Tonight I had dinner with Shoresh Moradi, a Kurdish surgeon who was educated and lives in Sweden and practices medicine at the Karolinska Hospital. During dinner in Palma de Mallorca, he told me a few moving stories of how his patients react when, instead of getting a Swedish doctor in the emergency room, they get a dark skin Arab looking man, himself. His were stories of prejudice, the prejudice that he has to deal with as an emergency room surgeon every day of his life. Interestingly, in most cases this prejudice is overcome and patients somehow go through a transformation after entrusting their lives to a perceived Muslim doctor. And I said perceived because Shoresh is Muslim in culture more than religion, very much in the same way that I am Jewish. We are both proud of our heritages, but we can also see the inequality in the treatment of women and Goim or infidels, that extreme religiosity entails both in orthodox Judaism and certain flavors of Islam as backwards and damaging to society.

During dinner we spoke about the paradox of prejudice in Europe and we agreed that it had to do with the way immigrants came to Europe. In Europe, immigrants are chosen by the exact type of job they do and that’s what their visa says. So for example an immigrant may come to Spain as a household worker and his visa will allow him or her to do just that, be an “empleado del hogar”. Europeans have no problem publicly arguing that the best jobs should be reserved for natives. This type of discrimination is not seen as prejudice. Americans instead have a system that seeks out immigrants with great qualifications and so do a minority of EU countries like Ireland for example. As a result, in most of Europe, it is immigrants who have the worst jobs and what is worse, they are then blamed for their lack of achievement, a situation that is most unfair considering how they were pre-selected to do them. Europeans conclude that people from those countries where immigrants come from are mostly inept. Now the ultimate paradox is what happens when these immigrants, while driving taxis or cleaning offices, actually go to university and end up, like Shoresh Moradi, as surgeons. Then the prejudice is even worse, as women patients, for example, believe that a Muslim doctor will treat them poorly and it is up to Shoresh to explain how this is not the case. It’s happened to him that he had to justify himself many times ahead of a procedure, or that he had to go in person to interviews in order to try to overcome the fears that his name inspires.

So Shoresh and I both agreed that while poor and unsuccessful immigrants face prejudice, successful immigrants face even more prejudice. Not from the educated elites, but especially from the average citizen in an atmosphere of anonymity (think Youtube comments). The type of citizens that end up voting for anti-immigrant parties. So in the end, both Jews and successful Muslims in Europe suffer a similar prejudice. This prejudice was taken to an extreme in the Holocaust, and is even worse than the prejudice against those who do poorly; it’s the prejudice against those who do very well. Jews have traditionally been detested, not for doing badly but for succeeding. For being one in 500 people in the planet but having one in 5 Nobel prizes or many of the top positions in the billionaires lists, or top writers, or movie makers. And this is still the case in many places in Europe, much more so than in USA where I lived for 18 years before moving here. And yes, we can go about our lives being successful, but in Spain, France and many other countries in Europe if being rich is not well regarded, being a rich Jew or a rich Arab is worse. And this is the other curse. The curse of escaping poverty and finding that prejudice was there all along and remains. If you do very badly you face prejudice because you are a loser, but if you do very well and end up in an “unexpected spot” that defeats the stereotype, there you find an even tougher type of prejudice, the one that confronts Shoresh ahead of many a life saving surgery or me when a newspaper in Spain called me “judío especulador”. If you have doubts about what I am saying and speak Spanish simply google “judío Varsavsky” and read the first 30 results.

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RadioMe is the name of my most recent project. It’s an Android app that I call a “social media DJ”. The idea for RadioMe came during one of my frequent bike rides. I usually listen to music, but that wasn’t enough to keep me connected. I hate the feeling of not knowing what is going on around me, so whenever I wanted to catch up with my social environment, I had to interrupt my ride to read my Twitter/Facebook streams and check my e-mails. So the trade-off was: enjoy a nice ride without interruptions but be disconnected from the outside world, or stay connected with the downside of having to interrupt the ride.

With RadioMe, I finally solved this problem. RadioMe is a social radio that plays your Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, LinkedIn, Google Reader and SMS so you LISTEN to it instead of looking at a screen. It’s like having a personal assistant that reads everything to you aloud. RadioMe has an integrated music player that automatically turns down the music when you receive updates, and turns it up again as soon as you’re up-to-date. You can configure how frequently you want to be updated, and how many updates should be read during the “social break”. To make it easy, you only need to define the “music period” and the “update period” (e.g. 10 minutes listening to music, then 2 minutes social updates, then back to music for 10 minutes…). It’s perfect for when you ride your bike, drive around in your car or simply prefer to hear what’s going on instead of reading it.

But the functionality of RadioMe doesn’t stop there. The app is multilingual, it can read updates in English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and even in Japanese and Simplified Chinese. You just have to tell RadioMe which languages it should detect. If you get an incoming call, RadioMe pauses automatically. You can configure by how much the volume of the music should be reduced, if you want RadioMe to stop reading upon shaking, temporarily turn off certain providers, etc. Duplicate updates are automatically recognized and only one will be read.

One really important aspect is the speech synthesis. The standard PICO TTS voice included in every Android device sounds like a robot from the 80’s with a cold. So if you want to use this app, you should definitely install SVOX TTS from the Android Market (sounds much better and is quite cheap). The new version of RadioMe will have a trial version of SVOX already installed. I designed this app, and it was built by Alberto Alonso Ruibal.

Here’s a video where I show how RadioMe works. You should give it a try, I’m completely hooked :).

My friend Jon Berrojalbiz has launched, a new virtual community for artists and art lovers. If you’re an artist, you can create your own 3D gallery for free and exhibit your artwork to the world. Art lovers or anybody faintly interested in art can browse through the different galleries and can purchase many of the pieces directly.

The site has a very lean design and easy to understand. You can even enjoy it in fullscreen. If you’re not sure what you’re looking for, offers a recommendation engine that worked quite well for me. If you are browsing through a premium gallery (for which the artist has to pay a certain annual fee), you can also listen to soundtracks created for that gallery, making the experience even more enjoyable. Artists can additionally embed their galleries in external sites and hold “opening events”, where they can chat with their guests and show them details of their artwork using the “follow” function. also solves some of the typical problems you encounter when browsing for art online: you get detailed information about the texture, and you can zoom in to have a good look at the artwork. Also, you have the option of changing the background color, which makes it easier to imagine how a certain piece of art would look like in your home if you have differently colored walls. Every piece of art is also shown in comparison to the dimensions of the human body.

If the definition of an art lover is simply a person who enjoys art to a great extent, then I would certainly consider myself as such. Maybe that’s the reason why I really enjoyed Jon’s new project. I find it especially useful for discovering new art without needing to sacrifice a lot of time, which is often the case when you physically visit different galleries. And I don’t know any gallery in the world that can offer the same amount and variety of art in one place!

MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 18:  People work from an i...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Friends outside of Spain have been asking me about the ongoing movement that has become known as #spanishrevolution. Here’s the summary of what this movement is about:

People have become increasingly frustrated by the many problems in Spain: over 20% unemployment rate and over 30% youth unemployment rate, incompetent politicians unable to deal with the effects of the crisis, extremely high housing prices both for rental and purchase, a mortgage system that ties mortgage holders for life to the bank if the real estate is sold for under the loan amount,  and a general discontent with the status of the political landscape (especially the effective two-party system of the center-right People’s Party and the center-left Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party). The #spanishrevoution is an internet movement that was started by leading figures in the internet including top bloggers and internet entrepreneurs to harness the distress of the Spanish people into action ahead of this past weekend’s elections. The most active supporters of the movement have moved from the internet to the streets gather in camps at key locations of many Spanish cities, like the Plaza del Sol in Madrid, where they discuss the changes they want to bring about and are planning to stay for the time being. Each camp is autonomous, there is no central organ coordinating the movement and many sleep in public squares in protest.

The #spanishrevolution did not start as a unified movement, but is rather the result of an informal merger between different movements with similar, but not equal, goals. There seems to be broad consensus that the protests on May 15th (aka the 15M movement) organized by Democracia Real Ya (DRY) were the spark that ignited #spanishrevolution. The tagline of Democracia Real Ya is: we are people, not commodities in the hands of politicians and bankers (in Spanish: “no somos mercancía en manos de políticos y banqueros”). You can read the manifesto of that movement in English here. The protests were a huge success: more than 80,000  all over Spain took to the streets to protest against citizens being left behind during the crisis and against corruption.

DRY proposed to follow the lead of two role models; Iceland and the Arab revolts. In Iceland, citizens were able to make use of democratic powers to put some of the persons responsible for the crisis behind bars and to initiate important constitutional reforms. What DRY wanted to leverage from the Arab revolts was the incredible catalytic effect provided by the social networks, the mobile networks and internet in general.

Some of the most important figures/initiators of the 15M movement are Fabio Gándara (who has been part of the movement since the beginning), Jon Aguirre Such (DRY’s spokesperson) and Olmo Gálvez (whom El País calls a social networking “crack”). It’s interesting to point out that all three of them are quite young, between 26 and 30, and didn’t know each other until shortly before 15M. The people who have joined #spanishrevolution, however, are very heterogeneous, covering all age ranges, professions and social classes.

After the May 15th protests, a small group of participants decided to camp out at the Puerta del Sol in Madrid (known as #acamapadasol). More and more people joined #acampadasol, and eventually the “acampadas” spread out to other cities all over the country on the 18th, fueled by a surge of outrage that spread like wildfire after police removed the peaceful protestors from Plaza del Sol. By that time, #spanishrevolution had already been born. While there are no exact numbers, it is safe to say that there are tens of thousands of people who have been or are at #acampadasol, and many more in other cities. Most of the sit-ins had food delivery donations and some even had their own daycare. They also received legal assistance from two lawyers, David Bravo and Javier de la Cueva. The movement has even found supporters in other countries, with protests popping up in cities like Berlin, Paris and New York to show solidarity with the movement in Spain.

While DRY never “officially” merged with #spanishrevolution and still wants to be a movement of its own, it basically has the same goals and therefore supports the movement. There was another movement that is often mixed with #spanishrevolution, called #nolesvotes. Fon my company, supports #nolesvotes by giving out free Foneras and passes so people have free access to the internet during their sit-ins.  #nolesvotes translated means “don’t vote for them”, referring to all the political parties that passed a ridiculous law (the Ley Sinde, on which I will not elaborate here) which was a slap in the face for the rule of law in Spain. Just as with DRY, #nolesvotes, started by the lawyer Carlos Sánchez Almeida, is/was a separate movement, but again had goals that overlapped with the general idea of #spanishrevolution. Most people don’t make a distinction between the individual movements anymore and rather see them as unified under the concept of #spanishrevolution now. Leaders of nolesvotes include my friends and partners Ricardo Galli and Eduardo Arcos, fellow professor at IE Enrique Dans and leading Spanish entrepreneur Julio Alonso.

On a side note, some people also voted with chorizos inside the envelopes. A chorizo is a typical Iberian sausage, but the term is also used to refer to corrupt politicians. While the initiative #votachorizo prompted voters to print out a picture of a chorizo, some literally put a slice of sausage in the envelope to voice their discontent with corruption and incompetence in Spain’s political landscape.

In the end, what started with a few ideas and different initiatives on the web has become a huge movement on the streets all over Spain and in many other countries. As I already mentioned, most of the initiators didn’t know each other at the beginning and only met in person a couple of weeks before the 15M event. The main platforms enabling them to join forces were social networks like Facebook and Tuenti, and of course platforms like Twitter and hundreds (or even thousands) of blogs that supported the movements and spread the word. The sit-in at Plaza del Sol even has its own TV channel, with a mind-blowing 11 million accumulated views so far. Around 45 million people live in Spain.

The local and legislative elections of May 22nd gave encouraging results for the #spanishrevolution.  Like an internet start up it seems to have reached its first million people as that is the number of people who have not voted the large 2 political parties.  On this election the vote for alternative parties and the votes “en blanco” or for nobody in particular grew by a million.  Now PP supporters like to argue that this was really a strong defeat of the ruling socialists whose votes went down by 1.6 million and a win for PP whose votes went up by 400K but this does not explain why PP did not get all or most of the votes of PSOE.   While the exact effect of #spanishrevolution on the election will not be known what is clear is that small parties and general discontent grew at the expense of the ruling party and so did the conservative opposition.

Here are two excellent articles in Spanish about the topic that I used to prepare this post, one by El País and another by Alt1040.

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I just met with Micha Benoliel, the founder of Opengarden. If you have a rooted Android I recommend you try Opengarden. Opengarden is not your typical tethering app. Opengarden not only creates a hotspot out of your Android phone which is something that now most Androids do, but it also makes you a member of Opengarden allowing you to mesh. So for example if you find encrypted WiFi and you know the password you can mesh or act as a bridge and give WiFi to someone else (still not sure to how many others). Also you can have 3G and give WiFi to others and then another person can obtain this signal and grow the garden without being connected to 3G. I can see how this can be useful at conferences for example or places where many people are in one place. What I don’t share is Micha’s vision that this Opengarden can somehow be a permanent garden of smartphones always active. But I like the idea!

This morning I went on a 34km bike ride around Paris. Problem is that Endomondo failed. As you can see in the link only the beginning of the bike ride came out, not the part of the route that you can see in the video below.

During the ride I was listening to RadioMe, the Android app that I’m developing which allows you to listen to your music and news (it reads Twitter updates, Facebook, Gmail, sms and other providers).

I also took some pictures.

The video was recorded with a Canon S95 and the pictures were taken with a Leica M9.

Tonight in Paris, at dinner with @loic @geraldine and @ninavarsavsky, we spoke about attitudes towards failure in USA and Europe.  In Europe it’s still terrible to fail and that is bad because failure is an essential part of success (think of all the sperm that fail to make a child).  But in Silicon Valley, failure is becoming too much of the opposite:  too accepted, people are not trying hard enough, too many start ups are getting funded as if VC’s knew there were bound to fail but went ahead anyway.  In Europe now we are more like in Silicon Valley in 2006 when Fon got funded.  Back then it was not that easy to get started.   And that may not be all that bad.  Failure has to be accepted, but not encouraged!

A couple of weeks ago, Telefónica announced the launch of Wayra, a program that will support the creation of high-tech IT companies in Latin America and Spain. Basically, Wayra is a business incubator, although it wants to be more than that and calls itself a business “accelerator”. (Future) entrepreneurs can submit their projects, even if they’re only at an idea stage, and the 30 teams with the most promising ideas will be given the opportunity to present in front of a jury which will then narrow the selection down to 10 projects (this occurs on a country level). The first three countries are Colombia, Mexico and Spain, and the goal is to have this initiative running in eight countries by the end of this year. This will bring the number of supported projects to 80 by the end of 2011.

Every project will get access to Telefónicas top-notch technological infrastructure, and in addition will receive financing of $30k to $70k during the first six months and will obtain all the necessary support needed to establish and build a successful company (office space, mentoring, day-to-day management, technical support from Telefónicas R&D department, etc.). Wayra will also help the most interesting of these projects to obtain additional financing after the initial six-month period.

The idea behind this project is to facilitate the creation of global tech companies out of Latin America and Spain, which, despite some great successes like MercadoLibre, is still very difficult. Many potential founders move to tech hubs like Silicon Valley, New York, London or Berlin because they can’t find the necessary environments needed to create and grow an international company in their home countries. Access to capital is difficult (especially finding “smart money”), it’s hard to find skilled employees and the overall environment (legal, etc.) is often not supportive of entrepreneurship.

Wayra’s mission is to plant the seed from which local “Silicon Valleys” can emerge over time in the target countries, enabling talented individuals to pursue their dreams without having to leave their home country and fostering innovation and entrepreneurship in the region. A great initiative, I am looking forward to seeing the first projects emerging from the program.

What follows is my talk at IE on why European and all non US start ups may not want to move to Silicon Valley, at least not the whole company.

Martin Varsavsky at IE Venture Day from Martin Varsavsky on Vimeo.

I don’t understand why the Obama administration had to say that Osama Bin Laden was unarmed when he was killed, that he was not threatening the life of the soldiers who were in the compound. Why feed the terrorists with stories that they can use for recruitment purposes? Why not just say that he died in the operation without giving more details than that?

Terrorism is an industry and its main input is angry young men. USA has to realize that certain moves, like Abu Gharb publicized pictures, Guantanamo tortures, air bombings in Fallujah, killing of thousands of innocent civilians in the search terrorists in Afghanistan, and now saying that Osama Bin Laden was unarmed, all these are the stories that feed the terrorists at their key moment, recruitment.

If the purpose is to disengage with terrorism USA should not make it easier for terrorist recruiters to get new people who hate USA.  Al Qaeda’s life used to be much harder when all they had to say was “The infidels are in the holy land so let’s go and murder thousands of them when they go to work”.  Let’s fight them without giving them arguments to multiply and grow.  USA should study the many terrorist movements in Latin America and Europe that ended up completely extinguished.  It was not revenge that did it.  It was careful management of public opinion combined with effective police and judicial efforts.  While my preference would have been to put Osama Bin Laden on trial I can also agree with those who said that capturing him would have made terrorists do all sorts of hijackings and threats to public safety.  But if that is what drove the administration to decide to kill him, then why decrease public safety by confessing that he was murdered and making terrorists even more angry?.

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