Category Archives: Opinion

Global Conscience

Our objective is global awareness. It is our ultimate goal.

Today we have far more ways to know what is going on in the minds on the other side of the planet, than in those of the people sitting in front of us in the train.

But we will get there, too. Each one of us will be totally, instantly, fully aware of each other. It will happen. And I mean it in a big way, in a holistic way, including every detail. Including even the details that we will not want to share at first.

Some scientist will learn how to interpret those electric signals in our brains, so that they can be translated into images and words, palatable to anyone else, in any medium they choose. Or even easier, the signals from all brains will be broadcasted, like a massive Twitter of thoughts, to whomever wants to listen. No need to translate; just plug and play.

We will know everything about everyone. At any given time. In any language. And all of that will be recorded, and it will be used against us, of course. It will generate shockwaves of anger and happiness. People will discover each other. Psychologists will finally be understood by the rest of us. Frauds and heroes will surface naturally among a sea of human stories. No omission will pass by undetected, no dream will be left without analysis.

No translator will be needed ever again. The pure language of thought will flow among us, and thought deprivation will be considered a felony.

Maybe even censorship will become not only unlawful, but actually impossible.

Learning processes will approach the usability seen in a Matrix movie.

No love story will remain hidden.

All of this will happen automatically, instantaneously, by everyone, and everywhere, at any time. Fear and pain of anyone will be felt by all of us, simultaneously, at once.

Empathy will no longer be an option, but a core feature of our species.

This is something we are actively looking for. This is what we want. We want to know, and we will know. The question is, are we mature enough to handle what we are going to see when this happens?

To Never Forget

In 1992, a section of the football stadium at Bastia, in Corsica, fell right before the beginning of a match. Tens of people died and hundreds were injured when a badly constructed section of the stadium fell under the weight of the supporters cheering for their team. The families of the victims have asked that no football matches should be played in France ever again on every May 5th thereafter, in commemoration of that date and that event, for respect of the victims and to never forget.

In September 2001, a terrorist attack caused the loss of almost three thousand people in New York City. Since that day, security has heightened, all events in our lives are being closely monitored by government agencies, air travel has become a burden and a chore. International coalitions torture and deport innocents to Guantanamo in the name of peace and cooperation. The families of the victims have asked for revenge and for security, in commemoration of that date and that event, for respect of the victims and to never forget.

In 2004, a well-known disco in Buenos Aires called Cromagnón, ignited in fire killing many kids who were listening to their favorite band, Callejeros. The parents of those kids, asking for justice (or revenge, or both) stopped all traffic in 2 blocks of the street where the disco was located, and this during years. The whole life of that neighborhood was changed forever; shops had to close, bus lines had to be changed, TV cameras were located there 24/7 ever since. The families of the victims have asked that no vehicle should circulate on that part of the city ever again, in commemoration of that date and that event, for respect of the victims and to never forget.

See the pattern?

At this rate, soon the whole of mankind will stop moving, breathing and doing anything. Because every day, somewhere, a tragedy (or a commemoration thereof) takes place. The history of mankind is full of events that are disgusting, filled with gory and terrible details, showing that we are far from being a caring species. We just do not give a shit for anything or anyone. Of course, many religions pretend the opposite, and make their followers believe that they are somehow different, that they will be saved.

In the meantime, for the sake of memory, we cannot build new buildings because all buildings are historical landmarks. We cannot speak our minds in respect of some healing memory. We must censor ourselves 20 times before saying anything.

And then we wonder why kids kill themselves. Why people do drugs. Why alcoholism is still killing so many people. Why our lives are so miserable.

I could fill an entire calendar with sad events from my own life, and then I could lead a battle asking everyone to respect the mourning of my countless, painful losses. Each one of us could do that, and then we would argue as to which of our pains is the greatest.

World championships of pain would be played, people would talk about their miseries on big screens and others would vote on Facebook or Twitter for the worst and most memorable of those shitty memories. The champion would win the right to make everyone else in the world to stop breathing for a moment, in commemoration of that date and that event, for respect of the victims and to never forget.

We have to learn to let go. Let go of the pain, cry it for yourself one last time, pat yourself on the back because nobody is going to do that, and learn that every one of us is suffering the chore of living a life.

We have to learn to let go. We do not have to forget, but we can move on.

On the Kindness of Nordic People

There’s this common but, in my opinion, largely unfounded idea among Mediterranean people that Nordics are “cold,” so to speak.

I have heard similar arguments in conversations with people from diverse origins such as Italian, Spanish, Greek, Arabic, Latin Americans, French (especially from French), and many others, arguing that Germanic and Scandinavians are cold hearted, blissfully devoid of emotion, ready to throw you and your sensitivity overboard, just like a Viking would throw the crufty corpse of a prisoner to spend holidays in Valhalla. That, in a sharp contrast with their own vision of themselves, that is, “us shiny happy people of the Southern Sun™®© where we have nice tomatoes and samba and soccer players and surgically enhanced fucktoys on TV and freshly harvested economic crisis every season and shantytowns the size of Coruscant and temperatures comparable to those of a Tattooine summer.”

Let me debunk this overly simplistic and myopic perspective thanks to my own, simplistic and overly myopic, largely non-scientific and extremely debatable observations. What follows is a profusely cynic, politically incorrect, adverbially ridden text, laden with lots of clichés and other nuisances, so all of you rigid mindsets or uptight characters, you might want to stop reading now.

My theorem is that the common Latin wisdom misleadingly exchanges the concepts of empathy and hypocrisy. In particular, Latin people are unable to distinguish between both, and as a corollary of this rule, they fall into the common trap of trusting the wrong kind of people once and again.

To demonstrate my theorem, first, three axioms:

  1. There’s shitty people everywhere, just like there is nice people everywhere.
  2. The ratio of shitty vs. nice people in any given society is a constant, throughout space and time in every country, no matter the latitude, average income, median shoe size, total number of World Cup wins, flag colors (CMYK and/or RGB), or Moody’s credit risk rank; I hereby name that constant the Number of Kosmaczewski (I always wanted to jump into posterity with some bold contribution like the last one.)
  3. There are only two axioms.

The next step is a Gedankenexperiment to pay some tribute to Einstein and establish a sense of relativity and existential complexity. In this experiment we are going to clone ourselves in three entities, and each of which will migrate to a different section of the world. The first clone will move its ass to Argentina, arguably a largely Mediterranean country; the second lucky chap will land in the German section of Switzerland, arguably a place full of cold-hearted SOABs; and the third will serve as a “witness,” and will be sent to the Soyuz Station in Anctartica, an abandoned Russian scientific station located at 70°34’52”S and 68°47’08”E, in which the sheer solitude, the outstanding amount of empty bottles of vodka and the bitter cold will preserve this clone in a relatively stable state, if not in a dangerous level of hypothermia, until global warming does its job of bringing it back to life in the next few years.

The conclusion of this flawed, short, uncanny, unprovable and improbable experiment is that all clones empirically verify the value of the Number of Kosmaczewski and henceforth conclude that we are all wrong, except me, the author of this brilliant piece, ‘f course.

You’re welcome.

NB: There are no comments enabled in this blog, and with reason. If you don’t like what I say, well you can always spread your venom over Reddit. Be my guest. You’ll excuse me if I don’t pay attention to your rambling, I have more writing to do.

Talking to Strangers

I’m not the kind of guy that enjoys talking to strangers. It’s something quite common and appreciated in Latin cultures, for example to smalltalk about the weather or other inane subject with the person next to you on the bus, or a neighbor, or anything. When I travel alone I prefer single seats, nobody around me, traveling in peace, music, book, writing, thinking. When I walk I prefer silence or music in my ears. When I work I prefer silence. And the respect of this sphere is another of the things that I appreciate in Germanic and Scandinavian cultures, as a matter of fact.

Let’s be clear about the fact that I have nothing against human interactions in general, and those who know me agree that I tend to be a rather empathic and friendly person; heck, I’m even a conference speaker and I regularly teach. But I personally don’t look for spontaneous meetings, so even if I do not shy away from someone talking to me, I won’t usually be the starter of an interaction out of the cold.

And so it happened one day, on my way home from work, I was waiting the train while listening to a Piazzolla track, if I’m not mistaken I think it was “Jeanne and Paul,” one of my preferred songs. And what happens with me and Piazzolla is that, whenever I’m in a deserted place with nobody around me (this was an empty train platform in the evening,) I start whistling the song I’m hearing through my earbuds. I can’t help it. Particularly with Piazzolla; I like the challenge of the dissonant phrases, the seemingly irrational chords, the sequences that never end, mixing both pain and pleasure to the mix. I just love to whistle Piazzolla tunes. It’s relaxing, it’s complex and it makes me travel far away.

As my train was entering the station, I cancelled my whistling session as two or three people approached me on the platform, among them an old lady who, just before getting onto the train, spontaneously congratulated me for my whistling. I truly think that I do not whistle properly, and that’s why I do this all alone. I know I am often out of tune and time, but I like whistling anyway. I just don’t want to impose this to anyone else. So that’s why I was surprised, and even more so, because in general I would have expected this to happen in the French or Italian parts of Switzerland, not in the Germanic section.

So I thanked the lady, surprised and smiling, and next thing I knew we were talking about Switzerland, the weather, the trains, her family and many other of those inane subjects I mentioned earlier.

We arrived in Zürich Hauptbahnhof 40 minutes later, talking and enjoying the moment.

And that’s it.

If you were expecting an analysis, a morale or some kind of afterthought surrounding this story, well, you’re out of luck as there’s none. Although I liked talking to this lady, I still do not start these conversations myself, I still enjoy being left alone, and I still whistle when listening to Piazzolla all alone.

akosma software

They say things come in pairs in this life.

Yesterday I closed my company, akosma software, also known by the Swiss government as “akosma software – Adrian Kosmaczewski”, federal number CH-550-1058663-5. This company was born out of a whim, a desire for change. I had toyed with the idea of starting my own business for years, without fully realizing the insane amount of work and dispair that it brings, together with an almost boundless freedom of creation.

As a matter of fact, akosma software was literally a byproduct of the App Store and the Post-PC world. When the iPhone first came out, in 2007, I told my wife that should Apple publish an SDK for it, we were going to San Francisco, to attend WWDC and right after to start a business around it. And so it happened, when in March 2008 they released the first iteration of what would later be known as the iOS SDK.

June 2008 saw me among those who bought a ticket to see el Jobso introduce the iPhone 3G, version 2.0 of the iPhone OS, and, well, MobileMe. Anyway. I came back to Switzerland to start writing iPhone apps, much to the skepticism of almost everyone around me. It took me 1 year and a half, maybe even 2 and the arrival of the iPad, to actually be able to make a decent living out of akosma software. The local market took some time to take off, but when it did, it literally exploded.

As an anecdote, it is interesting to remember that I got fired from my job a week after returning from WWDC 2008, and I was somehow forced to start my business right away.

Another intesting anecdote was meeting Daniel Pasco during that first WWDC: hearing him urging me to start my own business around the iPhone was a big influence to me.

The most profitable run of akosma software lasted probably 2, maybe 2 years and a half. During that time I turned down investment and buyout proposals; I truly wanted to go through the creation of a one-man company all by myself, to see what was behind it. I wanted to grow akosma organically. I did not want to do any offshoring or outsourcing. I almost hired someone, as a matter of fact. I taught myself taxes, financial plans, NDAs, contracts, negotiation, invoicing, basic accounting, all while dealing with bugs, breakpoints, IDEs, autorelease pools and memory leaks.

I attended my fourth WWDC last year, knowing that it would be my last; not because the soldout times have become insane (which acts as a natural barrier to attending, anyway) but because the whole thing was over for me. After Objective-C had been named the most popular programming language two years in a row by TIOBE; after half a billion iOS devices had been sold; after countless new companies started doing an incredible job at mobile app making, the appeal of the novelty, the thrill of the discovery was over. iOS will grow and still be relevant for the next 10 years (at least). I will probably still work in this industry for some time. But not like this.

What happened, then? In many ways, akosma software can be both seen as a failure and as a success.

If I say that I failed, of course, there is nobody to blame but me. Last year, as I felt that the market was changing, as bigger and better companies were doing what I was doing, I concentrated my efforts in the one segment that brought me the most happiness, and which I thought would grow and foster the most: teaching. However, that alone could not sustain my family, so I decided after a year of trying different formulæ, that it was time to throw the towel.

On the other side, I also think that akosma software was my biggest success to date. As a last wish, I hope that it made a difference. I hope that the code left behind in Github, the answers in Stack Overflow, the blog posts, the books, and the teaching lessons will live on. Yesterday one of my first South African students left me a message in my Facebook page saying “thanks for teaching me iOS”. I take that as the legacy of akosma software. I take that as a success.

What is next? I actually do not know. I am currently looking for job options, evaluating quite a few interesting ones, and maybe one day I will own a business again, who knows. I learnt quite a few things about making a business in Switzerland, so I hope to use that knowledge again in the future.

I want, again, to thank all of you; your support humbles me and I am very glad that you were there, paying attention and giving me feedback in every step of the way. In these 5 years I have learnt more that I would have ever thought I could. I met incredible people, in 4 different continents. I have spoken at many conferences. I have had hundreds of students. I have even reached premium frequent flyer status at a couple of airlines. I guess I will use those miles for some time off soon. I could use some time in a white, sunny beach, somewhere.

In no particular order, I want to name some key people I have met or worked with during these five years, all of whom have been fundamental to akosma software in many different ways: Daniel Steinberg, Mike Lee, Jørn Larsen, Anice Hassim, Gabriel García Marengo, Dominique Jost, Daniel Pasco, Ciro Mondueri, Graham Lee, MC Casal, Sabine Dufaux, Daniel Fozzatti, Jens-Christian Fischer, Selene Shah, Karen Barber, Danilo Campos, Ela Kosmaczewska, Paul Buck, Florent Pillet, Fabien Kupferschmid, Joe D’Andrea, Cédric Lüthi, Raven Zachary, Barnaby Skinner, Erica Sadun, Erasmo de Falco, Simon St.Laurent, Jonas Schnelli, Devaprakash Giretheren, Maximiliano Firtman, Victoria Marchand, Hernán Pelassini, Junior Bontognali, Tobie Langel, Bertrand Dufresne, Patrick Chareyre, Thierry Weber, Yannis Jacquet, Carlos Bruscoli, Vladimir Calderón, Brett Terpstra, Géraud de Laval, Stephan Burlot, Claudia, and countless others that I hope will not be angry at me for not adding them to this list right now. Thanks, everyone.

The best is yet to come, though; just because, well, paraphrasing Tony Stark in the final scene of “Iron Man 3″, I am the akosma.


Es algo que me sucede relativamente seguido.

Es algo que nunca le conté a la vieja, tal vez para no preocuparla. Pero es algo que me costó varias relaciones, canas, arrugas, lágrimas, y que me sucede de maneras erráticas.

En mi caso, las crisis se desencadenan de maneras improvistas.

Y cuando sucede, mi mundo se derrumba. Todo se viene abajo. Nada tiene salvación, y en lo que me respecta, siento que el planeta entero podria explotar en el minuto que sigue, que no me importaría.

En estas situaciones, no es que estoy triste o eufórico; estoy simplemente perdido, sin emoción alguna. Un desgano terrible se apodera de mi.

Y tengo solo una cura conocida; crear. Las veces que salí mejor del asunto fueron cuando decidí empezar a escribir un libro nuevo, a armar algo con Lego, a pensar en algun nuevo software, algo así. Tengo que empezar a pensar en algo distinto, en sacar de adentro mío algo nuevo. No entiendo bien como sucede esto, pero al menos hasta ahora, funciona.

Pido disculpas a quienes me rodean en esos momentos. Es como si no fuese yo. En particular, le pido perdón a Claudia.

Es como si hubiese algo dentro de mí que pide salir, a gritos, pero no sé que es, o como dejarlo irse.

Hay un lenguaje llamado COBOL

Soy un escritor. Reivindico mi pertenencia a un subconjunto de la raza humana que escribe. Pero no soy un escritor típico, porque en regla general no son los seres humanos los que leen lo que escribo. Sino maquinas.

Dicho asi suena como si yo fuese un mago. Y en el siglo 21, es un poco asi: escribo programas para computadoras, tambien conocidos en la jerga como «software».

Literalmente, la palabra «software» significa «lo blando», o «cosa blanda». La palabra la inventaron los yanquis, en contraposicion o yuxtaposicion a lo que ellos denominan «hardware». Esta ultima palabra ya se usaba desde la revolucion industrial, probablemente desde antes, para denominar la chatarra, lo ferreo, lo metalico, las maquinas como la de tejer o el tren.

Los simbolos de las dos primeras revoluciones industriales, las de Hobsbawm, eran llamadas comunmente «hardware».

En la tercer revolucion industrial, aparecio el «software», lo intangible, lo etereo, y lo pelotudo que me siento tratando de explicar esto usando palabras tan idiotas. Sigamos.

He aqui la verdad, la que mi abuela nunca supo (por razones que seran obvias, espero): un programa se escribe, asi como un escritor escribe su novela. En ambos casos se usa un teclado (aunque dudo que Hemingway hubiese escrito programas con su Remington del ’32), y el resultado final se lee de izquierda a derecha, en lineas que se suceden de arriba para abajo.

Siempre me pregunte lo que seria la programacion si los arabes no hubiesen detenido sus investigaciones matematicas, por ejemplo despues de inventar los numeros arabigos, o despues de publicar aquel best seller de Al-Khowarizmi en el siglo 11. Escribiríamos los programas de derecha a izquierda?

Lo que quedo del buen señor Al-Khowarizmi fue su nombre, que derivo en la palabra «algoritmo», que es una palabra complicada para designar recetas de cocina.

Decia, entonces, que escribir un programa es como escribir un libro. Claro que no es usted quien lee el libro en cuestión. En realidad usted hace doble clic en un dibujito en su pantalla y no ve lo que yo he escrito; usted «ejecuta» el programa, y en realidad, en su pantalla usted ve una pelicula.

Porque en realidad, lo que uno escribe como programador se parece mas a guiones de cine que a otra cosa. Hay personajes, accion, suspenso, drama, persecuciones y emociones, todas sucediendo entre usted y lo que ve en la pantalla.

Pantalla que le devuelve una version edulcorada de lo que sucede, en realidad, en el interior de su computadora. Y no me venga con las imagenes de «Tron» o «Matrix», porque en realidad, la cosa es mucho mas violenta, como una mezcla de «Full Metal Jacket» con «Dumb and Dumber» y «When Harry Meets Sally». Y una pizca de «Madagascar», sobre todo la parte con los pinguinos milicos. No le miento.

Es tan violenta que hasta nosotros mismos, los programadores, usamos lenguajes que no son los de la computadora. Porque la computadora necesita que le traduzcamos lo que le decimos; imaginese que el lenguaje de la maquina es tan intricado que solo algunos iniciados lo conocen. Por ahi los ha visto usted en algun documental sobre el tema; unos barbudos californianos convencidos de que el mundo empezó el 1ro de enero de 1970.

En la jerga, al proceso de traduccion le decimos «compilacion», porque es como juntar muchos exitos de Eddy Mitchell en un disco y no morir en el intento. Si no saben quien es Eddy Mitchell, no saben que suerte tienen. Basicamente, al compilar el programa escrito por nuestras manos llenas de sudor, cafe y caspa, se obtiene un «algo» dificil de definir, pero que aparentemente se asemeja a una serie de unos y ceros, y que la computadora comprende lo suficientemente bien como para fallar al primer error que encuentra, y asi mostrarnos una ventanita de «dialogo» (que palabra mas optimista, cuando lo unico que se le puede contestar es «ok», «cancel», «retry» o «abort»), que es la version computadorizada de mandarnos a freir churros, o, al menos, a preparar otra taza de cafe antes de empezar todo de vuelta.

Y al lenguaje propio de la maquina, le decimos «assembler» o «ensablador», porque son los ladrillos ultimos con los que se ensamblan estos juegos de Lego diabolicos en los que nos encontramos.

A los lenguajes que se «compilan», se les pone unos nombres muy originales, y la verdad es que hay centenas, miles de lenguajes distintos. Si usted piensa que aprender idiomas es tedioso, gran parte de nuestra vida y de nuestro trabajo de programador consiste en, justamente, aprender nuevos idiomas todo el tiempo.

Pero ojo, que no es solamente el idioma, sino sus dialectos locales, con sus «patois» y sus expresiones tipicas de cada region.

Igual, no nos quejemos tanto, ya que no son idiomas tan complejos como los humanos: en regla general un lenguaje de programacion no cuenta mas de 40 o 50 palabras, y tienen, en regla general, estructuras gramaticales que se asemejan muchisimo entre si; aprender un nuevo lenguaje de programacion despues de que se aprendio el primero toma, en promedio, un par de semanas, y obviamente, la practica ayuda a reducir esos tiempos.

Los lenguajes de programacion se especializan: los hay para todos los gustos y colores. Algunos son buenos para calculo estadistico, otros son mejores para dibujar. Algunos son ideales para mandar cohetes al espacio, otros sirven para conectarse a Facebook o Twitter.

Y hay una gran mayoria que pueden, con mayor o menor dificultad, ser usados para cualquier cosa.

Por ejemplo, hay un lenguaje que se llama COBOL; el nombre es una sigla que significa literalmente «lenguaje comun orientado a negocios». Tiene varias particularidades que lo hacen indicado para trabajar en un ambitos bancarios: es verborragico a muerte y SE ESCRIBE TODO EN MAYUSCULAS. Por ejemplo, en COBOL se le dice a la compu


Otros lenguajes son menos vistosos. Por ejemplo, en Assembler el mismo programa es mucho mas dificil de escribir, y basicamente consiste en decirle al chip Pentium que tenes en la compu que haga lo mismo, pero mas complicado:

prep memori
guard «que hacelga»
ponr texto, memoria
prep pantalla
escr variable

Los lenguajes de programacion llevan puesta la neurosis de su creador. Cuanto mas esquizofrenico el inventor, mas estravagante el lenguaje. Y la esquizofrenia es moneda corriente en nuestra industria. Creanme, estar muchas horas delante de una computadora no es inocuo.

Por ejemplo, uno de los casos emblematicos de lenguaje esquizofrenico es uno llamado «Python», que fue creado por un holandes que era fanatico de los Monty Python. La consigna de base del lenguaje es que «existe una sola manera de hacer las cosas correctamente» (no es broma), la cual, obviamente, parte del punto de vista miope e irracional de su autor. No voy a dar un ejemplo de este lenguaje porque es tan aberrante como popular. Pareciera que a muchos programadores les encanta dejar de pensar; la verdad es que, conociendo a muchos fanaticos de Python, no me extrana.

Obviamente, al decir esto me expongo a insultos, amenazas de muerte, reuniones del Ku Klux Klan delante de mi casa, o peor aun, autos con megafonos tocando temas de Pimpinela presentados por Mateyko por doquier.

Porque de la misma manera que los lenguajes de programacion llevan en si el germen de la psicosis de su creador, tambien aglutinan a su alrededor a verdaderas «tribus», cuyos enfrentamientos hacen que un River-Boca se asemeje a una discusion de jubilados en una cancha de bochas en algun pueblo del Tirol.

Plan for a Brighter Smile

Every so often I decide to make what could visually be described as “cutting the fat” in my life.

Taking out elements that make me heavy, that do not provide any enjoyment, that drag me down, that I probably used to enjoy in a past life, but that do not bring any pleasure anymore.

Developing apps for third parties was one of them, definitely, and this is what motivated my decision of stopping that part of my business, giving me the energy and CPU time to concentrate in the parts that I’m enjoying the most: consulting and training.

I’m not going to jump into a rant like those I’ve wrote in the past, because I think I’ve been fortunate enough to participate, albeit in a small, probably inconsequential way, to the 3rd or 4th biggest industrial revolutions known to mankind. First the web, now the mobile; I’m happy to have been at the right time, at the right place. I met incredible people, many of which have changed my life forever in subtle, uncanny, and sometimes even earth-shattering ways.

However, there are factors in the services business that are, simply put, unbearable. Getting to sign NDAs to discover later how bad some ideas are; having to explain once and again that the sale price of an app has absolutely no connection whatsoever with the development cost; dealing with non-technical middlemen who will weigh their political influence to get their mindless input into the final product; und so weiter.

I am tired of all that.

What now? Well, the future. The bright and beautiful future. I am going to expand my teaching operations; simply because that’s the thing I enjoy the most. I enjoy being able to transmit to others what I’ve learnt. And, of course, writing more books is part of the deal. I simply need to write, I need to feel my fingers on the keyboard, sewing stitches of knowledge, all while sipping a maté or listening to some good old progressive rock. I’m also going to work on my own apps, of course.

Maybe at some time I’ll dive into other kinds of writing, like fiction or comedy (I’ve been wanting to write a one-man show for a while), write books in other languages too, start a podcast, star in a movie, play the piano again. Who knows. I’ve got a right side of my brain that’s mostly underexplored, and it’s screaming to get out.

I’ll be around, of course; it’s just that, well, from now on I’ll have a brighter smile on my face.

Size matters

One of the facts I vividly remember of studying physics in university (this was in the mid 90′s in Geneva, Switzerland) was a certain disconnection between Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. The former is a theory used to describe phenomena at macro level, like galaxies, planets, stellar systems, while the latter describes the interactions at micro level, the atoms, light, particles, energy at microscopic levels.

When you apply some relativity equations to atoms, you get results that are not supported by experimentation; and the same happens when you apply some quantum theory equations to objects like planets. It is not that all the relativistic facts do not apply at micro level, or that all quantum facts do not apply in macro level; it is that there is no unifying theory that explains everything, and this quest is the graal of modern physics.

Fast-forward 5 years.

One of the facts I vividly remember of studying Economics in university (this time in Buenos Aires) was a certain disconnection between Microeconomy and Macroeconomy. The models that describe the behavior of the consumer (which is the heart of the study of Microeconomy) yield wrong conclusions when applied to issues like unemployment, foreign trade or other matters that are usually better explained by Macroeconomy; and similarly, well, you get the picture.

As a matter of fact, my Macroeconomics teacher would say that whatever we learnt in Microeconomics class was wrong, and that he had the right answers; of course, the Micro teacher told us the same the year before.

Fast-forward 5 years.

One of the facts that I vividly remember of studying Computer Science during my master degree program was a certain disconnection between small and big software projects. What works in small, simple applications and systems, including human and technical factors, does not usually work in bigger, more complex projects.

It is not the same to work on a startup project with some friends in a garage to create the next social networking site, where coordination is easy, most of the tools required are available for free, where the projects rarely have any dedicated quality assurance team, than working in, say, a bigger organization like Microsoft, together with other 1500 engineers and testers, all dedicated full time to writing and testing the next version of Windows.

The hardware requirements are not the same, either; in small projects you could use a couple of Mac Minis and a cloud hosting service and you are done; at Google they have MapReduce and a couple hundred thousand computers in a datacenter with air conditioning and security 24/7, and they still require more infrastructure every day.

However, and this is my main point, there is no proven recipe that can help a company grow from 10 to 10’000 people and from 10 to 10 million customers in a snap; there are some good techniques and principles, here and there, to make your software grow; but nobody actually knows of a generic recipe for every software company.

There are so many factors in macro problems, that the interaction of those factors has to be taken into account; not only the factors themselves, but also their interdependencies. I guess you see where I am going with this. This problem is usually called scaling in computer circles, and I think that the word can be applied to economy and physics.

As humans, we have trouble scaling. Scale is important in our eyes, because we tend to think that bigger is better. Bigger is more money, in general, but not necessarily better; we have trouble going from small to big and vice versa. Not only in facts; also in concepts. We cannot foresee the implications of scaling. At least, not completely, and not so far.

This disconnection creates lots of problems in our society. Politicians forget the human being altogether, buried beneath tons of numbers and statistics. Voters do not understand that managing a country is not like managing your household economy. Schools do not teach how to solve scalability problems; heck, they do not even properly teach kids how to work in teams to solve small, micro problems.

Small companies do not understand that scaling is neither automatic nor a required process, and that not all companies should grow; some companies work better when small than when they grow up, and that’s why they sometimes fail. Venture capitalists that are not familiar with technology cannot understand this fact, and will sometimes sacrifice good working teams for just making more money or for getting into the stock market.

The knowledge we have about the problem of scaling is limited; I actually sometimes ask myself whether there is a solution to it, that would justify the search of a global theory in physics, a unified theory in economics, or a generic scaling procedure for companies and software systems.

I do not have the answer; the fact is that size matters, and that this pattern has to do with the world we are living in; it does not matter whether you are a physicist, an economist or a programmer; this is how the world works.

Why the iPad is Better than an Inflight Entertainment System

After all my trouble with air travel, I thought I should add some positive views here. And they all turned to be around the iPad, so here they go.

The iPad is a better inflight entertainment system because…

  • The touchscreen actually works. And when you touch it, you don’t disturb the person sleeping in the seat in front of yours.
  • It’s lightweight.
  • The captain cannot interrupt your movie or your picture to tell you some useless facts about the temperature outside or the altitude.
  • You get to choose the music and the videos that you want to watch. You should just remember to get them prior to boarding, of course.
  • You also get to choose the games you want to play. The choice of games is much larger, and it’s called App Store.
  • You can even read newspapers, books, magazines, in the same screen. Reading the latest issue of the Economist on my iPad is priceless. It’s good to avoid being limited to the “in-flight” magazine provided by the airline (“your free copy!”), which tends to be quite lame, no matter which airline we’re talking about.
  • You can answer e-mails while you fly (for the moment you cannot sent them, unless you fly in some airline that has a wifi network, and as far as I know, there are only a few with such a feature.)
  • You could write a novel in iA Writer or Ommwriter for iPad, for that matter, all while you listen to Liszt’s “Evening Harmony in D Flat Major”. Or you could prepare a blog post, like this one.
  • Coupled with noise-cancelling headphones, the quality of sound is years-light ahead of what those crummy airline headphones are able to provide.
  • The battery. A whole 10-hour flight on a single charge is absolutely possible.

‘Nuff said.