August 19, 2014

Humans do not need to apply

Excellent 15 minute video explaining the massive changes brought to our economy by the large scale automation of human work.

Related to that, PewResearch has done a large survey among experts about the consequences that the rise of robots and artifical intelligence will cause to our society and work life. It’s extensive but well worth a look.

Meanwhile, in Germany a crowdfunding project plans to launch a real-world experiment with an unconditional base income. Why? Because unlike in the past, robots and computers will be able to do all our jobs, and that requires that we rewrite the social welfare system.

So far, two base incomes (limited for a year) have been successfully funded.

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August 15, 2014

8 articles that I really enjoyed reading this week

Some reading tips for the weekend. If you do not want to miss future posts, subscribe via FacebookRSS or E-Mail.

» Edward Snowden: The Untold Story
I have not had time yet to read this extensive piece, but everybody says it’s great.

» Email Is Still the Best Thing on the Internet
Word!

» The Most Fascinating Profile You’ll Ever Read About a Guy and His Boring Startup
This is quite a success story: While creating an (unsuccessful) game app, Stewart Butterfield built a simple chat tool for teams and enterprises that looks like a big winner.

» Here’s why celebrities are taking the ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’
The power of the Internet at work.

» Why It’s So Hard to Catch Your Own Typos
Great explainer. Now it makes more sense to me why I spot typos in a text as soon as I switch between notebook and iPad, for example.

» Stop being a tourist
A critical look at the mainstream tourist mentality. Signed.

» It’s time to consider restricting human breeding
Controversial ideas but worth debating about, and there are a couple of interesting angles to consider, among others millions of kids who grow up without parents and millions of kids who grow up with parents who obviously are unsuitable for parenting.

» The New Habit Challenge: Wear The Same Clothes Every Day
That specific approach seems a bit boring to me, but one cannot argue about the overall philosophy: reducing unimportant decisions to make more room for important ones. Because decision power is a limited resource.

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August 9, 2014

12 articles that I really enjoyed reading this week

Some reading tips for the weekend. If you do not want to miss future posts, subscribe via FacebookRSS or E-Mail.

» Survey: YouTube Stars More Popular Than Mainstream Celebs Among U.S. Teens
This is a profound change with lots of possible consequences.

» I Want It, and I Want It Now — It’s Time for Instant Gratification
It’s a big trend in the tech world right now: Startups providing consumers with instant gratification in a variety of sectors.

» Get a liberal arts B.A., not a business B.A., for the coming artisan economy
When robots have taken most of today’s jobs, this is what might follow: The artisan economy. I’m all for it!

» The case against time zones: They’re impractical and outdated
I have a hard time believing that this change is executable. But sure, getting rid of scheduling issues and travel confusions caused by time zones would be nice.

» The Cognitive Science of Rationality
We humans walk around thinking we are so sophisticated. Yet, our brain constantly fails us with irrational thinking.

» There is only one major news site that both pro-Israelis and pro-Palestinians read
This is ironic and sad: The only major news site reporting balanced about the conflict is struggling to find a core audience.

» No War Is an Island
Great read describing how all the conflicts in the Middle East are connected. Gaza is really just one stage for a much bigger conflict.

» Global success stories
It’s easy to get caught in the negative headlines coming from different parts of the world. But simultaneously there are true success stories going on.

» Sweden, of all places, just claimed the world’s second-largest Wikipedia
How can that be possible? A bot that writes entries automatically. The rather simple structured Swedish language is very suitable for that.

» How Berlin has ruined living anywhere else
I do not feel that way at all, but maybe it is because I grew up in Berlin and see the city with completely different eyes than those moving there at a later stage during their life. Still it makes me happy to witness how popular my hometown has become.

» Man vs. Food
A guy spent a whole year trying out various different diets. These are the results.

» A Message To Women From A Man: You Are Not “Crazy”
This is usually overlooked. If you keep telling people a specific thing about themselves often enough, they start to believe it and might even act according to it.

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August 8, 2014

Travel hacking: My personal strategies and advises to score the best travel deals

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In January I wrote a blog post about how I make the lifestyle of “digital nomadism” work. I mentioned a couple of websites and strategies to score good travel deals. However, it was not the focus of the post. Since I occasionally get asked whether I have tips on how and where to book the best fares and hotels, I decided to share my ideas and strategies in a separate post.

Note that compared to some “professional” travel hackers my knowledge and experience is rather limited. Still I hope I might be able to point out some good resources and approaches. Let’s begin!

1. Be flexible
This is crucial! Flexibility is the key to travel for less. If you only have 2-4 weeks a year when you can travel, if those weeks overlap with the main travel seasons between June and August or between Christmas and New Year, or if you only can begin a trip on a Friday/Saturday, you will have to accept significantly higher costs. The obvious rule of thumb is: If you travel when nobody else travels, you pay less. Because planes and hotel are being operated anyway.

2. Join an airline loyalty program
It took me a while to realize that collecting miles really can pay off big time. And even though the overall attractiveness of these programs for the average traveller is slowly getting worse, there is still a lot of value that can be accessed. My advice: Join the loyalty program of one of the three big airline alliances, depending on which airline you usually fly with – but only if you are flexible in regards to your travel schedule. If you solely are able to travel during certain weeks and days of the year, you might end up paying much more for the fares than what you can “earn” with your loyalty to one airline alliance. In that case, it is better to skip the miles hunt and simply go for the most desirable fare, no matter what airline or alliance. For U.S. based travelers, one additional (or even main) source of miles could be credit card sign-up bonuses.

3. Follow deal blogs for airfares
It can be both inspiring as well as generate significant savings to follow websites that list fare deals. For trips starting from the U.S., The Flight Deal as well as the FareCompare Deals blog are good sources to keep an eye on. For trips starting in Europe, Flynous.com has good deals. If you know other sites worth recommending, feel free to share them in the comments.

4. Use the right tool to find the best airfares
The best search engine for airfares is the ITA Matrix Airfare Search. Read tutorials (here and here) to learn how to make best use of it. It’s extremely versatile. Note: You cannot book flights through it, so after you found your fare you need to search it on a booking site or meta-search engine or the airline website (see point 5). Also: Some low-cost airlines are not included. Thus ITA Matrix is best for long-haul flights and complex itineraries. In case you do not only want inexpensive but also convenient, you might want to have a look at Routehappy, a site that offers you a “happiness score” for flights.

5. Use the right tool to book the best airfares
There is an abundance of sites to book flights as well as meta-search engines that direct you to booking sites. I like Skyscanner and Kayak (both meta-search engines). The former includes many obscure and low cost airlines, which can be a plus. Unfortunately Skyscanner sometimes links to rather sketchy booking sites that have earned a bad reputation and bring you lots of hidden fees. I would advise you to only book with reputable names. If you are in doubt, do a research for the site that you are about to book a flight on. Rule of thumb: If a specific flight fare is significantly cheaper on one site than anywhere else, this is red flag. Unlike with hotel rooms, the price for a specific flight usually does not differ too much across different booking sites.

In case you are wondering when the timing is ideal to make a booking to your desired destination, read this article.

6. Hotels are different than flights
Booking a hotel room is different than booking a flight, because the prices for the same room on the same day can vary a lot, depending on where you book, if you have a coupon, if you choose non-refundable or with free cancellation, and so on. A good way to start is getting yourself an overview about the overall price situation. I prefer to do that on Tripadvisor. To each hotel room, it shows all the booking sites and their rates.

7. U.S. sites are often cheaper
Provided that you own a credit card that does not impose fees for bookings in foreign currencies and that you are fine with dealing with customer support in English (if an issue arises), I recommend U.S. booking sites for hotels (even for hotels in other countries). Not only are rates often a bit cheaper than on European sites. Also those sites have interesting loyalty programs and usually offer coupons that you can apply during the booking process to bring down the rate. Obviously this requires that you have informed yourself about the current rates and are willing to invest some time for research. For a list with (mostly updated) coupons, have a look at this thread on Flyertalk before making a booking.

Personally, when it comes to making a hotel booking, I prefer U.S. based Orbitz or its sister site Cheaptickets, where rates often are better than on its European brand Ebookers. Currently, Cheaptickets has quite a rare promotion by offering $75 in hotel booking credits for each flight you book through its mobile app. I have not made use of that offer yet but it seems pretty intriguing if you anyway have a hotel/flight booking coming up.

One caveat: Orbitz, Cheaptickets and most U.S. based sites always charge your card at the time of booking, even if your rate includes free cancellation (which in that case would mean that you get a refund). If you do not like that, or if for a certain destination U.S. sites lack a selection of good accommodations, European competitor Booking.com might be the best alternative. Booking.com also has a bigger variety of accommodation types, including hostels, bed & breakfasts and apartments. Obviously, when talking about apartments, one should not forget to mention Airbnb.

8. Cancel and rebook
If you made a hotel room reservation with free cancellation, just have a look at the rate a couple of weeks later (or a couple of weeks/days before your stay). Rates are very fluctuating and sometimes get cheaper over time, depending on the occupancy. It can totally be worth it to cancel a booking for free and book again, if rates have dropped. Just make sure you really can cancel for free and that the desired room is still available.

9. Final thoughts
It’s really up to each to decide how advanced strategies one wants to use. Generally I think flight and hotel booking is a typical case for the 80:20 principle: With 20 percent of a time investment you can leverage 80 percent of the possible savings. Some people (like me) might enjoy researching for future trips so much that they decide to invest an extraordinary amount of time to make the perfect booking (an especially cheap one or one that gets you a slightly better flight routing or hotel class for the same amount of money). But this approach is not for everybody.

10. Further reading
In case you want to get really serious about travel hacking, here are a couple of blogs you could follow: The Points Guy, Nomadic Matt, Loyalty Lobby, Hack My Trip, Frugal Travel Guy. They are quite U.S. centric and write a lot about the credit card-based “miles game”, so it won’t be completely relevant to people from outside the U.S. Still, these sites keep an eye on the industry and regularly notify about the latest news, approaches, offers and deals.

In case you have any questions, comments or additional recommendations, please leave a comment.

And a final Disclaimer: Whatever you do after reading this post, there are no guarantees that these strategies, tips and resources lead to the best result in your specific case.

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August 7, 2014

Let’s create a new country, and let’s do some things in a different way!

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Inspired by this article about floating cities and their suitability for experiments with radical new forms of societies, I felt the urge to compile a list of the features that such a newly formed country should have according to me. My original text is only in German, but I felt it would make sense to publish it in English as well.

So here is how things would be done according to me in a new country that is completely designed from scratch:

-> Elimination of all copyright laws. No more silly debates about who owns the rights to a selfie taken by a Monkey.

-> Introduction of an unconditional basic income as a replacement of all social welfare systems.

-> Positive attitude towards and encouragement of replacement of today’s human labor by robots – where applicable.

-> Establishment of a 30-hour work week for salaried workers.

-> Creating of a highly efficient, close meshed network of public transport, combining scheduled and on demand services – similar to the plans of the city of Helsinki. No more need for private cars.

-> Construction of an effective goods transportation system, similar to old pneumatic post systems. Commercial usage, for instance by e-commerce stores, is being charged for.

- > Creation of a maternity leave system where both parents will equally share the time absent from work, thus eliminating one major reason for the gender pay gap as well as archaic role stereotypes.

- > Elimination of the T–V distinction in language (this criteria makes more sense when discussing such a list among German speakers).

-> Elimination of the dubbing of movies and TV series, instead relying on the original audio + subtitles (again, this is a rather country-specific aspect).

And then let’s see what happens! There are no guarantees that this kind of society would work out. But I am sure there would be some volunteers to participate.

Ideas? Comments? Your own list?

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August 4, 2014

People I am especially impressed by right now

These are jobs and tasks that not everybody would want to carry out right now:

-> Doctors, medical staff and other helpers that fight the current Ebola epidemic in Africa, facing the permanent threat of contracting the disease themselves.

-> Doctors, medical staff, other helpers, journalists and activist that voluntary spend time in Gaza to help and to report.

-> The international experts that are investigating the MH17 crash site – in the middle of a civil war.

There are some really brave people out there!

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August 1, 2014

13 articles that I really enjoyed reading this week

Some reading tips for the weekend. If you do not want to miss future posts, subscribe via FacebookRSS or E-Mail.

» At Front Lines, Bearing Witness in Real Time
A report on how social media is changing the coverage and public debate about war.

» Now Then – the hidden systems that’ve frozen time and stop us changing the world
This is a serious reason for concern: If the world and its people get completely predictable and surveilled in the digital age, then those in power will be able to avoid any kind of unexpected change to the world and its societies. Because everything that will happen in the future is already known and planned for.

» Blacklisted: The Secret Government Rulebook For Labeling You a Terrorist
It looks like you do not need to be a terrorist to end up on America’s no-fly-list. Once you are on it, freedom of travel is gone.

» Lessons From America’s War for the Greater Middle East
Insightful analysis, more relevant than ever.

» Propaganda for peace? To change attitudes, don’t argue; agree, extremely
This is hard for most people, but definitely true. Arguing and trying to show how lame another person’s arguments are never works.

» The new land of opportunity for immigrants is Germany
Who would have guessed that Germany would make such a career. I would not have. But am quite impressed by (and a bit proud about) it.

» App Rot
Years ago the market for mobile apps resembled a gold rush. Not anymore. Now it is more like a great depression (among most developers).

» Spotify Rules
No more MP3s. A post packed with forecasts about how people’s music consumption will change because of streaming music pioneer Spotify. I agree with much of the overall line of thought.

» Inside Sun Noodle, the Secret Weapon of America’s Best Ramen Shops
Very extensive article about the Ramen hype (Japanese noodle soup) and a company that is both benefiting from it as well as creating it.

» Burger King Is Run by Children
Another part of the food business is not doing that well. But an unusually young leadership team is now in charge to change that.

» Why are some people so much luckier than others?
Those people that constantly seem to have more luck than a “normal” person? Often it’s just their different attitude that opens up more possibilities.

» Can Meditation Really Slow Ageing?
If the answer is yes, that’s good news. If no, I still keep meditating.

» In the brain of the father: why men can be just as good primary parents as women
Many people walk around assuming that if it counts, the mother somehow is more important to and capable of dealing with a child than the father. But now a study found that men actually can be as good, as emotionally connected parents to their children as women.

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July 20, 2014

A documentary worth watching: The Story of Aaron Swartz

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I highly recommend to watch this 1 hour 44 minute documentary about IT-wunderkind and political activist Aaron Swartz. He took his life in the face of a potential decades long prison sentence – for trying to fight the lack of common access to public knowledge and the copyright laws that lie at the base of that. A documentary that illustrates how much out of proportion the legal sanctions against infringement of (partly outdated) copyright laws can be today.

The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz (for free on YouTube)

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July 19, 2014

12 articles that I really enjoyed reading this week

Some reading tips for the weekend. If you do not want to miss future posts, subscribe via FacebookRSS or E-Mail.

» What to do when an Israeli-Palestinian ‘peace’ is out of reach
Intelligent comment: What Israel & Palestine need is not (“god given”) peace but a serious compromise that requires sacrifices.

» Helsinki’s ambitious plan to make car ownership pointless in 10 years
I’m excited about this!

» Kara Swisher: Tech’s Most Powerful Snoop
Inspiring and interesting piece about one of the best journalists (in my eyes) covering the Internet and Technology business.

» Report around the clock: How some news orgs use time zones to their advantage to operate 24/7
Clearly a trend that makes a lot of sense.

» Programming is not math
Good post clearing up with the old stereotype that one has to be good at Math to be able to code.

» #Love: Virtually No Sex
To enjoy this post, first agree with yourself to put aside all assumptions and prejudices you have about sex and intimacy. Otherwise you waste your time.

» How “I Don’t Know” Can Make You An Authority in Your Industry
Insightful! Say “I don’t know” more often and earn respect and credibility.

» Technology journalists are facing extinction
Because every part of life is being touched and disrupted by technology, technology journalists and bloggers need to reinvent themselves.

» From Alzheimer’s to ADHD: what doctors can diagnose from your voice alone

» Amazon’s Cloud Is One of the Fastest-Growing Software Businesses in History
Amazon’s (comparatively) little known side business is becoming a main business.

» Japan’s new Cruise Train is a luxury hotel on rails
Who would not want to go on a ride with this train.

» Meet Cups: Endless Coffee for $45 a Month
A coffee flatrate for New Yorkers, spanning together many independent coffee shops. Why not.

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July 18, 2014

The idea of the basic income might be flawed, but it makes more sense than today’s system

The photo above is from this article on pando.com. It shows a billboard campaign of American lobbyists against initiatives promoting a higher minimum wage. A topic that currently enjoys lots of political and media spotlight both in the U.S. and Europe.

The message of the billboard is that the higher the minimum wage, the more likely it is that jobs will be automated.

This is both right and wrong. Naturally, the more expensive it is for a company to employ a worker, the more incentive the company has for cutting down jobs to reduce costs.

So from this perspective, the claim that higher salaries will lead to less jobs might be true.

But the initiators of this billboard are also (and probably intentionally) wrong: Because they imply that with no increased minimum wage, jobs won’t be automated. But that is a fairy tale.

In a scenario where a computer/machine is fully capable and suitable to replace a $15/hour worker, it would also be capable and suitable to replace a $10/hour worker. Or a $5/hour worker. As long as the quality of the output of the work is comparable and the total cost/hour for purchasing and running the machine is lower than paying a human worker, this worker will eventually be replaced by a machine. And the costs for acquiring and running machines are constantly shrinking, thanks to technological advancements and economies of scale.

Here is the thing: Replacing human workers with machines makes total sense: If you for one second ignore the challenges for our current economic and social system, what reason would there be left to keep “using” a human for a job that a machine could do with the same quality of output? I do not find any (also because for me, this situation is an indicator for a likely lack of fulfillment and stimulation this job offers to a human being).

Thus, I believe this whole minimum wage thing is a short sighted discussion and solution. In the long run, these jobs that are supposed to be protected by minimum wages will disappear, no matter what. And thus, in my opinion a more dramatic change is needed. Like the basic income for example, which I hardly see any alternative to for the future.

Turning back to the billboard from above: It is a pretty good illustration for the contradiction that is at the core of today’s system: We cannot or do not want to pay workers an income that enables them to cover all the costs that modern life (housing, food, entertainment, education, health) comes with. At the same time we somehow actively or at least morally support the idea that – even if machines would be able to do the job – we need to keep employing humans to do these (badly paid, low stimulating, low fulfilling) jobs.

It really does not make any sense. Which is why, however flawed the idea of the basic income might be, it hardly can be more flawed than the current approach.

Fortunately, the idea of and discussion about a basic income is spreading more and more. Even some die-hard capitalists are warming up for it.

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