The important thing is not to stop questioning.
Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
The important thing is not to stop questioning.
Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
It’s been a while since I last talked about anything tech-related, so here it goes.
I just experienced a HOLY SHIT moment. You know, when you discover something and you instantly know that it’s going to be huge, that it’s a game changer. Historically famous HOLY SHITS for me include Napster, the iPhone and, believe it or not, Amazon. Lately, I’m considering adding Spotify to that list, since I signed up for a Premium account and installed it on my iPhone, but that is a story for another day. Anyway, you get the idea.
DISCLAIMER: I took the liberty of borrowing the expression from Rands, because it is more accurate than any other term I could have come up with on my own, so there you have it. If you have a moment, you should totally read his original post, where you will learn what HOLY SHIT is all about.
OK, now that we cleared that out, let’s get on with my latest personal HOLY SHIT. I’m probably the last biped on Planet Earth to find out about this, but even so, the HOLY-SHITNESS of the moment stands. I’m talking about Fitbit.
[singlepic id=3 w=400]
© 2009 Fitbit, Inc. All rights reserved.
If you have no idea of what I’m talking about, please don’t be embarrassed, even though you probably should be. I didn’t know about it until a couple hours ago either, so it’s not so terrible. But if you want to understand the rest of this post, you should go to their website and check it out before you continue reading. You can do it now, we’ll wait. It’s OK, don’t worry about it. Seriously, go.
Back already? Good. Let’s move on then.
Basically, what you should have learned from a brief visit to their web is that Fitbit is the latest start-up aiming for greatness. They have the idea. They have the skills. And their product is fantastic. It looks very polished, too. It’s a handy little gadget that will allow you to monitor your physical activity throughout your entire day, even while you sleep. And it doesn’t require any involvement on your part: the whole thing just works like magic. You just wear it any way you want: in your pocket, clipped to your belt or on a handy little wristband when you’re sleeping; and the device will take care of everything, syncing wirelessly to the web without you ever knowing about it. When you want to check your data, you simply log into the web and everything is there for you to see: how many steps you took, the distance you walked, the calories you burned, and even how long you were actually sleeping instead of just lying in bed. Awesome.
It also scales well. For more curious and involved users, you can find out how many calories you ate compared to the ones you burned by logging in the system the different meals you had. They make it easy for you to do it by letting you choose the meals from a stunningly comprehensive database.
And there’s more. Much more, but you have to see it for yourselves.
Not so impressed, you say? It’s understandable, I guess. But the thing is, to me, this is a truly astounding product. And not just because of the product itself, but the whole platform behind it, which is extremely well designed and very intuitive. I will admit that my opinion here is slightly biased, on account of previous experience. I was heavily involved in the design and development of a very similar platform, but with a clinical aim rather than a commercial one. It was the project I was involved in for my MSc Thesis, and it took more than a year’s worth of work from a really talented group of people. My point is that I am intimately aware of the technical challenges that need to be overcome in order to develop this type of product, for which I am all the more impressed with the result these good people have achieved. It’s an elegant, well rounded solution that makes me insanely jealous. Specially considering that, at least for now, the product is only available in the US. I can’t wait to get my hands on one.
It has not been an easy path for them, mind you. They are experiencing significant and repeated delays in the shipping process, but even then they are completely straightforward and transparent about what is going on. So much so that you really can’t help but sympathize with them.
Then there’s also the business side of the story, of course. The fitness & wellness market is a fairly recent one, but it is growing at an incredible rate. New products pop up almost every day on practically every platform imaginable, and yet to this day, nobody has quite nailed the perfect model. In my humble opinion, the folks behind Fitbit have done just that. We’ve seen this before, most recently with the smartphone market and the arrival of the iPhone; and the music market and the iPod before that. These things happen. Every now and then, a revolutionary product appears, and you start to see possibilities that you never would have imagined before. And then the HOLY SHIT strikes you in all its glory.
Last night I finished watching the third season of Californication.
While it was overall a slightly weaker season than the other two, it continued to provide more insight into the mind of Hank Moody as well as the rest of the characters. And while it is true that the plot is nowhere near as compelling or engaging, the character-oriented focus of this season made it worth watching for me. There’s a certain aura of unpredictability to these creative characters (Hank is a writer) that appeals to me, and I often found myself looking for cues and trying to guess what would happen, only to be pleasantly surprised with the amazing talent Hank has to get himself in big trouble.
On a related note, a couple of days ago I re-watched The Usual Suspects, which kind of requires your undivided attention in a similar way. When I watched it for the first time, I was blown away. The great thing about it is that you need to stay alert the whole time because you never know when the key piece of information that ties the plot together is going to be revealed. It could very well be during that seemingly irrelevant conversation that you are subtly given the detail that could enable you to decipher the mysterious identity of the ever present villain, Keyser Soze.
And boy, Keyser Soze is terrifying. Fucking badass, as we are led to believe for the two+ hours that set the tone for the epic ending… which I won’t disclose here in case any of you haven’t seen it, I’m not that insensitive. Suffice it to say, the movie will stick with you long after you’ve finished watching it. Which is why I watch it again. And again. And then I watch it some more.
But I was talking about Californication. For those of you who enjoy living under a rock, here are a few more details about the show. What I love about this show in general, and Hank in particular, is precisely this unpredictability that I mentioned before. Only in this case, instead of looking for a seriously maniacal I-will-kill-you-and-every-person-you’ve-ever-loved murderer, you’re looking to laugh your ass off. Which you will, repeatedly. I promise.
You see, what is so great about these movies and TV shows is that every time you watch them, you find something new, some detail that you didn’t discover in any of your previous viewings. I love that. It’s like being rewarded for exercising your own Nerdery.
My point, you ask? I started ranting about Californication and The Usual Suspects a while ago, but really I was talking about one simple thing the whole time: Creativity. And how when it shows up, it usually leads to the unexpected in a wide array of sizes and shapes, color and content. This post is a good example of that. The other two examples I told you about are in their own right incredibly entertaining pieces of creative work, and it shows. You see, any time creativity kicks in, it’s an unstoppable force that cannot be ignored, no matter how hard the effort. It’s like the proverbial elephant in the room.
The actual creative process changes very little for just about any discipline. It doesn’t really matter whether you’re trying to write a novel, a blog post or the grocery list; whether you are painting a masterpiece or a piece of crap. Everything starts with a blank page, a blank canvas on an empty room. And fear is the first feeling than comes to you. There are few things more intimidating than a blank page. The root of that fear is hidden in the same drawer as the rest of your insecurities; some dark, damp place inside your brain. When you create something, you are deeply aware of the fact that everything that comes out of your mind is subject to the filter of your physical skill. Sometimes that is a deal killer. It’s actually what separates the geniuses from the rest of us, mere mortals. You may have the idea, the image or the sound perfectly shaped in your mind but your big, fat, lazy hands won’t let you bring it to life.
Other times, however, it’s the other way around. It’s just you in an empty room with your notepad and a pencil, or a blank canvas and a piece of charcoal. And then you just try to step out of the way and let your hands do the talking. It’s there and then when you know you are producing something of genuine value. Something true to yourself. That can be scary too, because you always wonder how much of your inner self people are going to see when they have a look at the finished work. Sometimes it feels like you’re standing naked in front of a huge crowd: you can’t really talk your way out of that one. But eventually you learn to confront your insecurities and appreciate the work for itself. Which brings us to the last step of the way: Pride. It’s when you stop trying to fix the imperfections and realize that they too, can add value to a piece of creative work. They are part of the process, and they’re there for a reason.
Art is not about perfection, not the way I see it anyway. It’s about beauty, emotion, empathy, connection. And imperfections are part of what makes it feel real, close and personal. Revealing. When I look at a painting, I try to imagine what drove the painter to create it. Can I relate to it at all? When I read a novel, I try to put myself in the skin of the characters. Would I have done the same thing in that situation? Could I? What is the author trying to tell me?
We all keep trying to find empathy in the world. That’s how we connect, mature, evolve. When we look at a piece of creative work, we should be able to at least catch a glimpse of the creative process behind it. The endless hours of work that resulted in the particular piece of work we have in front of us. If we fail to do that, there’s really no point. If you want to do yourselves a huge favor, next time you go to a museum, read a novel, watch a movie or listen to a song, look for the message behind it. Listen carefully, be patient, and wait for it to reveal itself.
Every piece hides a message. Behind every single one of them, there’s a story. And if you don’t listen, you’re missing the best part.
That’s right. I said it, I meant it, I’m here to represent it.
Hank Moody, Californication (2007).
Here’s some wishful thinking.
Make as many mistakes as I possibly can
Repeat again next year.
Procrastination is the art of keeping up with yesterday.
Don Marquis (1878 - 1937).
An economist is an expert who will know tomorrow why the things he predicted yesterday didn’t happen today.
Laurence J. Peter (1919 - 1988).
Today we will be focusing on something important: Perspective.
How easy it is to lose it sometimes. It is actually mind-boggling how most of us can feel lost and abandoned over the most trivial of things.
I’m not saying that it’s not OK to feel down on occasion, after all we are only human. We all have problems to face in our daily lives, and these things matter. When something you put your time, dedication and effort into comes crashing down, it’s natural to feel the blow. It means you care. And, in an era where personal relationships are often defined by something as lame as your choice of social network (yes, the Twitter Defenders Vs the Facebook Advocates, stuff like that), it’s good to care about things. But you also have to put those things in their place. While they may add value to your life, they do not, cannot and should not define who you are.
Let me illustrate my point. Say your good friend Larry is going through a crisis. He goes to the office every day, 9 to 5, then hits the gym for an hour, and then goes home. By the time he gets there he is exhausted, and he doesn’t really have the energy to meet his friends for a drink, so he just stays in, watching whatever crappy show is on. Later on, when he is about to fall asleep, he realizes he doesn’t know why he keeps doing the same thing over and over again. He has no purpose. His life isn’t exciting, he is not meeting new people (i.e. women), and this means his weekends are also filled with monotony and routine. It sucks, doesn’t it? Even more, the worst part of it is that he can’t see a way out. He is stuck.
Well, apparently Larry really actually is Screwed.
You sure about that? Let’s engage for a moment in a simple exercise of Perspective.
Larry is a nice guy. He is likeable, he can produce and maintain an interesting conversation about a wide range of topics, and he has a certain aura of honesty that is perceived almost immediately by those who interact with him. He is, simply put, a What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get kind of guy.
Furthermore, he has a good job. It may not be very exciting, like an Indiana Jones of computers or whatever, but it is intellectually challenging, and forces him to actively find solutions and create original ideas every day. And, he’s really good at what he does. He is appreciated by his peers, and his work is valued by his coworkers as well as his superiors. Plus, the brunette in HR has had an eye on him for a while now, and she keeps giggling at him every day at the coffee break, trying to let him know she’s interested (being a Professional Nerd, of course, it will still take him some more time to get the message).
My point is, when things don’t go as you hoped they would, you tend to focus on the things you don’t have, instead of focusing on the things you do have, of which there are usually many more, and that are usually more essential. In my example, Larry has a good job (something not to be underestimated in this economy), he has friends, family, and, most importantly, he has control over all of these things. He can choose what to do in life, and that privilege belongs exclusively to him. And still, he is depressed because of some weird notion that his life is not exciting.
The same thing applies to Love. The absolute first-ranked cause of depression (apart from terminal disease, that is), is Rejection. Whether it is because the person we want to be with doesn’t reciprocate, or when a long-term relationship ends, these are the moments when we feel almost required by society to be depressed. We are surrounded by literally millions of songs about Despair and Rejection, how in the world are we supposed to not feel bad when every song in the planet talks about us? Hell, people even kill themselves or others over this every day. The ultimate gesture of Love. Or of Idiocy, Egotism, Selfishness, Bastardy and Son-Of-A-Bitchness, depending on how you look at it.
The answer is, once again, Perspective. It is a powerful force at our disposal, and one that we should always remember how to use. Statistically, the chances of finding True Love in a fast-paced world are pretty low. That is the reason why most people simply get tired of looking and settle for a nice-enough relationship, one that makes them content with their lives. This can be a very wise choice, or a very stupid one, if taken for the wrong reasons. Some people are just not equipped to live in a relationship and, hello, Mr. Divorce or Mr. Affair will show up at the door sooner rather than later. Failing that, Lady Depression is always waiting behind the scenes, and she is a terrific performer once she gets on stage.
Perspective can help us navigate these waters. Perspective will show you with brutal clarity that there are very little things in this world that cannot be solved. There almost always is a way out, you just need to find it. And Perspective will lead you to Self-Confidence. So, you’re not in a relationship, so what? What’s the hurry? Thinking like that, chances are you wouldn’t be able to hold on to one if you had it anyway, so what are you complaining about? True Love, a Fulfilling Relationship, a Soul Mate, these are things that only a few very fortunate people have. And if one day you find them, they will bring immense Joy to your life. But the lack of them shouldn’t be viewed as a reason to feel bad. It should simply be the normal situation. And in that situation you can be Awesome, and you can be Happy. You have a million positive things going for you, let yourself feel the anticipation of Great Things To Come. You are just a work in progress, and you are not done yet.
You can’t skip to the end of the book, you have to read through every single page, and you never know which one will be the best. So, next time you are tempted to let yourself go, I want you to say the following out loud. Don’t just think it, SAY IT:
I am not done yet.
I want you to think about the three times you have felt most Screwed in your life. Screwed like there’s no tomorrow. Moments where you thought, “this can’t be happening”. I have no idea what they are because this is your life, not mine. It may be that crucial deadline you missed, that exam you failed, that time you let your parents down, or that time your girlfriend told you she’d rather you were just friends.
Got them? Good. And how did things turn out in the end? Are you still breathing? Is the sky still blue? Didn’t you still go on and live your life and get out of that trouble? And are you not smarter, better prepared, and stronger now?
Then what are you afraid of?
What you have to remember is this: Every single day you decide which kind of person you want to be. And every choice you make takes you a step closer or farther from that person. It is important that you choose carefully.
One for Sorrow, Two for Joy Three for Girls and Four for Boys Five for Silver, Six for Gold Seven for a Secret never to be told.
Counting Crows, A Murder Of One (1995).
It’s been a few days, and to be honest I was a bit worried that my old lazy self would make an appearance and turn this place into a mere sketch of an idea that could have been so much more.
But not to worry, at least for now he’s locked away and under control, and we are free to once again explore the world in all its beauty.
Before I get started though, I wanted to apologize for something I forgot in the previous post. Someone, to be exact. You see, when I was introducing my pals I left out one of them. In all honesty, I’m not surprised, Troy is the kind of guy you are not likely to notice if he doesn’t want to be noticed. He’s the stealth master of the group. If you need to find out something without other people knowing about it, Troy is your guy. If you want to know what the pretty girl with the low-cut top is drinking before you go over there and pretend to accidentally spill her drink (so that you can handsomely offer to buy her a new one afterwards), just send him over. He’ll be back with the name of the drink, her favorite color, the name of her pet and even the dates of her menstrual cycle… and she won’t even notice. Guaranteed.
Good old Troy. What a remarkable fella.
And now that we’ve settled that, let’s move on to the real reason behind today’s post. It is my pleasure to announce that today I will be traveling to London, to watch the ATP World Tour Finals. Remember I warned you about the occasional tennis-related post? well, here you have it.
I will be traveling with my brother. This is my birthday present for him, since he is just as big a tennis nerd as I am, if not more. We’ll be watching the two semifinal sessions on Saturday. On top of that, I made this video for him when I told him about the trip:
And tennis-wise, things are looking terrific in the World Tour Finals, with the only disappointment so far being the elimination of Nadal yesterday. Surprise? yes. Big deal? yes. Sad? Hell, no. As long as I get to see Federer play, and hopefully I will, everything will be fine. And the way he’s playing at the moment, I think he’s the overwhelming favorite to take the trophy for the fifth time. Djokovic and Davydenko are exhausted to the brink of injury, and Del Potro and Murray will have one heck of a thriller today if they want to qualify for the semis. Even Verdasco still has options, things couldn’t look any better. Soderling seems to be the only real threat to Federer, and the H2H record between the two is devastating, to put it mildly: 12-0 for the Swiss. No need to say more.
I’ll keep you posted, I am totally psyched about this trip ^_^
On a related note, this will be the third time I visit the capital of the United Kingdom. I had a terrific time on each of the previous occasions, and I hope to continue the streak this time around. I’ll let you know about it when I come back.