Eavesdropping Media

Month: December, 2011

Berlin, city of tech

My last job was for a software media company operating out of Silicon Valley. There I was introduced first hand to the Silicon Valley phenomenon. As you know, Silicon Valley is the financial and creative epicenter of new media and has a fascinating recent history, with some of the most innovative, society changing technology companies emerging out of there. It’s companies have redefined business culture & business models and spread its ethos to other industries and regions. It has attracted tons of brilliant programmers, visionaries and problem-solvers, some of whom I had the pleasure of working with. They have the start up dream, the hope to work in a high energy, cool, cutting edge environment.

But in reality this is may be more of a dream for a time gone by. While the companies in Silicone Valley may have changed the way others do business, it seems that in the process they have since themselves have been changed. I saw that my company was trying (in vain) to prop up the image of a lost start-up spirit. Employees wanted to feel that the company was hip and relaxed, there was a lot of focus on “cool” office decorations, casual and light info presentations, open brainstorming sessions. But behind the curtain, it proved to be a highly corporate environment, with a highly corporate mentality and a surprisingly strict hierarchical organization. The brainstorming ideas and input from non-executives was appreciated, but rarely implemented into the process.

I have since read a few articles about how changed silicon valley has become since its inception, how much of the “magic” has been lost. Which leads me to believe what I experienced is likely a widespread phenomenon. Once you get huge capital investment and the attention of the market, something new starts to be expected of you. And the executives focus changes. It is no longer so much about innovation but rather strategy, brand positioning and market share.

Like they say in any given music scene, “it was better in the old days, before everyone else got into it.”

So if Silicon valley is on the out, where else can the new media entrepreneurs (i.e. me) of the world look to get their start?

The Answer is Berlin!

There is so much potential here: a highly skilled workforce, high unemployment (which means a largely available and hungry workforce), cheap living costs, transportation and infrastructure efficiency, its capital city status, its geographic position between western and eastern europe, a soon-to-be open huge International Airport. As a result, small app companies, new start-ups, conferences about start-ups, organized meetings with entrepreneurs in the new media field have been popping up increasingly in the last 2 years. SoundCloud a very popular music application is based here, and more established companies are also opening up branches around the city. A new media community has sprung up around Rosenthaler Platz in Mitte and the city has started to notice.

But there are some downfalls to operating in Berlin. The city is kinda broke, there is not a culture of venture capital investment here on the scale of San Francisco or London,  and while Berliners are known for trying out every- and anything when it comes to parties, they are pretty broke too and not so likely to be early adopters. This means that the local market, which has traditionally been the testing ground, may not be ideal.

But besides this Berlin feels electric right now.

Canada and Kyoto

I have been meaning to write about this since the news broke last week. But I guess I needed a bit of time to let the initial emotions (worry, frustration, slight hope – followed by anger) settle.

So the news is this, after a week of Climate Talks in Durban, a worldwide effort to come up with a real plan to manage climate change and try and slow down the rate of destruction, we learn 2 things:

1) a small win has been accomplished at these talks, that is bringing some emerging pollution giants to the table. Guidelines have been set to curb the rates of greenhouse gas emissions of China, Brazil and South Africa. China’s absence was the key reason that US avoided signing this agreement, and the excuse of other developed nations to not comply. And now China is showing a willingness to come to the table. For this I am happy. It also looks as though it has been decided that the new agreement replacing Kyoto, which is set to start be defined by 2015, is to be ratified by the mother of all polluters, the USA. It has been decided that this future treaty will be legally binding for all countries > unlike Kyoto, which was often ratified but not complied with.

2) There has been a huge Canada Fail. My country, the country that was for a long time known around the world for its progressive policies, its respect for science and its active and healthy participation in achieving world consensus has gone rogue. But not in the cool superhero way. In the dumb, twisted ideological “Sarah Palin”-style rogue. Let’s call it Idiot Rogue. Basically my countries has gone off its rocket.  Canada has decided to turn its back on its Kyoto commitment.

Thus the anger.

Of course, this is all done under the guise of some fantastical economic strategy to promote some yet unattained prosperity in the future, to “protect” Canada’s apparently very fragile economy from this “job-killing” agreement.

But it makes me want to ask a few hypotheticals: What future does the Harper gvt. actually envision?  Is it a future of increased wealth disparity or equality? Will we all be happily employed? Will every human being have the chance to enjoy clean water, clean air, and ecological stability in 20 years?

This government is brutally short-sighted, and its complete lack of foresight is practically blinding. How can they be so foolish. What is their end goal? I am to be honest baffled by the logic that the Harper gvt is using.  Do they want prosperity? Because their actions are flying in the face of reason, logic and even the most inane common sense.

****

In one of my old university classes, we had an exercise where 5 groups were formed, and we played the role of various stakeholders in a hypothetical conflict.  In our case, the conflict was a territory that was going to be polluted by a large corporation and the stakeholders were: local citizens, the big polluting company, the government, the activists and the scientists. We had to work to find a compromise. The solution was not perfect, but at least we all participated. Canada is the second largest country in the world and has a large portion of the world’s most valuable natural resources, including water, and so it needs to be at the table when these solutions get decided. Not only for the environment, but also for the sake of Canada’s place in the world. By leaving the table, Canada has profoundly damaged its reputation and credibility in the international forum.

****

On a last note, while this is somewhat anecdotal, since this decision, many of my non-canadian friends have voiced their surprise at how backwards Canada is acting in regards to the Climate discussions. Many had always held our country in a high regard and thought that it was a country with strong principles.

This is a very sad turn for Canada.

Fun with cookbooks and other merry ideas

Warning: the following is a Christmas Gift themed blog entry! Prepare yourself for some subtle Martha Stewart-ing. 

As a general rule, I only buy what I need, and then only things that will last. Needless to say, I don’t buy much. But at christmas, I must forgo my normal frugality, give in a little to the glitter of storefront displays and actually go (gasp) shopping! Let the gift buying begin!

In my opinion, the trick to a good gift is to find something useful but unique. As I currently have a soft spot for all things kitchen related, I thought I would share a couple of my food related gift ideas with you, the friendly readers.

Convenient Kitchenware

Kitchenware can make useful gifts, but you must be careful with what you choose here since no one needs strange obscure gadgets that only get used once (Cherry pitter anyone?) or multiple sets of anything. But I do think there are a few gifts that seems to be unique but useful enough not to end up lost in drawer.

Utensils or cutting board made out of beautiful oiled wood: I would recommend a solid cherry wood serving spoon. Or one of these mixed wood boards. These are totally useful and easy for people to incorporate into their kitchen but still special because of the vibrant color, and textures. For those people that already have a cutting board they are happy with, but these special wooden boards are pretty enough to double as serving boards for cheese or desserts. Plus you can find nice quality pieces almost anywhere and really, who doesn’t like wood? As Mr. Jerry Seinfeld once said “Wood Is Good“!

Good quality Pasta Tongs: Truly one of the most useful things anyone can own. It makes serving pasta easier, you can use it to flip meat, or anything else on a grill. Even the student who lives on spaghetti will appreciate this! And yet it is surprisingly rare in most kitchens. Here is the brand I use. You can get cheaper versions, but try and stick to the stainless steel, as they last longer and look better!

A Blender! This may be a bit big for the casual gifter, but if you notice someone close to you is without one, and that person has the space, I recommend you pick up a good looking blender! They are so handy, and if they look antique and are in good condition, they can double as a sculpture in the middle of your countertop!

Creative Cookbooks

I have a growing obsession with cookbooks in general, and christmas is a good time to indulge and pick up those books that aren’t 100% accessible, but that are beautiful and inspiring all the same.

NOMA is one of these books. It was one of the top cookbooks in 2010 according to almost every cookbook list out there and has received amazing reviews. Noma is the name of a famous 2-michelin-star restaurant in Copenhagen which features an interpretation of the new wave of Nordic cooking. The recipes look at times eccentric, and I am sure they are crazy difficult to cook. But the thing that stands out about this book is the nordic take on classic food combos and the phenomenal food photography. Even if it ends up as a coffee table book, it is truly beautiful.

Das Kochgesetzbuch (the cook law book), by a german star chef, Christian Rach. This is definitely flirting with Molecular cooking and the recommended portion sizes are hilariously tiny. But there are some great tips and clarifications in here. Also the recipes all looked very appetizing, and so even if you don’t follow it to a tee, you could easily take some inspiration from the food combinations. Only available in German for now.

Plenty from Isreali-born british chef, Yotam Ottenlenghi. I have only recently discovered him, but he is apparently very well known in England. The book looks beautiful and the food combinations are novel and inspiring. While I have not cooked from it yet, the reviews I have read suggest that the recipes are balanced just right, making this a solid addition to a cookbook collection.

Lastly, I have The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century. An avid reader of the New York Times would likely appreciate it. It has an element of history and food trends. And as it is coming from the New York Times, its recipes are of the highest caliber.

Fantastic Foodstuff + Spirits

Now it is common to give wine to a friend or colleague around the holidays, but you can also mix it up and give people special cooking oils, vinegars, or unusual spirits. In the case of all of these, you need to be sure that the person receiving them has an idea of what exactly to do with them. Otherwise these gifts will end up at the back of the pantry with the canned apricots and the expired water chestnuts.

The trick to making oil and vinegars useful, is to actually provide a recipe. Example, a bottle of good quality olive oil and raspberry vinaigrette, along with a hand-written copy of an easy recipe or two you found online. I realize I am heading into real Martha Stewart territory with the hand-written note suggestion, but it actually makes a really simple gift that much more accessible.

For a friend with a taste for drink, I recommend the gift of Angostura Bitters. We received this recently as a gift and were pleasantly surprised! Although it can be found in every commercial bar on the planet, it is unusual for home bars. It is easy to find in spirit stores and makes your drinks go pop. But here too you may need to offer some guidance as how to use it.  I recommend you couple this with a cocktail book, like this reprint of the 1908 “Angostura Bitters Drink Guide

If you think a friend might already have Angostura, you can also get them a different Bitter like Peychaud’s Bitters or Fee Brothers Orange Bitters. For a complete list see the wikipedia page.

Another spirited idea would be Bulliet Bourbon. It is delicious Kentucky Bourbon. I recently discovered this on a trip to New York. Its hard to find in Europe, but if you do, grab it. It is good value and would make a sweet gift!

I am a big fan of giving food as gifts. Its not totally original, but a good jar of honey, some quality biscotti or an organic chutney can make a decent last minute gift as well.

This concludes my list. Hope you find yourself some useful and inspiring gifts this holiday season!

Earth 2

Does anyone remember the show Earth 2? It was only on for 2 seasons in 1994 – 95, so no worries if not. Briefly, it was the story of a group of people living in 2192 who leave our solar system to go find and inhabit a planet very similar to earth, named G889 or more aptly Earth 2.  I didn’t watch that much of the show, but I vaguely remember the concept.

Well today, AP has reported that NASA scientists have in fact found a planet that may resemble earth in terms of temperature and make-up. Whether or not it contains life is not yet determined, but scientists are excited to have for the first time found anything resembling our earth out there in the stars!

They have named it Kepler-22b, but the press has deemed it Earth 2.0 …

Here’s a full article about it on Periscope Post.

Sadly the planet is just about 600 light years away, so its not looking like the trip to Earth 2, as shown in the show, will be happening just yet.

Still this has been a big week for astronomists, they have found 2 giant black holes and an earth-like planet! And they are getting attention from the press! Wiked!

If we keep it up, maybe just maybe we can make it past our species pettiness, make it into space and maybe one day this will be real!

Here’s hoping!

PS. Please note the star trek references in the last 2 posts. And yes, there will be more