“Exit through the gift store” as Banksy brilliantly highlighted), where many appealing objects were for sale for nostalgics and revolutionary wannabes.

Interesting mash up poster

But also for the paternalistic tone of the whole exhibition, surgically isolating issues (identity, sexuality, peace, music, fashion…), even (correctly) including the new contemporary totemic theological substitute: technology.

Origins of Personal Computers

I was very happy and proud to tell my son that his grandmother was in Paris throwing cobblestones to the police in the student revolts of 1969; that his grandfather took me, when I was a little kid, to see a forbidden theater play during Spain’s democratic transition, fearing the secret police repression; that I participated as a kid in discussions with adults about anarchism and communism, when both were outlawed in Spain; and that I have participated in some of the revolutions and protests that came in the decades after that.

I’m not angry because they took “my” revolutions and repackaged them for easy digestion by accommodating masses. That was foreseeable, and an obvious result of the reigning empire of consumerist capitalism.

I’m not even nostalgically refusing to accept that times have changed.

What really annoyed me and made me angry was the lack of reference to a combative present, to the continuation of the struggle.

The fact that they showed, at the end of the exhibition “How have the finished and unfinished revolutions of the late 1960s changed the way we live today” but completely left out “and think about the future” is what enraged me. Particularly as Trump is president in the USA, May PM in GB, the PP rule Spain, the far right advances in France…

We need to remember that the fight is not over, that fascism is not only back, but stronger and more powerful than ever. We, all of us, and the institutions that serve us, including museums, have a duty to promote thoughtful debate around ethics and values, and fiercely protest and fight through self-organisation, unity, and collaboration. We owe it to ourselves, we owe it to those who fought for us in the past, we owe it to those who will come after us.

If the urban bourgeoisie wants to be the first to fall under the boot of the oppressors again, so be it. If proto and pseudo-intellectuals endlessly self-delude themselves into thinking that our democracies and institutions will save us from authoritarian demagogues, fascist megalomaniacs, and our own blind pursuit of endless consumerism, so be it. In the meantime, I will be teaching my children about the struggle and participating in the smartest and most effective way I can.

Last day in San Francisco: ART

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Saturday, September 17, was my last day in San Francisco, and the only one I had with some spare time.

After breakfast, I went to but some gifts from Japan Town and then headed to Union Square, for the Korean Day (Chuseok) culture festival.

Then I went to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts to check out Tom Sachs’ Space Program: Europa. As I feared, after the failure of Sony Outsider, Tom Sachs’ obsession with demonstrating his hand-made “bricolage style” continues. Further more, it feels like yet another bourgeois manboy “fun” exhibition. It is as if the art world is taking a more and more polarized position as if an artist and her work can only fit one of these buckets: escapist detachment from the hardships of everyday life, snobbish detachment from popular accessibility, or rejection of any institution or establishment.

My suspicion that Space Program: Europa was all about the first option was enhanced by the fact that I did not see any African-American person there, although I was there for quite a while. So I decided to test my thesis.

I wanted to go to the Museum of the African Diaspora, but someone told me it was closed today for a private event (later I found out it closed early, but I could have gotten in), so I went to the nearby San Francisco Museum of Modern Art instead.

The lack of diversity was beyond appalling. It was mesmerizing. In the SF MoMA store everyone was white, many blonde, tall, with perfect teeth… are you kidding me? After reading everywhere about it, and visiting so many tech companies, I knew this city has a diversity and divide problem, but this was ridiculous.

I walked into the museum, and the lack of diversity remained apparent, although diminished by the presence of a healthy number of tourists. Very sad, but it was time to focus my attention on the art.

What a collection! Of course, I enjoyed the usual suspects (Rothko, Calder, Judd, Warhol, Serra, Picasso, Mondrian, Kelly, Martin, Twombly, Sherman, Murata, Duchamp, etc) but I also got to experience some works from Roy Lichtenstein and Gerhard Richter that were not their best known (most certainly I did not know about those pieces), which gave me a completely new appreciation for them, and reminded me that you can’t judge an artist by one piece, just like you can’t judge a book by its cover.

I also enjoyed very much the exhibition “Typeface to Interface”, which had it been exhibited in NY it would have been packed with hipsters, but here it was full of techies (interface designers perhaps?). Special mention: the mesmerizing Sagmeister & Walsh video “Now is better”:

So with one delightful overdose of art, I headed to the airport to fly back to London.

San Francisco, day 5

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  • At KandL
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Wednesday, September 14 I spent the whole day at K&L Gates, one of the largest law firms in the world, which has customers like Microsoft (the “Gates” in K&L Gates is for Bill Gates’ father), Amazon, etc.

It was a typical upscale law firm setup: expensive video conference equipment and giant screens (I liked their “rear projector and mirror” trick) in a high-rise building with impressive views, and some art, like the “flying dildos” in reception.

I met with some of their top lawyers, all partners, and we had meetings around Data Protection, Term Sheet terms, Corporate Governance, Immigration, M&A, and Patents (that was the shortest meeting, although an extremely interesting and very open-minded debate 😉

I learned a lot, and it was extremely useful. Of course, these people are quite sharp; you have to be to charge $1,000 per hour.

Lunch was just “average”, but the wine and cheese they served at the end of the day were really awesome.

On my way back to the hotel I had a telephone call from Chinese investors I had to take. While talking on the phone and walking I realized a short homeless man was following me very closely, in an erratic pattern. Concerned that I might accidentally trip him, or that he would become distracting to my call, I entered the Saks Fifth Avenue store on Union Sq. Then he stood outside, with a frustration look in his face, banged the glass door, and left.

I did not make much of it and apologized to the three store attendants that witnessed it. What surprised me is how horrified they were. They wanted to call the police, and tried to persuade me to not go back out the door! What kind of irrational fear is this? Are the class divide tensions generated by a growing inequality leading to fear/aggression? We need to put an end to this sad situation where the 0.1% militarizes the secluded public areas where they transit in order to feel secure until they reach their luxury bunkers.

Ironically, I also saw “fanboy homeless”: rich brand-obsessed young people sleeping in the street in order to queue so they can have the “privilege” of owning the next gadget by a particular brand.

But, oh the marvels of a simple mind, all that was easily left behind as soon as I stepped into Kinokuniya bookstore, and later sunk my teeth into a homemade green tea daifuku filled with amazingly silken anko at Kissako.

Invited to the Amazon Web Services Summit

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On Wednesday and Thursday, I was invited to attend the Amazon Web Services Summit in London’s Excel center.

Besides an exhibition area with many vendors (some of them already suppliers to my company) like NewRelic, DataDog, GitHub, Chef, Alscient, Teradici, DataPipe, Ruxit, CloudCheckr, Amazon Activate, Elastic, Redis, etc, all with their great swag (mostly t-shirts and stickers, but lots of giveaways, from drones to iWatches), the highlight was the conference sessions.

I was interested in (and attended most of): DevOps, Game development, Security, Migration, Containers, Lumberyard, Encryption, Diversity, Microservices, BigData, and Enterprise systems.

They ranged from very boring to very interesting, from highly technical to highly comical. But the only one that was extremely sad is… you guessed it: the talk on Diversity. The one with less attendance and less engagement (see if you can spot which of the photos in the gallery belong to that session). How can that be, when lack of diversity is such an enormous problem in the tech world?

By the people attending and the talk itself it is very clear that the tech world is absolutely clueless about what the real problem is and how to address it.

My fear is that, beyond being quite a complex issue, there is no REAL interest in addressing it. After all, throughout history, high-value profit-generating activities have been the exclusive domain of the ruling elite. Which today mostly means White AngloSaxon Middle-Aged Men.

Never mind the shiny millennial poster boys in the cover of Entrepreneur magazines: they usually do not run the show or call the shots, they just speak the techno-lingo, but the money behind them, and the power center in “their” companies resides in… mostly White AngloSaxon Middle-Aged Men. Luckily there is a lot of activity coming from other countries and other ethnic groups. But the “gender gap” (or “glass-ceiling”) is still a seriously unresolved issue.

Let’s pretend none of this ever happened

Walking towards my London Shoreditch office
to meet the Swiss investor and his impeccable suit,
leaving the City bankers’s coffee-holding fast pace behind,
I notice the absence nobody seems to
Where did he go?
His sleeping sack and pillow still on the sidewalk
as annoyingly positioned in the corner as always
But he’s gone
.
I wonder and I worry
his failing body, almost as absent as his lost gaze
with nobody to return it,
had been a constant and silent companion of my daily walk
We never spoke, but we connected
He needed help that I did not offer
but he was also longing for a contact that I did accept
with my eyes and my smile
He fed on that with desperate hunger
but I fear that could not keep his body alive
.
I look for him
Did he finally manage to gather enough crumbs in the form of coins
to enter the new temple of exclusive abundance
and be able to reach for an edible item that might keep him going for one more day?
Or did he perish, vanish, and was removed out of our sight and our path?
In that case they did not remove him from my life, from my heart,
where you all live, far away from me
.
As my gaze, still in the lookout, turns the corner
in the hopes that he’s defacing the wall with his urine,
I see the ultimate social irony:
inside the Bloomberg Space
a neon sign
someone most definitely put up for me today
reading:
“Let’s pretend none of this ever happened”

The romantic poet in me stops there
no more words, no more thoughts,
the insulting irony has spoken, in obvious terms, to nobody
.
But I can not
CAN NOT
let it go
and enraged with fury and disbelief
I go on
determined as I always was
to subvert the system
to penetrate it, hack it, and milk it
for then I will have the dirty tools the system uses to turn our alienation against us
.
And then the day will come when we will see each other as one, and the world will be full of “us”,
as there will no more “them”,
and then I will be gone
for my job will be done
.
I see you
open your eyes
.
35000 decisions a day
this is the one
I’m not hiding
.
Hello Mr. Banker
here’s my soul
give me the tools
to obliterate your world
and free you all

I stood up against a terrorist in a German train

Yesterday, after spending the day at a tradeshow in Düsseldorf, on my way by train to the hotel in Mülheim, I stopped in the town of Duisburg, which was on my way, because I heard they were setting up a Christmas market. The market was indeed being set up, but it was still closed, so I decided to go back to the station. To avoid the sprinkling rain I took the 901 tram at König-Heinrich Platz.

From the window I saw three kids (around 12-13 year old, I guess) wearing some team sports uniform, laughing and rushing onto the tram. They were not particularly disrespectful or anything, but one man standing in the platform (tall pale and bolding German, around 40 years old) apparently didn’t think so, because they did not let a woman board the tram before them. Some of us appreciate old-fashioned manners more than others, but it is hardly a crime, anywhere in the world, to not let a woman board a train ahead of you… specially when you are a pre-teen or teenager, so commonly unaware of your surroundings.

So this man started screaming at the kids. I saw that out of the three kids (two white and blonde, the other one middle-eastern looking), he was only screaming at the foreign-looking one. My German is not too good, but I picked up words like “schwein” (cerdo), “mohr” (moorish, used pejoratively for “muslim”), “Paris”, “terrorist”… You did not need a PhD in Germanic Languages to understand what was going on there: an obviously mentally unstable person, directing xenophobic fury at the wrong “target”.

Had my German been better, I would have told this person that while I defend his freedom of speech, that is no way to address a kid. Or anyone for that matter. Since I could not communicate in his language, I did not say anything, but remained alert, fearing things could get worse. And they did.

This man held the automatic tram door, preventing the departure on time, while his screams got louder, his tone more aggressive, and his body language more menacing.

I was at the other end of the tram-car, but I looked around and nobody did anything. The car was full of people, most of them German looking. But they all acted as if that was not happening. Some looked around the platform, as if looking for the police, or some “authority”.

I have found, excuse my gross generalization, that while the English are to a large degree “conformist”, the Germans are to a large degree “obedient”. Had the police, or any other form of formal authority been there, things would have gone completely different. But upon lack of authority, brutality and submissiveness took over. Sorry to sound so obvious, but let’s keep in mind the dangerous results that mixing the “wrong” circumstances, xenophobia, ignorance, and mindless acceptance can produce.

At this point, seeing that nobody else was doing anything at all to stop this violent escalation, I got up from my seat, walked across the car, and positioned myself between that kid and the aggressor. The man kept holding the door and shouting at the kid as if I was not there. Everybody else remained still.

Then, a good four minutes into this non-sense, and after having gestured several menacing signs (“cut throat”, “fist smashing”, etc), the man, who was still in the platform, reached into the car, holding the kid’s uniform and pulling towards him trying to get him out of the car and onto the platform.

This is what I call a “terrorist”. Someone with the intent to instill terror in others, particularly to prove a point or avance a particular ideology. If you find the use of this word not appropriate, ask yourself about state-sponsored terrorism, or about the constant mis-use of the term “terrorism” by the media (western or eastern) or politicians.

That was the line, that was it. I grabbed the man’s hand, twisted it (I think my Aikido sensei, years ago, used to call this “sankyo”), kicked him in the chest, and knocked him onto the platform.

Free from the man’s hold, the doors automatically closed and the tram moved on. Nobody did or said anything. Nobody even looked at me. Not even the kid.

I have witnessed and suffered my share of violence throughout the years, but what struck me the most was not a demented criminal, a “terrorist” attacking a “victim”. What struck me the most was the appalling passivity of everyone in that train.
What’s happened to us? When did we become “lambs”? Have we always been “lambs” (whether “God’s”, “the crusade’s”, or “Bush’s”)?

What happened to idealism, utopia, values and beliefs? How can an agnostic like me have more “beliefs” (or at least be more willing to act on them) than the church-going and flag-rallied crowd? What do we think we have to loose, that makes us fear helping others? How can we be so blind in not seeing that inaction will cause us more harm than putting ourselves in harm’s way to defend our values and ethics (not “morals”)?

We are so full of ourselves. We talk non-stop about modern western civilization’s grandeur. I consider myself a liberal free-thinking humanist and peacifist. We are so proud of our humanism, our liberalism, or democracy, our liberty, our rights… but all those are little more than nice sounding ideals, tergiversated and manipulated by politicians, corporations and mass media.

Is John Gray right when he talks about “The Human Animal”, the “Homo rapiens”? When I look around me, that is what I see.
But a Zen monk once told me while sipping some green tea in Japan: “we are what we choose; not so much what we do, or even why we think we chose it”. Some contemporary information technology theories, behavioral neuroscientists, as well as some metaphysical philosophers, would agree with that to a surprising large extent.

So I chose. I chose to stand up.

Million masks march

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On Thursday, coming back home from a meeting, I run into the Million Masks March. While I assume I agree with most of their anti-system protests (the truth is I did not bother to read them), I think their choice of Guy Fawkes as an “icon”, even if a graphical one as proposed by the comic/movie “V for Vendetta”, is a very stupid one. Just read about what that historical figure had in mind and judge for yourself.

Another thing that struck me is the media sensationalism, the government paranoia and over-reaction, and the typical “apparatus show of force”, including a large number of policemen, police vehicles, and even laser projections on public buildings, like the message projected on the National Gallery regarding the obligation to comply with police request to remove face maskings, and saying:

“Failure to comply (sic; notice it did not say “failure to do so”) is an offence”

My talk at the Circumvention Tech Festival, March 4th

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This past winter I met Sandy and James from Open ITP in New York, and Pepe from Valencia. They were organizing the Circumvention Tech Festival to be held in Las Naves, Valencia (Spain) March 1-6.

They invited me to give a talk, which was eventually scheduled for March 4th at 3pm. I titled the talk “When privacy does not mean the same to you and me”. It was meant to generate debate, to expose other people’s points of view, rather than to be a unidirectional speech.

Nonetheless, my talk was but one of many meetings, talks, workshops, and debates that James, Sandy and the whole team put together. iRex, Tor, Pirate Party, Censorship.no, Ooni, Xnet, Alkasir, ASL19… It ended up being one of the most awesome events of this kind I have ever attended, with circumvention activist and journalists from all over the world sharing their experiences and projects with the community.

The last night I threw a party for all those who wanted to attend at Kanteron’s offices in Valencia. We had fun 🙂

I can’t wait for next year’s edition!