August 29, 2014

9 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.

» Why US-based Tech Companies Are Winning over Europe
Closely related to my post from yesterday about Europe’s problematic language variety, but more elaborate.

» Pew: Social media makes people even less likely to share unpopular opinions
Humans have quite a mob mentality, and even more on the Internet.

» Why Android desperately needs a billion dollar success story: The best new apps are all going iPhone-first
Cool apps never launch on Android first, despite it having by far the largest market share.

» Connecting the world
This post manages to properly describe the massive impact that mobile devices will have on everything. The PC era was comparatively small in its scope and impact.

» The Startup That’s Spawning a New Generation of Startups
Palantir, a name one should be familiar with.

» Could this be the end for troubled Malaysia Airlines?
Interesting news article offering some insights into the struggles of Malaysia Airlines following the 2 major incidents earlier this year.

» Infographic Shows The Differences Between The Diseases We Donate To, And The Diseases That Kill Us
In the lights of the viral hit Ice Bucket Challenge, this deserves some attention.

» Hong Kong Has Solved The Most Annoying Thing About Going To The Airport
This is something other cities should adopt: Checking in and getting rid of luggage before boarding the train to the airport.

» Inside the world of legalised prostitution in Germany
Quite a read.

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August 28, 2014

Europe’s big weakness: the language fragmentation

This week I wrote two stories for netzwertig.com in German that I was inspired to based on news I found in the Swedish media, in Swedish language (about how a Swedish taxi company innovates to compete with Uber and about how Klarna’s CEO and founder suggests that Sweden should offer tax-funded Internet to all citizen free of charge to gain a competitive advantage in the global economy).

I know Swedish because I have my official base in Sweden and decided early on to learn the language. But the number of Swedish speakers living in other countries of Europe, following Swedish media and writing/blogging about it in another language than Swedish is rather small. So if I would not have written about those two things, it might have taken long time until somebody else would have. Or it would have never happened. And obviously I excluded many other Europeans by writing in German.

Now I am not saying that the topics I am referring to are of any importance (I leave that to others to decide). But the situation illustrates one of the major weaknesses of Europe: The fragmentation caused by lots of different languages.

This fragmentation leads to a lack of passive sharing of learnings, ideas and experiences. Because whatever is being debated in some circles in Spain, Italy, France, Slovenia, Greece, Poland etc is not immediately visible to Europeans who do not speak the local language or follow this country’s media.

In consequence, everything depends on the few journalists who cover local debates for other markets and languages, or some institutionalized systems and projects for knowledge sharing. That is good, but it is not the best outcome.

There is nothing that can be done to solve this issue in the short term. But I am convinced the language fragmentation of Europe is preventing the continent from reaching its full potential, and it probably is one of the reasons why Europeans can’t find the unity that would be needed in order to successfully compete with other major global economies.

There is a huge risk that European countries keep reinventing the wheel, make the same mistakes or miss out on innovative approaches that happen somewhere in Europe, because people in every day situations speak different languages.

Call me a pessimist in this regard but I do not think that Europe will be able to gain any significant power and strength unless it has introduced one official, widely accepted commercial language.

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August 23, 2014

Charlie Chaplin’s great speech from 1940, still applicable today

I recently discovered this fantastic track by Animal Trainer titled “Charly”  (you might like it if you are into electronic music) and was wondering about where the powerful speech that is included in the tune originates from. I learned that it is from Charlie Chaplin’s movie “The Great Dictator“.

Already while listening and even more now while reading it I realize: This speech is timeless. Apart from a couple of minor points, it basically applies even today, even if it was created under a very different time with a different kind of conflict (2nd world war).

Human progress is a hard fight.

Here you can read it.

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11 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.

» Our Common Humanity: We Still Have a Lot to Build on the Internet
I loved reading this 5 paragraph blog post highlighting the cause of many of human conflicts: We fail seeing each other as human beings who share a lot of similarities. Instead, focus is often on differences.

» The best places to live
With 2 exceptions (Vienna, Helsinki), European and U.S. cities are completely absent from the list of the world’s 10 best cities to live in. I see that as reason for concern. Canada on the other hand is all over the ranking.

» Man Builds Working Hard Drive Inside Minecraft
I’m waiting for the first person to create a complex game simulation inside a complex game simulation.

» Soylent Survivor: one month living on lab-made liquid nourishment
A personal experience report describing how it is to only eat the hyped food-replacement Soylent for a month.

» What the Jihadists Who Bought ‘Islam For Dummies’ on Amazon Tell Us About Radicalisation
This is an excellent piece pointing out that many of these young radical troublemakers might actually be less deeply religious than they present themselves. Instead, these are “bored, under­employed, overqualified and underwhelmed” young men looking for a purpose. Societies failed to help them to find purpose.

» Mental Health, Trauma, and Startup Founders
There might be a connection between people who start companies and bad experiences and traumas in their childhood. While this article is based on personal accounts and observations, this is a theory that should be investigated further.

» Of course eBay has to spin off PayPal. Here’s why it hasn’t done so…. yet
I agree with the message of this post: eBay-owned PayPal will probably play an even bigger role in the future as a or the major player within digital finance and commerce.

» Most smartphone users download zero apps per month
In the U.S., 65.5 % of smartphone users download zero apps per month. Hard to believe but if true, that means that the companies behind the leading smartphone OS have done a bad job helping people discovering apps that might enrich their digital life.

» Uber’s Most Important Innovation Is a Pricing Algorithm
A look on the concept of dynamic pricing based on demand and supply. While Uber’s implementation (“surge pricing”) has caused controversy, the truth is that dynamic pricing has been the default in many industries for many years.

» The History of Civilization
I never played the legendary strategy game Civilization but I was completely addicted to Colonization, one of the many successors. Interesting to read how the original game came to be.

» Darwin’s theory of evolution challenged
I have no idea if this is credible, but apparently research showed that sperm and eggs appear to carry genetic memories of events well before conception. That would mean that not everybody would start into life with the same prerequisites.

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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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This post on Hacker News
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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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