René Seifert

Entrepreneur, Global Citizen, Flat World, Internet, Web 2.0, Innovation, Start-Up

Archive for April, 2009

Glad to be a TEDster: India Event in November

Last week got the lucky mail that I got accepted to TED, in my opinion one of the finest organizations these days to make a change for the better to our world. Under the claim “Ideas worth Sharing”, smart minds with a good heart get together to discuss concepts that are often extremely bold, yet possible to achieve only through a joint effort. Projects which are independent from governmental politics and for profit interests, from their approach moreover deeply democratic. Whoever decides to buy into an idea and support it, can do so. If many do so, chances are that that the bold objective might turn into a new reality.

So far I have watched the many TED-talks (Technology, Entertainment, Design) “free to the world” mostly on the treadmill in the gym through my iPod Touch, always inspired by the rigor of reason applied to the concepts, its fabulous storytelling and admiration of the creative human mind. Hence, I feel deeply humbled and honoured to be able to participate in that crowd live. The first event I will take part in is – suprise, surprise – TED India, in fact from November 4th to 7th 2009 in Mysore, around 80 km northwest from Bangalore on the legendary Infosys campus.

TED India

What I also liked are the terms of participation which one has to opt-into and which couldn’t be any clearer:

I understand that those who attend TED do so in a spirit of curiosity, open-mindedness, respect and tolerance, thereby enabling constructive conversation and allowing TED speakers to be more open than they might otherwise be. I confirm that I will respect these values, and will abide by the conference rules. I also understand that the atmosphere at TED is appropriate for high-level relationship-building, not salesmanship. I confirm I will not use my TED attendance to aggressively pitch my company, organization, products or services to other attendees.

It reminds me a bit of our non-solicitation policy at the Entrepeneurs Organization (EO). There is nothing more damaging to building a trustful relationship that if you have to suspect that the person opposite is only talking to you with a hidden agenda for the sake of selling you his crap.

Till then, I will continue watching the talks on my iPod as well as developping a little project further which I actually picked up from TED. Happy to make an announcement soon here on my blog. Else, please let me know if you are coming to TED India as well so we can connect already ahead of the event along the lines of the conference’s motto “The Future beckons”.

Bangalore Airport lounge concept sucks

It’s not for the obious reason. In the First Class Lounge where I’m sitting, I get treated like a king. Yummy food, immaculate service, big recliner-chairs, you name it. Rather,  the entire lounge concept carries a fundamental flaw.

As for the moment of writing (sitting in the lounge) connected with WiFi, there is a glass door to the Business Lounge. The one where everyone gets to sit – if you don’t have a first class ticket or are like me a HON-Circle member. I used to sit in that other lounge till I got this ultra-frequent-flyer status. The problem there: It’s so crammed that it defies the very purpose of a lounge: having a place which is more relaxed that the general hall with a few fringe benefits like drinks and snacks.

My point is: When I used to have access to “only” that business lounge, I took a bottle of water and went out into the general hall as often there was not even a seat free in the lounge. So much it was packed. What really has a bad taste, that this First Class Lounge just besides and visible for these poor people is almost completely empty and in size just slightly smaller than the entire business lounge. Usually I am THE ONLY passenger sitting there and getting served, today at least there is another family here as well. Overall it gives it just an occupancy of, say, 20 %. The business lounge often ranges in the 120 % by contrast.

In India – unless your name is Gandhi – it is quite uncommon to question own privileges, but I feel  feel sorry for these people “on the other side”. The airport should have definitely allotted more space for the business lounge.

In the light of the problems and inequalities in India a minor point, but still as the airport started not even a year ago from a clean slate, it should have been done better. What I also enjoy is writing this feedback publicly on my blog instead of being repetitively asked to fill out the same questionnaire every time again I’m here. The problem with this is: The questionnaire asks the wrong questions. Hence, I prefer to air my view in this free-flow manner.

Election in India: Smartvote.in provides Orientation

In midst of the global crisis, India is ramping up for the general election. From my observation, the country is more than ever involved into the process. The terrorist attacks in Mumbai last year might have been the final point to exclaim “no more” for considering that politics was the business of others.

The concerns of the upper and middle class so far were rather geared to keep away from politics and focus on personal progress. The economic climate with growth rates of 8 % provided a good excuse for that. In result, the rift between the available intellectual capital of the country and that of the actual political leadership (except a few in the central government) couldn’t gape wider.

With India having equally slipped into the recession – albeit with less exposure to the global tsunami – and the internal security being exposed as vulnerable, the many Indians with a good heart and a sharp brain are saying enough is enough. “We have to get involved and there is no more excuse for anybody to stay away from the ballot”, seems to be the common sentiment.

India: I don't vote

Moreover, plenty of grassroot-initiatives are forming to dissolve the impermeable membrane between us (=the people) and them (=the politicians). Instead, people are starting to re-claim democracy and considering it increasingly a true res publica (public affair). One fantastic example for that is an initiative of a few fellow members of my Bangalore chapter of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization. It’s called smartvote.in and is supposed to provide unbiased information about the Bangalore candidates for the elections in India.

Smartvote.in

It’s an absolutely state-of the art website, with an appealing design which supports its purpose perfectly. But even more so, it’s about the content. All the candidates for the three Bangalore-constituencies are portrayed: which party they belong to, what they stand for in terms of security, unemployment, moral policing etc. as well as their criminal records. (So much about the integrity of politics to date if it’s relevant to follow up on this attribute and more often than not, this field will not remain empty …)

Nothing better can happen to Indian politics than such bottom-up initiatives gaining momentum in an Obama-like Election 2.0-style. And, Smartvote.in is a perfect example which even transcends the website as a destination towards connected content with a Facebook-group, too which allows to continue the conversation.

Before my Mac, I owned the ugliest Notebook in the World

Last Saturday, I did it. After a few years of consideration, I seized the moment of agony for my Fujitsu/Siemens-Microsoft-Vista-Notebook, went into the Apple flagship store in San Francisco and got myself a MacBook Pro. Life has changed -for the better. I am still getting into the nitty-gritty about the Mac, but I am getting there, especially with more and more enthusiasm. The same enthusiasm which I so far observed with suspicion from the other side of the fence owning and using a PC for almost 20 years.

The final nail in the coffin to get a Mac was that my last notebook, a Fujitsu Siemens Celsius in the vicious combination with Microsoft Vista. This evil package was the biggest piece of shit in technology which I’ve touched in my whole life. And I never belonged to those predictable Microsoft-bashers; I was indifferent as long as this thing quietly did its job, rather in terms of a hygiene factor. Maybe that’s in Microsoft’s proportions anyway the highest Zen of praise.

But with this monster, which I bought, some 15 months ago, everything started to change. Have a look:

My ugly, shitty PC-Notebook

Frankly, have you ever seen something more ugly, clumsy and less elegant than this grey brick containing chips and processors? (If so, please send me pics and links). I am actually sure, that the spec for this notebook said this had to be ugly. I imagine a conversation at Fujitsu/Siemens during the design phase, when the engineer presented the first prototype to the team getting a reaction like: “Oh no, no. Back to the drawing board, that’s way to beautiful, it has to become, really, really ugly.” After seven iterations or so the engineer finally comes up with something that looks like this insult to fundamental human aesthetics.

Anyway, I decided myself to buy this thing, and I was not looking out for a piece of postmodern Andy Warhol art, but a fast and powerful computer. But what ultimately amounted to my deepest despise for this thing is that it terminally crashed four times in these 15 months of my ownership. To be fair in giving shit: It was equally distributed between two identical crashes of Vista and two identical failures of the hardware. So, do we start to see patterns here?

I think so. And it brings me to the conclusion that the hardware-software model of the last 20 years for the PC is broken. Sadly and luckily. The model went like this: Faster machines allow for more powerful software where Moore’s law doubling processor speed every two years allows for even more powerful software and so on. The problem: The duo of MS Windows and MS Office suite, sitting centrally on your machine, have become heavier and heavier, cluttered with useless features that were built in order to keep the release cycles and its underlying license model spinning. Who lost out? The consumer, the user.

Just to deep dive into my case, which I don’t see as just an outlier in terms of, well, I was just unlucky with my particular PC-unit. There is a system of collective disregard for the customer:

  • I bought the computer in Germany, but wanted the software for the operating system Vista and MS Office in English. Guess what, not that I could not just change the settings in the software or at least handily download a patch from Microsoft’s website. No, this language kit had to be ordered from Microsoft UK. That took 6 weeks to get physically shipped. Hello?!? In which millennium are we living?
  • With the installation of the first pieces of software when I got started, in particular a standard driver to run my PCMCI-card for wireless connectivity in India, Microsoft Vista froze during re-booting. Froze without any chance to bring it to life. Terminally dead such that I had with the help of my dealer make a mirror of the hard-drive to save the data and run a complete fresh re-installation of the software. The same happened a few weeks later. How can that be? I believe it’s in line with all the anger and complaints that have been around since Vista was hastily released without sufficient testing.
  • Last November then in India, I tried to start my computer. Nothing happened, apart from three sounds: short – long – short and a black screen. Calling in Fujitsu Siemens they let me know that the sounds were for remote diagnosis and said that the motherboard had gone. During one of my visits in Germany the technician had to replace it and mentioned something like “it happens quite often with this model as it tends to get hot which strains the motherboard to death. “

This “getting hot” is a charming euphemism for this super-heavy-ugly thing on my lap being able to either fry eggs (or my balls alternatively). And where the fan was making sounds of a sick old steam engine whose time had come.

Maybe this picture of a “steam engine” illustrates best how outdated and of yesterday this model “bigger, higher, faster, centralized” has become in a time where we are moving towards distributed computing, software-as-a-service and lightweight netbooks.

I see parallels to what the U.S. car industry is going through. Innovation at GM in the last 50 years largely consisted of building even heavier, even bulkier and even more fuel-guzzling monsters who are in fact nothing but dinosaurs – too heavy at some point to carry their own weight, collapse and perish. And that in a time where we require “The Power of Less” (as the meaningful conference title of Web 2.0 Expo went last week. )

What the car industry needs is something like Google or Apple in technology to fix the entire model. Start from scratch with new paradigms which fulfil the demand for cost-effective mobility and balance the impact on the environment.

But back to my computer. With these three incidents I had really started to loath my notebook to the point to co-addiction. When I booted it in the morning and it went slower that usually, I held my breath (“Will it resurrect?”). I became hesitant to install new software because it could risk the freezing. Not to mention that the battery for this energy-guzzling beast lasted for some 25 minutes, whereby it took already 5 to get it running. All in all: A total, complete and utter failure on every possible front.

Finally, thank god finally, last week in San Francisco at the conference, on Thursday morning during the keynote I tried to boot this piece of crap. There they were, the three sounds: short – long – short. The motherboard again, just 4 months old. After 10 seconds of changing temperature between cold and hot, I just felt deep relief as it was clear: This was it. Never again. Over and out. Now the shit will see the trash-bin. Liberation. No more self-betrayal of the sort: “OK, I don’t like my notebook, but still: I bought it last year and I should keep it for one more year.“ (Maybe you realize that this blog-post carries traits of a self-therapy ;-)

I was immediately geared towards buying a Mac, but needed more confirmation. And it seems that this is how it works with Apple-products: The community of enthusiastic users is the best evangelist. Within 48 hours I consulted three trusted people whom I hold in highest esteem and who were already Mac-users: Anju Rupal, Sören Stamer who were also at the conference, and in good Web 2.0-fashion via Twitter (and e-mail) Lars Hinrichs who had made the change to Mac only recently.

After they had given me a thumbs-up for all the apprehensions I have had, I went into the hyper-cool Apple-Store and started my own journey with the Mac learning what it takes and having fun with it. Anyway, also to prevent lethargy from age, it is always good to be drawn out of the comfort zone by having to adopt something different. A great start for a new beginning.