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My love hate relationship with China continues

Landing in the smog in Shanghai

I am on my way back to Vancouver after spending a week in China. The main reason for my trip was a Dianrong board meeting in Shanghai, but I also had another couple of meetings and I took a few days off in Beijing.

I always love to be back in China, the vibe there is amazing and things just ‘happen’ there. Valuations of companies that friends started after we left Vancouver are going through the roof and sometimes I regret a bit that we did not stay. Don’t get me wrong, Vancouver is amazing and I am super happy living there. But businesswise North America is just on a different level from China, things don’t move as fast (even in Silicon Valley!). China out-innovates the US with incremental innovation (making continous small changes to products), but Western media still describe China as a copycat.

Each time I am back on the mainland I think about whether one day I should move back to Shanghai or Beijing. If it would be purely for business reasons I might consider it, because there are simply no better places in the world to do a start-up. However, there is a lot more to life than just business, and after the past days I realize I will likely never be able to move back. The problem is that I love China, but I also seriously dislike it at the same time. 

Things have changed a lot since we left 3 years ago. With taxi apps like Didi Dache and to a lesser extent Uber life has become a lot easier if you don’t have a car with driver. 3 years ago deliveries were big already, but now it seems that everything is just a mobile phone click away from being delivered. It’s super convenient and I don’t see this happening soon in Vancouver (even the San Francisco Bay still has a lot to learn from China). For example, when you search for a restaurant on Dianping you can not only make a one-click reservation but you can also get a car to pick you up through the integration with taxi apps, and you can pay in-app for the car with WeChat or AliPay.

Of course WeChat is ubiquitous. When we left it was still mainly used for chatting and making calls, but now it seems that most of the Chinese Internet has moved onto WeChat. It’s basically a second (mobile) Internet that you can hardly live without. Paying with WeChat is completely normal and every company seems to be integrated with the service. You can do anything you want within the WeChat app, from booking a doctor’s appointment or a taxi, to ordering food or even automatically investing your savings on a p2p platform. Facebook Messenger has a lot to learn from WeChat.

But what also has changed is that the pollution seems to be a lot worse. In Shanghai the air was relatively clean, but when I took the bullet train to Beijing things started to change. Upon arrival in Beijing I started to cough right away and that did not stop during my whole stay there (even now on the airplane I am still coughing). We had our house covered in air purifiers and we did not open any windows during our stay there, just to keep the pollution out. 

Inside we managed to get the AQI down to about 30-40 while outside the readings were hazardous on 2 consecutive days (AQI over 350). I really wanted to run but I worried that it might make me physically sick. My family all got sick during the trip, from coughing to losing our voices and even slight fevers and headaches. I actually wondered if we should still take holidays in Beijing when the situation doesn’t improve. If you stay longer in Beijing you get used to it and the coughing normally stops, but with our clean Vancouver lungs you feel the effect immediately.

Internet is also a big problem. 3 years ago a lot of sites were blocked but you were able to get around the restrictions fairly easily with VPNs. At that time the government generally just wanted to make it a bit harder to get onto blocked websites, but nowadays it’s almost impossible to get on Facebook. Most VPNs don’t work anymore, and it’s hard to know in advance which ones to install before you fly. Through a former Tudou colleague we were able to get our hands on a good one, but even that one stopped working regularly (especially on mobile). I find it more and more annoying that I can’t access my gmail without a good VPN anymore, or that uploading to Facebook fails half of the time. Maybe the situation in Beijing is worse than in the rest of China. At least my hotel in Shanghai had a built-in VPN so you did not realize that you were accessing the Internet from China. 

For some reason Chinese 4G cards don’t seem to work with Canadian iPhones. So on the 3 iPhones that I had with me I was only able to get 2.5G… Using public wifi is a hassle and often doesn’t work with VPN connections. Most public wifi connections need you to input your mobile phone number to receive a SMS (for censorship purposes) and in the business lounge at Beijing airport I even had to scan my passport in order to get a wifi code (a code that did not even work!). 

Traffic has not improved either, but it’s something I was prepared for. I decided not to drive in China anymore a few years ago, I still have my driver’s license but I prefer having a driver. Driving myself literally drives me crazy. While Shanghai is still reasonably okay (except for rush hour), you can’t do more than 2 meetings a day in Beijing anymore because driving from one meeting to the other can easily take 1.5 hours. At least it’s easier now to get taxis because of all the apps, but tourists are out of luck: most taxis don’t seem to pick up passengers on the street anymore but only rely on apps where they people can bid to get a taxi faster by paying a few more renminbi. Except for Uber (which doesn’t have a lot of drivers) all apps seem to be in Chinese only.

I had a good time in Shanghai and Beijing but I realize once again that the decision to move to Vancouver was the right one. Making potentially more money in China is nice, but the clean air and the beautiful nature in Vancouver are more important. It may add many years to my life (knock wood, praise Murphy).

I better understand now why so many Chinese are buying properties in my new hometown. And given the extreme property prices in China’s big cities the prices in Vancouver are still quite reasonable. The local Vancouver papers complain on a daily basis about how expensive properties are, but compared to Beijing  houses and condos are still relatively cheap. I believe that prices have a lot more upward potential. That’s just the price you pay for living in one of the best places in the world. 

So it’s highly unlikely I would move back to China, unless there would be some major changes. I had hoped to see some of these changes over the past 3 years, but nothing seems to be happening yet. I think electric vehicles may be able to solve big part of Beijing’s pollution over the next years (electric vehicles should be the same price as gaspowered vehicles by 2022), and autonomous vehicles will help to solve many traffic problems. As for the Internet, I have no high hopes for any positive change, it only seems to get worse. I guess I will just have to use Chinese websites and apps when I am in China and forget about Facebook, Twitter and Google until I am back outside the Great Firewall…

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The tipping point of virtual reality is here

Google Streetview in Virtual RealityIt seems as if all of a sudden virtual reality is making a breakthrough. I have been reading about VR for years, but over the last few months several cheap VR players suddenly came out and new players are announced literally every week. At first I thought the VR hype would not start before the consumer version of the Oculus Rift would hit the market, but even before that product is out VR seems to be everywhere already.  

A couple of weeks ago I bought a Google Cardboard to check out VR in more detail. Google Cardboard is just a piece of cardboard with some lenses in it, in which you can insert your smartphone (both Android and iPhone work well). You put it together in 3 minutes and are ready to go.  

Once you have this you realize how much content is out there already, especially in video format. There are some pretty good VR films available. If you decide to order a Cardboard (or any other VR player) make sure you try out the New York Times Virtual Reality app (see here) which has some excellent films.

Google Cardboard

Google Cardboard player

The NY Times distributed 1 million Cardboards to their subscribers, so they have a big incentive to distribute good content. Put on your headphones and watch The Contenders for example, a film in which you are in the crowd during US presidential candidates’ rallies. A more sophisiticated film is Take Flight, which is very well made and really put me in a different world. My kids loved it as well, they kept on watching the movie while screaming ‘I’m flying’!

There are also quite a number of VR games in the Apple store, but most are underwhelming. Romans from Mars 360 is fun to play, but I actually still prefer playing normal games. Same for my kids, once the novelty wears off they go back to normal games. However, I think that may change with dedicated VR devices that have a lot more computing power and will likely be easier to control. 

What’s fun as well is Google Streetview in VR. You need to get the Google Streetview app for this (Google Maps is not sufficient) and then click on the Cardboard button to get into VR mode. Pretty cool to go check out some well known locations and look around as if you are standing there. What’s still missing (at least I could not figure it out) is how I can literally walk around. If I move forward I want to be able to walk in that direction in Streetview, but that doesn’t work yet.

If you’re into it, Sports Illustrated today put its Swimsuit edition online in VR (a free app with paid content, see here). And of course there is already tons of VR porn out there, just do a Google search. Next to the NYTimes distributing Cardboard, VR porn may actually be the real ‘killer app’ that will make VR big. That’s also how the Internet started attracting people, and even how online shopping got started! 

I think Cardboard is a good way for people to try out VR for the first time, because it’s cheap and they can just use their smartphone to consume content. However, from what I have been hearing, the Cardboard experience is nothing compared to using a dedicated device like the Oculus Rift. Will people be willing to pay hundreds of dollars for a ‘real’ VR headset if they already have a Cardboard?

I think it will all depend on the content. It’s fun to watch VR movies in the NYTimes app, but the Oculus Rift content will be so much better that people can be convinced to upgrade to another device. That will take a while though. Not only is the Rift not out yet (it will launch in late March this year), but there won’t be a lot of content initially either. Next to that the Rift is very expensive ($ 599), but you will also need a very fast computer to just use it (most people won’t have this and will need to shell out at least another $1000, and probably a lot more). I expect prices to come down quickly though.

We’re at a tipping point for VR. In a few years we’ll likely laugh at what we now call VR, especially after the first Augmented Reality devices come on the market (Magic Leap and Meta will open up a whole new world of possibilities, it’s hard to imagine right now). But for now watching movies in virtual reality or playing games by moving your head is pretty cool. I love how technology keeps on changing the world!

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Real name registration for Chinese domain names

I use GoDaddy.com for most of the domain names that I own. GoDaddy is not great but I have been using them for over a decade and it’s too much of a hassle to change all of my domains to another provider. This morning I was a bit annoyed with them when I received a number of emails with a reminder about activating my domains.

I didn’t buy any domains recently and I also didn’t receive any other mails from them about activating domains, so I assumed they were trying to upsell me something and I didn’t open the emails. GoDaddy is good at upselling, when you buy or renew domains you need to read the screens during their check out process carefully, otherwise you may end up with a lot more than you had wanted to buy.

Literally 6 minutes after their reminder I received another stream of emails with ‘final reminder’ in the title, which was a bit puzzling. But it did incentivize me to open the emails. Turns out that they were all about my Chinese domain names (ones that end in .cn or .com.cn). For some reason GoDaddy suddenly started complying with Chinese regulations about real name registration and now wants to see proof of who the owner of the domain is. Real name registration is not just limited to people living in China but to anybody using a Chinese domain name…

Godaddy

Because I don’t live in China I was worried that I would need to find someone to register the domain names on my behalf. But luckily for me they also accept ID copies from a few selected other countries (HK, Taiwan, Singapore, Australia, USA and Canada), so I sent GoDaddy a copy of my Canadian ID. GoDaddy warned that they will share this information with the Chinese government, but what can you do? Among others this blog uses a Chinese domain name (marc.cn) and I don’t want to lose it.

I was just wondering, suppose someone living in Europe would own a bunch of .cn domain names, would this person all of a sudden lose control of his domain names because European IDs are not accepted by GoDaddy? It seems that will be the case.

I am a bit annoyed by this whole thing, GoDaddy should have at least given its users an advance warning, and not send a reminder (which was actually a first notice and not a real reminder) and a final reminder within minutes of each other. I would not be surprised if they suddenly received a warning from China and after that immediately implemented the policy.

After reading the mails I was a bit worried that I had lost access to my blog already (the email literally said that marc.cn was not activated yet and so I could not use it for hosting a site!), but that was not the case. However, I wonder if I now need to start self-censoring my blog posts? Can China just take my domain away if they want to? I am not too worried about that, but find it all a bit strange. Maybe it’s time to start making a back-up of this blog on one of my other domains.

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The case for Basic Income

Basic Income

For a while I have been planning to write about the consequences of artificial intelligence and the need for a political discussion about Basic Income. So when I saw Albert Wenger’s video on Basic Income from last week’s DLD conference I decided to spend my Sunday evening with a glass of wine and my laptop and finally get this post out.

A couple of months ago I wrote a post about autonomous vehicles. They are a good example of the coming age of robotics and artificial intelligence: technology will replace things that so far only humans can do. This won’t be just automation of low-level jobs, but also very high end jobs will be replaced soon. If you are a family doctor or even a highly specialized surgeon you may be out of a job in 10-15 years. Singularity Hub wrote about this last week:

“Though many doctors will not like this thought, any test that requires pattern recognition will ultimately be done better by a machine than by a human.

Many diseases need a pathological diagnosis, where a doctor looks at a sample of blood or tissue, to establish the exact disease: a blood test to diagnose an infection, a skin biopsy to determine if a lesion is a cancer or not and a tissue sample taken by a surgeon looking to make a diagnosis. All of these examples, and in fact all pathological diagnoses are made by a doctor using pattern recognition to determine the diagnosis.”

Some people believe that new jobs will be created when old jobs go away. Their argument is that this has always happened in the past when jobs disappeared  because of a new technology, and why would it be different this time? Well, unfortunately for them this time technology does not affect just one category of work (like in the past), but potentially most jobs that we currently have. Even newly created job categories (whatever they are) might soon be disrupted by artificial intelligence. Even many scientists don’t seem to understand that the time of linear growth is over, we are now seeing exponential change in technology, which means that humans won’t  have time to adapt. Technological change will be faster from now on.

It’s maybe hard to imagine right now, but I believe my kids will likely never have a real job (in terms of working full-time for more than one year for a company in one location). They are 6 and 8 years old right now. When they are done with university 15 years from now I believe society will have changed. Of course there are still companies, but they will have a lot less employees than nowadays.

Most of the work will be done by robots (in any form) instead of people. Take a restaurant for example, likely cooks will be replaced by robots that can cook excellent dishes and may even come up with better recipes. Don’t believe me? Next year a robot will go on sale that can cook 2000 dishes at the touch of a button. And the first cook book written by artificial intelligence is already available. Do you think you’ll be served by robots or by servers? It depends on how much you want to pay. I expect that in high-end restaurants you’ll still have human servers, but if you want a great but less expensive meal a robot may bring the food to your table and refill your wine glasses.

I can give tens of examples of how jobs will be disrupted, but I won’t do that here. I have been thinking about this for years and my conclusion is that only arts and sports will likely not be disrupted by machines, and that human service will be something that’s available only at a premium.

Is this a problem? Yes, if you look at it from today’s perspective, because everything in society is about work right now. People are expected to have jobs, that’s why most people go to school and university. Most people don’t study what they really love, but choose subjects that they can get a good job with (I don’t think any law students starts law school because he or she is passionate about it, although that may change after a while. Full disclosure, I studied law for 2 semesters next to studying economics). So the education system that we have right now will have to change.

But also people’s expectations will have to change, you can’t expect to have a full time job anymore when you finish your studies. But because most people will be without a formal job the norm will change. The social stigma of unemployment will disappear and not having a job will become a normal thing. My expectation is that most companies will transform into platforms where you can work for a few hours whenever you want. Something like Uber, where you can use your car as a taxi for a few hours per day or week to earn some extra income.

However, the biggest problem will be that people can’t survive without money. I am very worried about the transition period from full employment to almost full unemployment, a period that has started already. People need to take care of their families and will become desperate if they can’t provide for them. This will lead to social unrest and crime, and this could start much sooner than politicians are willing to acknowledge.

But there is a solution, and that is Basic Income. Over the past 2 years I have become convinced that Basic Income can solve most of these problems and can lead to a very bright future for humanity. How does it work?

For me Basic Income means that anybody, old or young, rich or poor, would get an income that would be sufficient to survive on. For Canada and the US that would be something like $1000 per person per month. Enough to have food, Internet and housing, but not much more than that. Everybody will get this, whether your have a job or not, or whether you just won the lottery or are a homeless person.

Basic Income should replace the current social system, so no unemployment payments or social security anymore, but only this monthly income. The problem with the current system is that it does not encourage you to find a job, because you will lose your benefits if you find a job. With Basic Income you’ll keep your monthly payments, so everything you earn will be on top of it.

Won’t people get lazy and just watch YouTube videos the whole day instead of looking for a job? Possibly, but that’s fine. Basic Income gives you the choice to do with your life whatever you want to do. You can find or create work so that you’ll have more to spend, but if you think the Basic Income is sufficient and you want to stay home that’s okay as well. My expectation is that most people will do something useful with their free time if they know they can survive on their Basic Income, but there will always be people who will are happy not to do anything.

As mentioned before, platforms will become the new companies. Anybody can work on one or more platforms or marketplaces at the same time to earn some additional cash and to do something that they may enjoy. Do you like cooking? Very likely platforms will come up where you can sell your home-cooked meals to others (delivery by drone anyone?). Are you good at playing piano? You can teach anybody in the world through new virtual reality platforms, with automatic payment per minute in a cryptocurrency. Do you have a boat? Others can rent it from you (with or without you as a skipper) on another platform.

That’s what the world might look like, and a Basic Income can make this happen. You have enough to live a reasonable life and have unlimited free time to do whatever you like to do. Afraid to do a start-up? With Basic Income the hurdle will be a lot lower because you will always survive if you go bankrupt.

Without Basic Income marketplaces may pay less and less (you can already see that with Uber right now), but Basic Income will give more bargaining power to workers. It may also solve the current US discussion about minimum wages. When people have enough to survive it is likely that they don’t want to work for $10 an hour anymore, so if companies like McDonalds are still around they are forced to increase their wages to get people to work for them.

Life with Basic Income will be one where people have a lot more time for themselves and where they can make choices what they want to do with it. I expect that more people will do volunteer work for example, or that they will only do work that they like to do. And people will educate themselves, they will study what they really like and use their knowledge to help others or to sell it on platforms.

My expectation is that prices for goods will fall because of robotics, so life will be a lot cheaper. Not only food and daily necessities, but also the cost of transportation. Electric vehicles will be shared and will likely cost less than 10 dollars per day for unlimited transportation. How? A basic electric car will cost $10K when it’s mass produced, will last for 5-10 years and has hardly any additional costs because of free solar power. Just do the math.

Entertainment is already mostly free because of the Internet. Videos you can find online for free on YouTube or for a small monthly fee on Netflix. All music and radio stations are available on Spotify and for books Kindle Unlimited gives you a huge collection to read. Platforms like Coursera will make education virtually free as well, so as long as you have access to Internet nobody will have to be bored anymore.

How can we pay for this? If you replace the current system in the US with a basic income system it means that the cost to implement it will be less than 10% of gross output. That is something that can be financed. However, when less people have jobs it also means that income and capital gains taxes will have to be increased. You will start paying higher taxes from the moment you earn additional income, although I would expect that a system would likely mainly affect higher income groups. For more details on this and how Basic Income can even lead to lower taxes see this article in the Huffington Post.

Possibly there will be a few companies that will get most of the revenues in the future. These are the companies that develop artificial intelligence and own the robots. I would not be surprised if corporate taxes could go up to 80-90% to make up for the job losses that they cause. I now already invest in the potential winners of the future such as Google and Amazon, they may not only be the first trillion dollar companies, but if AI takes off even the first multi-trillion dollar companies. Most other companies won’t survive, so they will have to finance the majority of the cost of Basic Income.

For most people Basic Income may sound like something out of a communist country, but it really isn’t. In a classic communist system you are told what kind of work to do and how much you get paid for it (a low amount that is similar for most people). Basic Income instead gives you the freedom to do with your life what you want to do with it.

I believe the future could be quite bright if Basic Income would be implemented. I believe that because of AI we will have a world of abundance and in such a world time is the most important thing. Because of AI we will all have more time and Basic Income will make people less afraid of automation. It will give people options: do you not like your job? Now you can walk away from it. Or even more radical, if a housewife doesn’t like her spouse her options might currently be limited because of money, but with basic income she may have the option to choose a better life.

It will take some time for politicians to wrap their heads around the idea, but I think they will eventually see the benefits it will bring to society. I am a capitalist (although a fairly liberal one), but I believe that the not-so-much-capitalist idea of Basic Income is needed to ensure a good future for anyone.

I am not yet sure how we will get there, but I hope this post will get some people thinking. Some countries are already taking a serious look at Basic Income, for example Finland and Switzerland. I expect that Europe will be the first continent where most countries will start to implement some sort of Basic Income. China might also be a good candidate, especially when the party is worried about unrest once unemployment starts going up. The US won’t be in the first group, but once it sees the results of Basic Income in other countries it may change its mind.

Obviously there is a lot more to say about Basic Income, but these are the main arguments that people should consider when thinking about this subject. I hope we will see Basic Income before mass unemployment will hit all of us.

 

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I found myself on Google Streetview

I found myself on Google Streetview

On a sunny September day I was driving top down to a friend’s house when the Google Streetview camera car drove by. I totally forgot about it until just now when I came home after a short trip to Toronto, and Scott told me that Google Streetview had updated the pictures of West Vancouver.

So I did a quick search and found myself right away. Because the Google car has 360 degree cameras you can see me driving towards the Google car, but you can also see the back of my car after the Google car passes me. Google Streetview seems to get updated about every 12-18 months in this area, so until at least early 2017  you can find me at this Google Streetview link (and after that you can still scroll back in time to September 2015).

Marc in Google Streetview

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Twenty years

Today it is exactly 20 years since I left The Netherlands. I moved to Stuttgart, Germany on December 31, 1995. I had lived in several other countries before that already, among others during primary school in Curaçao, during high school in the USA and as a university student in France, but always returned to live in Holland after a period of time. So I assumed I would live in Germany for 2-3 years and then move back. But that never happened.

Within 3 months after starting my first job (a management traineeship at Daimler-Benz headquarters) I got a project in Indonesia. I was involved in a SAP implementation project at the Mercedes-Benz plant south of Jakarta. The project was not very exciting but it gave me a taste of life as an expat for a multinational. 

Marc at Daimler headquarters in Stuttgart (1996)

At my desk at Daimler headquarters in 1996

So after moving back to Germany later that year and finishing my traineeship 2 projects later, I decided to focus on my new job in financial planning and controlling for a few years and to become really good at it. I wanted to make sure I would be able to get an interesting job abroad after that.  And that worked, because in 1999 I managed to land a job as financial controller for Mercedes-Benz Canada.

But before starting it I heard a similar position would become available at Daimler’s regional headquarters in Beijing, China. I had to give up my future job in Toronto in order to apply, which was a risk I was willing to take. My thinking was that I could always go back to Canada later, but that I might not choose China anymore when I would have a family (turns out I was right, although I had not really expected it). I was lucky and also managed to get the job in China (I later heard there were several other applicants), and started my career at Daimler Northeast Asia in Beijing in January 2000. Marc in China 2000

With my 4×4 Jeep Cherokee (a great car for Chinese roads) in 2000

My thinking was that I would stay in China for 3 years and then move to a different country for Mercedes-Benz, but working and living in China changed me. I quickly realized that China was going to see some major changes and I wanted to be part of that. But not in a corporate position: things move too slowly in big companies and I thought I could do a lot more things when I would strike out on my own as an entrepreneur. So when the topic of renewing my contract came up I decided to quit my job in late 2002. I then studied Mandarin Chinese at Beijing Foreign Studies University for a while, while also setting up my first (consulting) business. 

Well, 13 years after moving to Beijing I was still in China. In those years I did a couple of start-ups, moved to different places in China about 8 times, and I started a family with 2 young kids. It was time for a change again, especially because the pollution got totally out of hand. 

This time we moved to North America and we’re still in Vancouver almost 3 years later. I plan to stay here for at least another couple of years, and maybe even for a much longer period. Vancouver is an amazing place to live, maybe the best place in the world in terms of lifestyle and nature. I may go back to Holland for a few years in the future, mainly so the kids will improve their Dutch and understand Dutch culture better (they both have a Dutch passport, so I feel that’s important), although it’s unlikely I would go back for good.

One thing I learned over the past 20 years, is that I can feel at home almost anywhere. People are not that different once you get to know them better and you can make friends everywhere. I also learned that I don’t want to be in one place too long. I have travelled a lot over the past 20 years (literally hundreds of transatlantic or transpacific flights) and I realize I don’t want to be in one place for more than 4-6 weeks at a time. Change makes life more interesting.

Let’s see what 2016 will bring, Happy New Year!

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A Christmas Present from Scott

First of all a Merry Christmas to all my readers! Even though I don’t blog as much as a few years ago (mainly because of Facebook), the number of readers of this blog still goes up slightly every year. This year I had over 63,000 unique visitors so far, in 2014 that was just over 56,000. The increase mainly comes from Canada, that’s now the number 3 country in terms of readers and it passed The Netherlands which is now in 4th place.

Geo overview blog users 2015

Geographic distribution of the readers of my blog

In 2015 I taught Scott the basics of computer programming. We started off with some Python during the school holidays, and after blogging about that one of my readers suggested to check out Scratch. I did so and it’s the perfectc language for kids: easy to understand, not much typing required (it’s drag and drop) and a steep learning curve that allows kids to make games in days instead of weeks or months.

Scott did a college level Scratch course over the past months, and I helped him with some of the concepts that he was not familiar with yet. For example, if you don’t know that a circle is 360 degrees it’s impossible to make a game character move left, right, up or down. Scott picked it up very quickly and started developing his own simple games right away.

He then had the idea to make a Christmas game for his school friends and after a few afternoons of trial and error he managed to come up with a fun game. I promised him to put the game on my blog as well, so here it is: https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/76626698/. It won’t work on most mobile phones because Scratch uses Flash, so give it a try on your laptop or PC.

Scott's Christmas Game

 

Screenshot of Scott’s first game

The aim of the game is for the snowman to reach the Christmas hat while avoiding the big snowflakes that fall from the sky. You start the game by clicking the green flag and you can stop by pressing the red button. You have 5 lives in total, each time a snowflake hits you or if you hit one of the walls you will lose a life. If you manage to reach the Christmas hat you will get one extra life. Once you have no lives left you lose.

Keep in mind that Scott is only 7 years old (almost 8 he would say, he will turn 8 this week), so it’s not a highly polished game and there are still some minor bugs. But I am quite proud of what he managed to make without almost any help. Enjoy the game and looking forward to your future games Scott!

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I am worried

Donald Trump

I normally don’t write about politics on this blog. It doesn’t really interest me. Politics is a game to me, a game by people who are good at playing games, but not necessarily at ruling a country. I’m not a big believer in democracy anymore, I would prefer to see a country being run like a succesful multinational. Don’t elect people every 4 years, but let them grow from within into leaders that have a long-term vision, instead of only going for short-term results with slogans that sound good but have no real meaning.

That doesn’t mean that succesful business men are per definition good at leading. Some certainly are, especially ones that are decisive but can also work together with others to achieve their goals. But others, such as ones that reach their goals by being arrogant and not caring about their employees, are not the ones you want to see in power. They can be worse than the worst politicians. 

To me Donald Trump is the ulitmate example of a ‘successful’ business man who can be extremely dangerous to not only the USA, but to the whole world. This man is a bully who does not care about anyone else, probably not even his own family. That’s what made him his money and that’s fine, but those are the same traits as some of the biggest dictators in the world. I would normally be hesitant to make a comparison to Hitler, but after what Trump said this week about not allowing Muslims into the US anymore, I think a comparison might actually be justified. 

I am worried, because this guy is dangerous. The average Republican American doesn’t see it, because Trump’s dumb rhetoric is so simple that they don’t even think about his message. They want America ‘to be great again’, without understanding what that means. A great country does not close its borders, only a scared country. A great country doesn’t discrimate based on religion, especially not a country founded by people persecuted because of their religion. And a great country should be a free country, free for all to enter and free for all to leave.

I write this post after reading some of the comments on Donald Trump’s Facebook page. Reading those comments made me really worried. I know the average Joe generally doesn’t really think much about the world around him, and the comments made that very clear. His thinking is more or less emotional, based on simple messages (that’s why TV ads are so successful) and slogans that can be easily memorized and repeated. 

I am worried because Donald Trump knows that and uses the same tricks as advertisers to get these people to vote for him. He wants to become the ‘leader of the free world’, another one of these slogans mainly uttered by people who have never been outside the US. They don’t realize that the US is not a real free country anymore, and has not been like that for a very long time. If Donald would win the elections (still a big if, but one that becomes more likely now that nobody is able to stop him and the masses seem to adore him) and would indeed try to bully the rest of the world, the USA is doomed and we may end up in World War III before we realize it. 

I am worried because none of the US business leaders seems to be willing to make a stance against Donald’s racist words. There are some exceptions (Mark Zuckerberg’s note about Muslims always being welcome at Facebook being a notable one), but most companies don’t seem to care. 

I am worried because I realize that his popularity is a sign that the US population is unhappy and wants to have a better life. People are looking for scape goats (Mexicans, Muslims) and Trump delivers that to them. I see parallels with what was happening in Nazi Germany. The way Trump talks about Muslims is very similar to how Hitler talked about Jews. The masses love it without thinking about it, just like the Germans during the crisis in the 1930s. 

I am worried, because for a long time I thought that what happened in Germany would not be possible in the Western world anymore. Social media and free press would be able to stop it, but that’s not the case it seems. The debates on the Internet are tense, with many people really believing in Trump and completely defending his statements. Not as anonymous trolls, but with their full names and backgrounds on Facebook! How is it possible that people are so stupid that they don’t see what is going on? History is repeating itself and people don’t want to see it. 

The other Republican candidates should make strong statements against Trump, because if they don’t the next thing might be that he will tell people that all Muslims should be rounded up. And although that won’t happen in reality, many people may see that as a statement to take their rights into their own hands and a new civil war could start. Far fetched? Maybe, but nobody could have predicted a year ago that Donald Trump would be able to get away with his current statements about Muslims.

I am worried, and I don’t know what I can do about it. I don’t live in the USA, but that doesn’t mean I should just sit still and not say anything. If everybody would do that Trump might eventually really be elected. So at least I want to put my thoughts on virtual paper and hopefully make some people think. Of course I realize that the people who vote for Trump likely don’t have the attention span to read more than a few sentences and would never find or read this post in the first place. 

Is this a sign of the times? Real wages have gone down over the past years and that’s a trend that will only get worse. That is one reason why people are angry. Because of artificial intelligence and robotics most people will lose their jobs in the next 15 years (many people still don’t want to see this, but it’s inevitable with universal machines that get exponentially better, faster and cheaper, and won’t just do one job, but will eventually be able to do most jobs).

This will lead to mass unrest, unless visionary leaders take the helm in the US and some of the other big countries on this planet. With people like Donald Trump that won’t happen and the fact that he is so popular and gets away with racism might be a sign of what is to come. I have been contemplating a post about mass unemployment and potential solutions for a long time, maybe it’s time to sit down and write down my thoughts on those topics. They may be more relevant now already than I had realized.

I am worried.

in Uncategorized

Perfect food (and overhearing conversations) at Lorenz Adler Esszimmer

Lorenz Adler EsszimmerLast week I spent some time in Germany’s capital Berlin. I like the city, it has both great old architectural gems such as the Brandenburger Tor, the Reichstag and the Gedächtniskirche, but also brand new buildings such as the ones around Potsdamer Platz or the new German parliament. Lorenz Adler Esszimmer

The city has undergone a complete transformation since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and it’s now often hard to know whether you are in the former East Berlin or in West Berlin. Of course there are still a lot of former communist buildings, for example along the Karl Marx Allee, but even most apartment buildings in the East have been completely renovated by now. The city feels like one city again.

Lorenz Adler EsszimmerI am a fan of very high end cuisine, the kind of restaurants that you don’t find in Vancouver. Berlin has a couple of “over-the-top” restaurants and so one night we decided to try out Lorenz Adlon Esszimmer at Unter den Linden. The restaurant has 2 Michelin stars, which guarantees you the very best food and service. Problem was that you normally can’t book a table on the day of your dinner, but with a bit of luck and some phone calls I managed the get a table at the window, looking out over the Brandenburger Tor! Lorenz Adler Esszimmer

Grace and I arrived at exactly 7 pm and it turned out we were the first guests. The Esszimmer (which is German for dining room) is a relatively small restaurant. There are just 7 tables, set in a beautiful classical setting with a fireplace and windows with great views.

We were welcomed by the head waiter and the sommelier and were given the choice of several Champagnes. To start we opted for a glass of rose Champagne. They then gave us the menu, which had the choice of either a 6-course or an 8-course tasting menu. Because we had no important plans for the next morning we decided to go for the 8-course one with 8 paired glasses of wine (at least for me, Grace stayed with Champagne).

Lorenz Adler EsszimmerBefore the 8 courses we first had 3 rounds of amuses, which gave us an indication of what was to come. Beautifully designed small dishes with amazing combinations of ingredients and aromas. Lorenz Adler Esszimmer

While we were having our amuses the restaurant slowly filled up. Most tables were just 2 people, but one table was set for 4 persons. There was also one table for a single person. Most of the guests were in their 50s and 60s, and all were well very well dressed. That’s what I like about this kind of restaurants, having dinner here is a special occasion, even for people who eat more in restaurants than at home.

Lorenz Adler EsszimmerThe 4-person table turned out to be 2 older gentlemen and 2 young good looking Thai women. A bit of a strange combination of course, but who am I to judge. They spoke English and some German among themselves, and I didn’t think much of it until I realized that the accent of the men was Dutch. I took a closer look at them and then realized that I actually knew one of the men. He was a well-known former CEO of a large public company and I actually had had a business meeting with him once. (Given that the Thai girl was not his wife I won’t mention his name here.)Lorenz Adler Esszimmer

He looked at me as well, but I think he could not place me. He certainly did not realize I was Dutch, because after a few glasses of wine the 2 businessmen switched to Dutch. They talked quite loud and I could understand everything they said. Unfortunately the topics they discussed in Dutch mainly involved their accomplishments with young women. I am not easily embarrassed, but some of the things they said I really did not want to hear. I am sure they would have never discussed these topics in either German or English in this setting. For a moment I considered walking by their table and making a remark in Dutch to show them they were not the only ones speaking that language, but in the end I just let it go. The details sure make for a nice story over beers with friends in the future (most Dutch people know his company).

Lorenz Adler EsszimmerThe dinner itself was fantastic and the wine pairings were excellent. The creations were like art on dinner plates and they tasted even better. Top chefs are really highly skilled artists! Some of the dishes reminded me a bit of Ultraviolet in Shanghai (which is still my #1 restaurant in the world). The wines were mainly European ones and there were some real gems in there. What I like is that they give you decent sized glasses and every now and then refill your glass if you really like the wine. Not every top restaurant does that, but in this price range (about EUR 700,- for 2 people) I like it if they are not stingy. Lorenz Adler Esszimmer
The only downside was that it was almost too much for me, and Grace stopped eating her full portions after 4 courses already. You actually should not eat more than a soup and a salad at lunch when you know you’ll be having a meal like this.

Lorenz Adler EsszimmerI had a fantastic evening at Lorenz Adler’s Esszimmer. The combination of the food, the wines, and the view was just perfect. Observing the Dutch business people actually added to the fun, although it was difficult to ignore their loud talking sometimes. If I would live in Berlin I would probably go here at least once a year on a special occasion. I highly recommend this restaurant if you’re a foodie and don’t mind spending a lot of money for an amazing meal in a great setting. Just make your reservations well in advance! Lorenz Adler Esszimmer