Today I was in Barcelona, going from meeting to meeting. And totally by chance I saw the Gas Natural Building. I had to stop. I took these pictures.
Later on, at home, doing research I found out that one of the architects. Benedetta Tagliabue was a friend of mine from the 80s in NYC. I was pleasantly surprised. It is interesting that before anyone of us did well in life, we all new each other. And I don´t mean Benedetta alone. There are many people who I know from when I was at school in NYC in the 80s who have done extremely well in life. This is something that never seizes to surprise me. But in any case there aren´t many who have done such beautiful work. This is their web site I recommend you spend some time looking at it.
Barcelona is one of the best cities in the world. But unemployment is also one of the highest of the cities of Europe. Attending SIME in Barcelona I had the following idea. In the past tax free areas were created at airports, or in countries that wanted to have tax free zones for manufacturing. Barcelona still has a Zona Franca. But in the service economy that we live in now there are new impediments to entrepreneurship. Especially in Spain where entrepreneurs are always personally liable for their ventures, where it is hard to create a new business, where the government is always on your back. So I propose that Barcelona starts a Zona Franca de Emprendedores. Now how could an Entrepreneurship Zone work? Well it would be a closed area in which rules are different. For example social charges are not 50% over salaries as they are in some cases but they are say 10%, and so are taxes that employees pay, but also social benefits are low, no unemployment insurance for example cause as we know to find the winning start up an economy has to accept many start up failures. Barcelona already has @22, the entrepreneurship district. It just needs to change the working rules for those who work there. No income tax, no unemployment insurance.
Last night, at Google Zeitgeist, Google Called Home. Or at least my original home, South America. Samba, Capoeira, Tango, it was a fantastic party.
Here´s the video
And here are some pictures
And these are Loic Lemeur pictures, as you can see we were hanging out together. My pictures are taken with a Nikon D90 with an 85mm 1.4 lens. His pictures some of which I took myself are taken with a Canon Mark II D5, 85mm 1.2. I think I am soon trading my $2000 solution for his heavier, more expensive ($5000) but undeniably better camera.
Dieter Zetsche who runs Daimler AG, tells a story of an experiment with mice. When they are placed in a new environment with 3 different corridors they explore them all til they find the cheese. But when they find the cheese, if the cheese is always at the end of the same corridor for a while, in the future they stop looking. So if the cheese is later delivered at the end of another corridor they don´t look for it anymore and surprisingly….starve. He says he wants his company Daimler AG not to behave like the mice. And he gives an example of what Daimler is doing to be innovative. His example is Car to Go. But as we know these services have existed for many years. Its like ZipCar. But I guess the novelty is that a huge car company may embrace a concept like ZipCar.
In the long run is either go green or go bust but then Dieter says that there are 800 million cars in the world and 2 billion consumers waiting for one. I don´t want to think what the global atmosphere would look like if we had 3 billion cars.
He ends his speech with an analogy with dinosaurs and the car industry. These people should not be allowed to talk about dinosaurs as the more they talk about them the more they look like them.
Kudos for Chrystia Freeland, she is so very pregnant and flew in last night to moderate this panel. She also has two other girls at home in NYC. But I also feel sorry for her. And for all of us who many times have to choose between children and work.
At Google Zeitgeist I hear Lord Mandelson say two things about the quality of government that make sense. One is that the better a government in a country the more tolerant people are of globalization. The second one is that the more demanding consumers of a country are the better they are at choosing politicians.
Still listening to the UK Secretary of State for Business I get a sense that top politicians are as much witnesses of this global crisis as top people in business. The only “real” actor in these times is the crisis itself. Everyone else watches the data and tries to cope.
Santander from Spain is one of the most valuable banks in the world by market cap. Indeed if it were a US bank it would be the third most valuable bank in America. That is truly remarkable for a Spanish bank. But today I read a piece of news that intrigued me. That in order to get rid of real estate that it got as a result of bad loans it sells apartments at a discounts to its employees and relatives of its employees. Personally I think that having a loan portfolio that is exposed to your own employees is not a great idea. Neither is the concept of favoring your employees over your customers or anyone else for that matter. If I were a shareholder of Santander I would just want Santander to sell its real estate at the best available price in the marketplace.
I don´t get it. I am in NYC having dinner with my eldest daughter, Alexa, a freshman at Columbia University. She is telling me about her “History of the Middle East” class and, in passing, she says that there are 300 students in her class. 300 students? Alexa´s tuition is $25K per year and she takes 10 classes. Therefore each class is $2500, so here there are 300 kids each paying $2500 or the crazy amount of $750K for a class that has 28 sessions of an hour and 15 minutes. The professor who teaches that class can´t possibly be making more than $50K just for teaching that class as he must do a lot else, and professor salaries, I estimate, cannot be much more than $200K per year. So the gross profit on that class is $700K. Now how can an institution that can make $700K on one course lose so much money and constantly be asking all of us ex-alumni to contribute to it? I haven´t studied the university income statement in detail but it sounds to me that these large courses must be cash cows. Of course Columbia has tons of expenses, administrators, teaching assistants, grants and so on, but still it seems to have an amazing top line and a terrible bottom line.
Sorry, the Fonera 2.0 is out of stock. The next ones will arrive in a month. In the meantime, we at Fon are not only interested in those who bought a Fonera 2.0 but in those who did not buy one. So I prepared a poll for those who were not attracted by the offer to help us improve the product and the message when the new stocks arrive and as we develop future Foneras.
It is interesting to see that the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918 which killed from 3% to 5% of the population of Berlin, Paris, New York started slowly in the Spring and Summer and then went wild in the Fall killing most of its victims then. Flu spreads by proximity and physical contact. In the Fall schools start, people go indoors, and the chances of contact greatly increase. But what´s different now is not the medicine itself that has advanced very little against viruses but that we have the Internet. If the current Flu epidemic killed over say 300 people in Spain I would probably tell people at Fon to work at home over the Internet. I would not ask people to risk their lives to work at Fon. I would not send my children to school either and would ask them to study over the Internet. I would establish a plan to limit contact with the outside world, would stop traveling and would wait. I see Skype type products usage exploding if the Pandemic happens. I just hope it goes away though. News from Mexico were encouraging this weekend.
graph via www.investorconundrum.com.
So far I have had 3 Kindles. The first two I got from Jeff Bezos (thank you!!). They did not last much in my hands. Alexa my eldest daughter got the first one and Isabella, my second daughter the second one. They use them a lot. They read more than I do, they deserved them. When I was going to get my own Kindle I learned that the Kindle 2 was coming out and I waited. I bought one last week. And I love it even though in Europe the wireless does not work and it does not come with WiFi. I see the Kindle as a great single purpose device, right up there with the iPod or the Nikon D90 (my favorite digital camera). It does what it says it does: it makes you read books in digital format. It also has some other advantages like instant search for unusual words, or the ability to write notes with out destroying the original document (i.e. the book).
Now here´s a comment about digital rights infringement and the Kindle. If you go from simplicity to complexity and organize books, songs and movie content, as you go along the scale, you jump orders of magnitude in file size. A book, like The Age of the Unthinkable by my friend Joshua Ramo, which I just ordered for my Kindle, only has 368KB in file size. A song tends to occupy around 10 times more than a book. If they ever made The Age of the Unthinkable the Movie, the file size, even compressed, will be 200 times bigger. In other words you can fit 200 books in the file size of a very compressed movie. Still it is surprising to see that there are very few torrents made of say the New York Times Best Seller list (if there are I have not found any). And the whole best seller list and more would be a smaller file than just one movie. Very easy to copy in any P2P system. So far the only books that I see torrents for are computer books, books for geeks.
Personally I think it is a matter of time until book torrents or book file exchange become common. But it is suprising that right now there are perfectly legal ways of downloading books. You can go to ManyBooks.net and legally download thousands of books for your Kindle for free. And these are books that Amazon actually sells. Here for example is how you can download Rashomon a book I read in college for free. And here´s Rashomon for $3.99 if you care to pay for it. And ManyBooks.net is not fighting digital rights but rather giving books for free whose rights have expired. But it is surprising that even though these books are free only 6000 were downloaded this week.
Now one reason why torrents, and P2P may be less common in the world of reading is that there aren´t so many people who actually read books compared to people who listen to songs or watch movies. Or that those who do are less tech savvy, older, or maybe less likely to want to break the law in the countries in which downloading movies, books and songs for persona use is illegal (in Spain where I live downloading content for personal use is not punishable by law). But if I were in Amazon shoes I would do what Apple does. As we know most iPods are not loaded with content whose rights are owned by the iPod owner. But Apple tells you “do not steal music” and the rest is up to you. They make a lot of money with the gadgets themselves (disclosure I am an Apple shareholder). In my view Amazon should do the same thing. While books themselves are not pirated mainly because the cost of printing in bulk beats the cost of printing at home, and also because people just love books as objects, books lose their love appeal when they go digital. Especially on the Kindle as they all tend to look alike. So if Amazon does things right, soon the only object people will love is…the Kindle. And Amazon will design a gadget in Seattle, have it made in China for $50 and sell it for $359. And others will make them for much less, as others make MP3 players for much less. But if Amazon gets things right. People will want the Kindle.