Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Generating new business ideas

Here's the thing about business ideas: there is limitless potential.

Let's start with imagining the simple act of drinking a glass of water.

Is it really simple?

Nope. In order to perform the action 'drink a glass of water', you need:

1: A glass
2: Water
3: A table for the glass of water to rest on
4: The knowledge over how to drink water
5: A functioning water-supply and purification system
6: A functioning mind that enables you to judge the distance to the water, reach out and grab the glass, raise it to your lips, and successfully swallow the water.
7: A desire to drink water, instilled by some clever water-centred marketing

... and you can keep drilling down into finer and finer detail.

The thing I've realised about business ideas that pretty much everything has value, and you can combine any of the wonderful nouns in our world with any of the other delightful verbs, and you end up with a magical product. Creation is actually the easy part - the hardest part is selling.

Ok, so that's not news to anybody, but what I'm currently finding really interesting is starting with basic concepts and then poking around the periphery (e.g. starting with 'glass' and 'water' and ending up at 'home-based training videos on strengthening hand-eye coordination for ultimate water-drinking pleasure') for related concepts.

Of course, insanity lies down that road, because there's the aforementioned infinite number of combinations, and the world's marketplaces don't need more noise.

The trick then is to apply the same fuzzy principle to identify new *markets* that nobody else is targeting (so at least you start off the base that whatever you create will definitely sell), and then re-use that skill to provide your new market with a new product they really want (even if they weren't aware of it until you showed them).

Good luck!

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Opening a business in Romania

If you're thinking of opening an SME business in Romania, I have good and bad news for you.

The good news: Romania has a Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and it not only has an English version to its website, but it seems to be updated fairly regularly (that is MASSIVE in Romania - kudos to the team behind it!). Here's the link: http://ccir.ro/en

The bad news: Romania also has a dedicated Department of Small and Medium Enterprises. You might think that that's good news with a lot of valuable resources for you, but that's where the bad news comes in. You guessed it: English does not exist, according to this website. http://www.aippimm.ro/

Ok, so it's the typical mixed bag. Curiously, I also discovered a very useful business overview with a stack of additional resources on the Romanian Embassy in India and New York's official minisites. Take your pick: http://newdelhi.mae.ro/en/romania/319 or http://newyork.mae.ro/en/romania/319

As a parting thought, I'll leave you with this fact from the above two sites: "97% of all Romanian companies are SMEs."  Certainly it's quick to see even in Bucharest that there bitterly few big-name franchises like you'd be swamped with in any other major city. That leaves a LOT more room for entrepreneurship, and a LOT more competition for you. Good luck!


Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Looking for glamour? Not in this life.

Here's the thing ... I'm just about to turn 30 (in December), and it makes you (me?) philosophical.

Looking back on my glorious twenties - not really, probably just as much of a rollercoaster as yours - I realised that that's the whole point. Contrary to what I'd expected as a teenager, life doesn't suddenly make more sense when you're older.

An awesome movie I've just finished watching sums that up perfectly: Man Up. Finally a British romantic comedy that almost hits all the right Notting Hill notes, but with more zany and less soppy. Also a chance to see Simon Pegg in something semi-normal ... heck, even Game of Thrones' Sam Tarly puts in a surprise cameo.

If you're still in your twenties and hoping it'll all make sense soon, chances are it won't, but that's ok. I have it on good authority one's thirties aren't any clearer, so I'm just going to press on.

What makes Man Up so awesome is its really refreshingly accurate portrayal of the dark comedy that is 'romance', and I reckon it teaches a really valuable lesson I wish I could have grasped early on in my twenties: we're all equally vulnerable, and the stories we tell about ourselves as we go are fragile and beautiful.

Reminds me of this famous poem by Emily Dickinson:
'Hope' is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

A jumble...

Here are
people.
Live with them.
Here are
problems.
Solve them.
Here is a blank
page.
Fill it.
Here are never-ending
questions,
and a rapidly-diminishing supply of
time.
Is this really how you want to spend
it?
Oh look: another
question.
So where is the real
beginning?
The one that
counts.
And isn't it
cruel
to end at the
start?

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

A little reminder on perseverance

This blog's become something of a scrapbook for me, where I like to store profound discoveries. Here's one I came across tonight:


There's a lot to ponder in that quote: life on the other side of disappointment, and the necessity (to what end?) of darkness.

How is it that humanity is losing touch with these deeper values, and so many people seem so wrapped up in completely trivial discussions that ignore the shared emotional crisis/adventure that life really is? It's become weakness to admit anything other than delirious happiness (or at the very least a muted 'fine' that nobody even really waits for when asking 'How're you doing?').

No wonder that people keep turning to modern medicine to help them deal with their emotions: we're becoming so emotionally-stunted that we've got no way to deal with anything more deeply than a 'thumbs up' on Facebook (such an ideal world that 'thumbs down' doesn't even exist - until you look at the comments).

Sorry/not sorry if that comes across as a downer. It's really not. It's just me reminding myself - and you, if you're reading this - that failure is not just normal, but necessary.

Friday, 21 August 2015

A glimpse into the near, mid and distant future

Wow. My mind's ridiculously blown right now.

You know how I keep sharing tidbits here and raving that you need to watch/read them? This is one of those times, but cranked all the way up to 11 (I know, I'm sorry).

This isn't about should watch, this is about need to.

For the impatient ones, jump straight into the action here when you have four hours to invest (there are five pages, each getting increasingly better): http://waitbutwhy.com/2015/08/how-and-why-spacex-will-colonize-mars.html/1

Whoa, you're saying, you don't have time for that! Then I'm sorry that you're going to miss the most mind-expanding opportunity I've had in years.

This is only about appreciating the fragility of life, the development of spaceflight, the ridiculously awesome things that SpaceX is doing, and what ensuring the survival of the human species as a spacefaring community will entail.

All of this is delivered in exquisite detail, with witty humour and incredibly moving videos (ranging from 30 second clips to entire 25 documentaries). In fact, just when you're already suffering from information over-load, I beg you to click on the little blue footnote icons throughout the text ... some are just short comments, but others are entire sidebar stories crammed into this little box of awesomeness.

Enough, stop wasting your time here ... go read it. Go blow your mind. Get ready for the future. When they announce that SpaceX has successfully managed to land one of its rockets back on that floating platform (which is expected to still happen THIS YEAR), you'll at least know exactly why that's important.

I had no idea. Now at least I have an inkling, and it is... beyond inspirational, it's actually extremely humbling.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Here's to you, Bucharest

Thanks to YouTube, I discovered one of the best 'as it is' documentaries of the nicer parts of street life in Bucharest.

Once you get past the cheesy soundtrack, it's pretty mesmerizing to watch ... heck, I even experienced a few 'Oh hey I've been there' moments, although everything was a lot bleaker in winter.

Direct link: Bucharest City


In all fairness, I watched this just after a fascinating British documentary series on the tragic drug culture in Bucharest's sewers - watch in order: Video 1; Video 2; Video 3 - so let nobody say that I'm only wrapped up in the 'happy-go-lucky' tourist side of Romania.

I can truly, deeply say that I miss Romania.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Game of Thrones: New actor casting

So today one of my colleagues at work produced this and stuck it up on the office wall, based on yours truly:


All I know is I'm now interested in buying a suit of armour, and some designers are going to be speaking in high voices for the rest of their lives.

PS: Don't get it? It originally came from this: Theon Greyjoy from Game of Thrones. Don't know what 'Game of Thrones' is? You've got a few months to rectify that before Season 6 hits! PPS: 'Game of Trays' references the company I work at.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

The best movie of all time

When I think back about what I might personally call the best movie of all time, there are a lot of diverse candidates. The Matrix, for example. American Beauty, yes. Titanic, why not.

But when I add a little context, the answer changes. How about this question: "If I was alone on a space station a million years from now, and I had one last movie to watch to remind me what all of humanity was about before dying, what would it be?"

My answer would have to be the one I just watched now: About Time.

Where was this movie in 2013 in South Africa, when it was launched? Where was I? I completely can't recall it, and it might have passed out of my life forever if my wife hadn't just suggested we watch it because we were bored and I felt like watching a comedy.

I can't over-stress how completely amazing this movie is. I wouldn't change a single little iota of it, which isn't something I can say about many movies.

It is just so completely human ... filled with wry humour, surprising discoveries, endless failure, hope for something better, and real god's honest empathy.

So yes, Spock, let's devote the last of our space station's energy to powering this screen and this DVD player and dust off this relic from 2013.

It explains how pitifully vulnerable we all are, in the most beautiful, touching way I could never think of because I'm not a scriptwriter. But I AM a human, and it speaks a forgotten language in cinema: truth.

Thanks to Richard Curtis, Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams and the rest of the pitch-perfect cast (mad props to Lydia Wilson) for this absolute gem.

Watch it now. If you're uninspired, lonely, bored, or even happy, confident and tremendously busy ... just watch it. If you want your two hours back after watching it, I'll go back in time and get that for you.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

A bit of late-night philosophy

Lack confidence and you'll be fearful. Be over-confident and you'll be arrogant. Be perfectly balanced between the two poles, and you'll be boring.

The thing about most blogs is that they're where people share their knowledge or discoveries. They're from people positioning themselves as experts in a certain subject matter, and then sharing (a fraction of) their expertise.

But in reality, nobody knows anything, and we all know that. Nobody knows where we go when we die; exactly what happened at the beginning of the world; or how to open a wormhole to travel to far away galaxies.

In fact, what we DO know (or is that 'can' know?) pales in comparison, and is extremely prone to date rapidly. Sure, you can memorise all the biographies of your favourite sports team, but in a few years that whole team will be different.

We recognise we shouldn't be fearful, and we recognise that we shouldn't be arrogant, and that's what makes striving to be confident so admirable: it's admitting that you've got no reason to be (given the vast number of unknowns in the Universe), but quietly stating that you have faith in yourself and then applying that faith through action.

Action for what purpose?

Filling a blank slate.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Romania's going to the cats

I've written before about some Romanian companies' scant regard for the English language, but a recent news story makes me think that I might have been barking up the wrong tree altogether (no pun intended).

For the love of all beautiful things, read this story now: http://www.romania-insider.com/catbox-cat-manager/150265/

TLDR version: A Romanian company has hired a cat for its Communications Manager, apparently after an exhaustive recruitment process. Details of its salary are hilarious (and not dissimilar to previous salaries I've received).

So I take it all back ... some Romanian companies don't just butcher English on their websites. I suspect the rot may run far deeper than that. The cats have seen to it.

It does make me wonder how the other 'over 700' applicants feel about this. Should one feel sad about losing out to a cat, or relieved at not working for a company that picks a cat for its Communications Manager?

What other harebrained (or is that hair-balled?) ideas might this company come up with?

[Did I warn you at the start that there will be a lot of puns? No? There will be a lot of puns.]

Where does this end? Does the cat also have to undergo regular performance review audits? Does it get extra kibble as a Christmas bonus? Is there a separate little kitty bathroom somewhere in this office, or does the cat suffer the indignity of using a litter tray in full view of the co-workers?

The part of that story that REALLY blows my mind is this quote:  "The first cat-manager ... will have to stamp all the gift boxes the company sells."

Are you getting the same image in your heads when you read that line that I do? An assembly line of bored-looking cats, trying to grip rubber stamps between their paws, as they feverishly stamp all the outgoing boxes?

On the plus side, this DOES explain the condition of some of the mail-order parcels I've received from smaller ... err ... 'independent' suppliers.

And there you thought that Romania (Bucharest anyway) had an issue with stray dogs. No longer. The cats are now in management.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Cooking at low peep

Don't you just love that moment when you say 'X' in casual conversation, only to rudely discover amid the other person's laughter that you'd completely misheard X years ago, and subsequently your brain has just dubbed over it with your (incorrect) version?

That happens to me with song lyrics quite a lot. For other people, it's incorrectly using directly-translated words the wrong way in a sentence (often to hilarious effect).

For one very special person, it was confusing "cooking at low heat" with "cooking at low peep". She will never be named.

When she tried googling it to confirm that she was correct after all, even Google didn't turn up a single result for "cooking at low peep". I figured that's a travesty, and there should at least be ONE hit dedicated to this mistake she's repeated countless times to complete (no doubt very confused) strangers.

Here's to our brain's wonderful way of convincing us that it actually knows what's going on in this crazy, noisy, flashy world we live in.

Here's to cooking at low peep.


Saturday, 11 April 2015

Listen to this now

Was just watching The Last Time You Had Fun when this song came on ... it is amazing.

Paul Baribeau - Ten Things

name ten things you wanna do before you die and then go do them. 
name ten places you really wanna be before you die and then go to them
name ten books you wanna read before you die and then go read them
name ten songs you wanna hear again before you die, get all of your friends together and scream them

because right now all you have is time time time yeah, 
but someday that time will run out. 
that's the only thing you can be absolutely certain about. 

think of all the things that are wrong with your life and then fix them
think of all the things that you love about your life, be thankful you are blessed with them
think of all the things that hold you back and realize that you don't need them
think of all the mistakes you have made in your life, make sure that you never repeat them

because right now all you have is time time time yeah, 
but someday that time will run out. 
that's the only thing you can be absolutely certain about. 

name ten thousand reasons why you never wanna die, go and tell someone who might've forgotten
try to list the endless reasons why it's good to be alive, and then just smile for awhile about them

soon the sun will rise and another day will come 
soon enough the sun will set, another day will be gone

and right now all you have is time time time yeah, 
but someday that time will run out. 
that's the only thing you can be absolutely certain about.
Thank you Paul, and you're welcome Internet.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Introduction to Binaural Recording

Stereo, 5.1, 7.1 ... never mind those speaker effects - binaural recording is definitely going to be the new wave. How can it still be relatively niche?

Watch this, it'll be well worth it even if you know about binaural recording, thanks to the guys at the Verge (NB: you will need headphones for this):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yd5i7TlpzCk


Funnily enough I'd already heard 'The Virtual Barbershop' example quoted above many years ago, but what a great blast from the past! Here's the whole thing (just put headphones on and close your eyes): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IUDTlvagjJA

PS: If you're like me and you start looking for other binaural recording examples on YouTube, you're going to be pretty disappointed by the slim pickings. There is some really weird ASMR stuff (an entire field I'd never even heard of before - no pun intended), and the odd binaural beats referred to in the original video above, but hopefully more media producers will start integrating this going forward!

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Just when you thought you'd seen everything...

... the Internet delivers #cookinwifrabbits, a truly zany collection of recipes where "Rabbits R the CHEF; NOT the Meal!!"

Seriously, click on that link and be amazed!

Best of all, some of the recipes look really nifty ... I think I'm going to try some!

Monday, 16 February 2015

My very first C++ program

I've just decided to get back into computer programming, which I used to really enjoy at University, Back then it was Java, now I've decided to learn C++ instead.

You can download my very first program here: Click Here

It's a tiny plain-text lottery number generator, which will generate six numbers between 1 and 49 and then read them back at the end.

It's crude, but it seems to be working, and I'm thrilled! :)

It's even slightly interactive ... try not entering your name, or typing 'exit' to leave mid-way.

Ok, so it's not going to set the world on fire, but it's miles better than a 'Hello World' program! Also, in case you're interested, it's storing the random numbers into an array and then reading them back out using a for-loop ... all very efficient.

PS: If you use it (and I'm gonna), make sure you pay attention to the final instruction!!!

EDIT: Program above updated to Release build :)

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Microsoft HoloLens - Is this the future we've been waiting for?

I was just saying to my wife the other day that I'm bored with modern technological developments - every iteration of computing or mobile cellphone technology, for example, is a little bit better and faster, but it doesn't enable you to do anything new.

It seems that the last big invention was the Internet, waaaaay back in the 1990s. Everything else we have now that we take for granted is just a logical extension of that basical premise of connectivity: Netflix (on-demand video), Facebook (on-demand social networking), Google (on-demand search)...

Google Glass seemed at first like it might be a truly new technology, until its pricing made it completely inaccessible. Also it didn't seem that cool, did it? It was just a *screen* in front of your eyes, but that was it ... so what if it shaved off a few seconds off you having to pull your smartphone out of your pocket? It wasn't essentially new.

That looks like it's changed now.

Ladies and gentleman, let me introduce you to the Microsoft HoloLens.

1: Start here, get your mind blown: Introductory Video


2: Go behind the scenes, meeting the people: Deeper Down the Rabbit Hole


3: Finally, click here to see that this actually IS a real thing: Microsoft HoloLens Website

My initial thoughts are that this is awesome. I fully agree that staring at a screen (or a variety of them) has always felt too restrictive. We need technology to wrap around us to become truly interactive, rather than just simulating that. Finally, we might have it.

Is this going to change our lives, however, and will it be for the better?

My wife is uneasy about it. She rightly pointed out that it's going to lead to people hating their 'real' lives even more, as they wrap themselves into false digital realities. I don't have to be a psychologist to say that there's going to be very real psychological strain as a result.

That's nothing new either though. We're already feeling the pain of information overload, and this new technology promises to take that to a whole new scary level ... assuming the head-set gets smaller and less intrusive, we're going to be opening ourselves up to living in an 'always on' digital world, while our physical minds just don't have the capacity to process all that information.

I'm not advocating living 'off the grid' with tin-foil wrapped around your head, but I do think that it's going to be a very dangerous technology for a lot of people who lack self-control. Look around you: does 'self-control' come to mind as a term which we'd describe modern society anyway?

I currently don't have Skype open all the time. I currently have very few Facebook friends. I currently don't bother following Twitter. These are all active efforts I'm taking to protect myself from digital overload - or the psychosis of staring at a screen and hitting 'refresh' constantly, hoping that somebody, somewhere, will say something that improves my life dramatically for the better (and of course that never happens).

That won't change for me in a more interactive digital world. But I do wonder what the costs will be for playing Grand Theft Auto in full immersive 3D, for example, and shooting an endless stream of gangsters in the face. Will I feel guilty? Will I feel less discouraged about murdering people in real life? Will the line between reality and make-believe become even more blurred?

I wonder how much the developers of this technology are thinking about its ethical consequences, and to what extent they can even be held accountable for however people end up utilising it. Does the maker of the very first gun turn in his grave whenever a child shoots another child in a 'gang' incident? Or would that have happened anyway, and we're just accentuating the flaws that humans carry in them anyway?

It's exhilarating. It's scary.

The next step will be crossing the divide completely ... uploading human consciousness into a digital realm. Immortality? Why not.

Is my generation going to be the one that never has to die? Let's wait and see. I think that's coming with Windows 20.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

South Africa's amazing scenery by road

If a picture says a thousand words, then I've got no clue how many a ten minute video shares. Seems more efficient, then, to share this video:


There is a really stunning shot from about 08:00 at Chapman's Peak Drive, right here in Cape Town where I'm living now.