We used to come to Uruguay to get away from everybody we knew. Now everybody we know comes to Uruguay, and I don’t just mean everyone we know from Argentina, that was always the case. I mean a lot of people we know from Europe and USA as well. And they keep coming in growing numbers. And they, like us, still wonder why they like it so much. Now let’s clarify. Everyone I know comes to Jose Ignacio, or near Jose Ignacio, they find Punta del Este ugly. I do as well. But they find the area between La Barra and Laguna Garzón along the coastline just beautiful. The farms, the beach houses, the restaurants, the overall scene. Now what is sad though, is that most of those who come here do not see the countryside. I do every day as I go on my mountain bike rides. Today I managed to take these pictures. I know there is nothing really special to them. Indeed the charm of this part of Uruguay is that it’s so special without having anything really special about it.

Let me show you my pictures and see if we agree.

Little kids want to believe. Teenagers don’t want to believe. We are Jewish but we are not religious. I am glad we aren’t, especially for the upbringing of my 5 children.

If we had been religious Jews I could not have dressed as Santa and brought gifts to my kids at a young age. I would have missed their faces of delight, and their smiles when they knew it was me, but pretended not to know. I can understand Jews refusal to celebrate Christmas because of Jesus who said he was God and we did not believe him. I can side with anyone who refuses to believe that a certain person is God. The whole story of Jesus is very alien to Jews and to many Europeans who have abandoned religion in the last decades, especially in Spain and Italy. But most religious Jews fail to realize that in many countries Jesus has lost its prominence to Santa a much simpler and easier to like character. Yes I know Santa is also about consumerism and I do feel sorry for the parents who can’t buy toys for their kids (my kids know this and we donate toys for them). And the world sucks in many ways. But you have to agree with me that there is something beautifully simple for young kids about a man who comes from the North Pole with lots of gifts. Especially if they have been good kids ;).

And later on, with my older kids, not being religious spared me of trying to convince them of the literal interpretation of the Bible. A struggle that many still go through, especially in USA the only developed country in which most people are still religious. This would have been painful for me, as the Bible has so many absurdities in it that I would have been unable to defend it as true. I am so glad I did not have to tell my kids that we believe in all the absurdities of the Bible “because we have faith”. Starting with the universe being but a few thousand years old most of what I read in the Bible is of no scientific value and what is even worse, frequently of dubious ethical value.

During the Jewish holidays I have manage to explain to my kids that we celebrate because we are part of the Jewish people who share a common heritage as a people not only as a religion. We celebrate as many of my non religious Christian friends celebrate, as a tradition not as a literal belief. I also explain that most of the founders of the State of Israel were not religious and that most of the achievements of the Jewish people are way outside the realm of religion, mostly in literature, entrepreneurship and science. I frequently like to tell the story of Golda Meir, one of the founders of Israel who was an atheist and when asked if she believed in God she answered wisely “I believe in the Jewish people and the Jewish people believe in God”. In our home there are only two kinds of answers to any question a child may pose: the most likely to be true answer and as frequently, the I don’t know answer. I don’t know feels better than religion to me.

So today, right here in St Barts in our sailboat, I will dress as Santa again, this time for our baby and 5 year old. I can’t wait to see how happy they will be. And yes, they are also getting their Chanukah gifts. We celebrate all that there is to celebrate. And we are happy this way.

High School education is obsolete. As I see it high school programs around the world should be modified in different degrees. Some are more advanced than others but all need some of these subjects. On top of the current high school curriculum, there are other relevant subjects that children should be introduced to. The additional subjects that I believe would benefit children most are:
-basic household management, how to live on your own.
-computer science/programming.
-history of science.
-home medicine and disease prevention.
-digital photography/video both capture and editing.
-basic accounting and business law.
-entrepreneurship (business plans and so on)
-statistics and probability.
-home economics, how to file for taxes, basic macroeconomic principles.
-principles of logic, epistemology and ethics (Philosophy)
-sustainable development.
-public speaking (done in UK and US but not continental Europe)
-understanding government
-introduction to engineering, the basic technologies that surround us.
-modern geography/astronomy including all types of digital maps and mapping resources.
-conflict resolution, dispute resolution, introduction to law.I have been editing this post adding the the best suggestions. Thanks for the contributions!

I have been debating with my Spanish followers on Twitter about why Spain has the highest unemployment rates of all developed nations – 21% for the population as a whole and 46% youth unemployment. To put Spain´s unemployment into perspective,  the EU´s average rate of unemployment is less than half of Spain´s.

In my view, Spain´s high unemployment is as much the product of poor financial/ investment decisions (over investment in real estate) as it is one of the country´s culture.  The main cultural weakness of Spaniards, and indeed Latin Americans in general, is to take little or no ownership of their problems, instead blaming others for their shortcomings. Of course, this kind of culture also has its positive side: countries in which people tend to blame others for their problems usually have low suicide rates and a general positive outlook on life. The flip side is that this attitude is very hard to change and it is not conducive to a country reinventing itself in the face of failed economic strategies. This can help explain why Spain is so much behind the EU when it comes to unemployment. Spain needs to reinvent itself, and in order to do that, a culture of self responsibility is essential.

To me, if Spain has such high unemployment rates, it is because the Spanish government, Spanish entrepreneurs and business leaders and Spanish workers are uncompetitive. I say this after having hired thousands of Spaniards and having built Jazztel, Ya.com and Fon in Spain.  Yes, there are responsible and hard working Spanish government employees, imaginative and hard driven Spanish entrepreneurs and highly ethical Spanish workers, but they are less common to find than in Germany, for example.

When you talk to Spanish people, they will quickly agree that Spanish politicians are mediocre, that Spanish “empresarios” are “unos chorizos” or scumbags but few would agree that there is something wrong with the way that Spanish people think, organize themselves and work.

Unfortunately, the average politician, businessperson and employee are all to blame for Spain´s poor economic condition. They are to blame as a group, as a culture.  This is a nation where one in five are out of work and where one out of three young people have no future – this needs to be fixed. But this can’t be fixed if the average Spanish person does not realize that they are both part of the problem and an essential part of the solution.  What is common here is to believe that Spain is the way it is because of a few who have somehow kidnapped the country into perennial underperformance in terms of unemployment.

Spain is a country with huge potential, but low entrepreneurship. The average Spaniard focuses energy and attention on old, ailing industries like infrastructure and real estate, and banks tend to only lend for these activities. Spaniards don’t see the risk in borrowing the equivalent to five times their annual salary to buy a home. This means that many are tied to mortgages that will sink them into debt for life, because of this, they can´t even move to where there is work.

Spaniards are among the Europeans who live the longest lives, yet they are the ones who call in sick to work the most.  In Spain there is a yet to be measured but enormous underground economy, with a very large number of workers who collect both unemployment insurance and a regular salary.  Tax cheating is rampant.  Moreover,  Spaniards love colossal and useless infrastructure projects. They vote for politicians who give them something, even if it has no practical use. These are the same politicians who approved colossal public works like the T4 terminal, a $10bn project. They spent public money building airports that no one uses and roads that nobody takes. Take the Castellón Airport, for example, built at a cost of $213m but that still hasn´t received a single flight. Meanwhile, Germany and other European countries gave Spain gifts of billions through the EU and a lot of this undeserved money was misused.

Will Spain´s problems be fixed?  I certainly hope so.  I am an immigrant to this country, by now a Spanish citizen who built three significant companies here and have five Spanish children.  Spaniards are now saying: “el problema no es la crisis, es el sistema”  or, the problem is not the crisis, it’s the system.  But this “system” works for the Netherlands, Germany and many other new EU countries such as Poland.  My answer is, “el problema no es el sistema, somos nosotros.”  The problem is not the system, we are the problem.

Filipinos don’t speak Spanish anymore but they speak English with a Spanish accent. Spaniards are not practicing Catholics but they live life with a Catholic accent. Spaniards are not pious anymore but they have an obsession with being humble. On Twitter, Tumblr, here,  I frequently get accused of not being humilde enough, not humble enough. It’s as if I was a sinner of some kind. In Spain you can’t build a company and say that you are so proud of your work. Say that in Spain and you will be frowned upon. When people ask me why is it that unemployment is so high in Spain at 21% I say: there aren’t enough people here who want to build companies and be proud of their work. There aren’t enough people who want to do whatever it takes to be successful.

The kind of intelligence that you need to succeed in business goes mostly undetected at school. Its a sense of leadership and strategy that is not what teachers reward. Entrepreneurs tend to antagonize teachers, they are in class wishing they were in charge and teachers hate that. That’s why so many drop out or do poorly at university only to thrive in real life.

In Spain where I most live, and I say mostly because we travel so much, there are parts of the country, Basques, Catalans, that would like to become independent. Or let’s say there are some people in some parts of the country that would like to become a new country (because I understand that if there was a referendum say in Catalonia and everyone who lives there voted the “independistas” would lose). Why? I see two trends that are “gluing” Spain together in spite of its different cultures. One is demographics. Native Spaniards have one of the lowest birth rates in the world and if the population of Spain does not shrink it’s because of immigrants who are 12% of the population but have a quarter of all new babies. As an immigrant myself and father of 5 I know that immigrants do not care about issues related to nationalism. My children consider the nationalisms of Spain a problem of the past, irrelevant to them. As a family, we already moved to another country Spain, and have a hard time thinking of that country itself moving to another country or becoming a smaller different nation. The second trend is the accelerated increase in the national debt in the context of a European and global financial crisis. If a part of Spain wanted to split up now, say Catalonia, they would have to agree with Spain’s creditors what part of their debt corresponds to Catalonia and that would be tougher than all the discussion around language and culture. We are a country partly united by its obligations. Maybe if things get really bad, like in Greece, there could be a fragmentation of Spain. But in terms of GDP over debt Spain is still only at 70% and Greece close to 200%. So we are not there yet.

As a Jew I want to see a Palestinian state. I just don’t know how to guarantee that this state will not be Hamas controlled and focused not on its own success but the destruction of Israel. Gaza has been a terrible example of what may happen in all of Palestine. And at the same time I think the Israelis are so in the wrong for allowing more settlements. Having said this, if those people are fanatics who want to be in Palestine I think the Palestinians should keep them and tax them. The GDP of the 300K Israeli settlers may be as high as that of the millions of Palestinians. Why chase them away?

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.

Image representing Sonos as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase

So this is one of the posts in which I am going to argue that when I was a teenager things were better, and you are going to think that I am one of those guys who thinks that things were always better in the past.  A disgruntled modernist of sorts. But no, that is not the case.  I can’t think of anything that was better 30 yrs ago than now, except one thing, music quality.

When I was a teen, I was a fan of HiFi music.  I used to build my own speakers, try to get the best turntable I could find, and the best amplifier.  Already playing cassette tapes was consider a “no no” as the quality would deteriorate considerably compared to vinyl records. I did like CDs though, as they seem to reach the whole sound range.

Now fast forward to 2010. My children play music off their laptops, their Macs. The speakers are terrible. Sound awful. And even myself I buy a Sonos, and the quality is acceptable, but not great. So what do I do? I still buy myself amazing speakers and amplifiers and whatever I have that produces music, I send through those. And I don’t even like the sound of Home Theaters except if you are watching movies. So we have one, but in the movie at home part of the house. Home Theaters invariably have bad speakers. So our solution for the living room and dining room is to have great old fashion Denon, Pioneer and Marantz, amplifiers connected to Yamaha speakers. It is not that the equipment is old. It’s the technology that is old. Even the Sonos I don’t use to amplify the sound, nor do I use the Sonos speakers that come with the unit. I just a use a Sonos box to convert Spotify, Last.fm and even my own music library, from an input that comes over ethernet, into an audio output that goes into the Denon amplifier and the Yamaha speakers.  Something that soon amplifiers will do by themselves using AirPlay.

So in the end I walk around my home with an iPhone or HTC Nexus One (with Andronos installed) and I can play music, great quality music. And now I have both, the quality of the 80’s with the variety, accessibility and ease of use that we have 30 years later. My favorite band at the moment is The XX. My favorite song is Crystalised.

PS:  I am studying the app that was made for streaming music with a Fonera,

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