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Surely I am not joking, Mr. You
Tuesday, June 27, 2006

If Mathematics is said to be the language of nature, then Physics is the semantics that holds the laws of everything together.

Knowing a bit of both gives anyone the power to understand what makes the Universe tick (of course, according to the laws we say are laws). So it had to happen at some point that a group of the smartest scientist in our written history would start meddling with Nature itself, and eventually crack one of its mysteries.

The Manhattan project was a large and secretive undertaking. The US Army put together the best minds of the 20th century to develop the most powerful weapon ever known to humanity. Among this group of peculiar characters, they included Richard Feynman.

Richard Feynman achieved his notoriety after winning the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965.

(Note that when it comes to famous physicists, Einstein was in the top of the list of the profession. He was, in fact, one of the few to achieve fame during his lifetime. We equate mushrooms clouds, immense balls of fire, and the destruction of our planet to his name--does E=mc2 ring a bell?)

"Dick," as he called himself, was quite an interesting person, with a self deprecating attitude that reminded everyone of how smart he really was. (I wonder if he actually intended it that way--check out his documentary and see what I mean.)

Like I said above, he won the Nobel Prize in physics, which according to him did not want but still accepted; he was an exceptional lecturer; he had the ability to explain the most complicated concepts in a way that was actually understandable (according to colleagues and former students); and, perhaps most importantly, he took part in the development of Quantum Physics.

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman. Adventures of a Curious Character gives an unusual peek at the mundane happenings of a great mind. Before buying the book, I had read reviews so I knew that it was not written by Feynman, but was put together by his friend from recorded interviews. This fact adds to the book a conversational tone, but at times if feels awkward.

From the first half of the book, you gathered that he was perceived as eccentric and was at times sociably clumsy, if one observes the typical rules of society. I personally enjoyed more the second half of the book, which deals with some of his traveling to Brazil, his role in the creation of the atomic bomb, and his views on education, particularly science.

There are indeed funny anecdotes, but you will have to read the book yourself--there are too many to quote, and I don't really feel like writing a proper "book review." :)

By the way, this is not a physics book. It is a light, entertaining read of what happens when a grown man tries different things.

For a more scientific read, get QED. The Strange Theory of Light and Matter. This book is a set of four lectures on Quantum Electrodynamics, and tries to explain why things are the way they are. Feynman, throughout the book, does say that things just are but we don't know why they are the way they are. And to top it all, he warns that you and I, the reader, "[aren't] going to understand anything."

For example, according to QED light is not actually an electromagnetic wave, but actual particles--Newton was right after all. He goes to explain the most important phenomena we encounter (reflection, refraction, et al) in our daily lives. He also tries to simplify every concept into understandable sentences, i.e., the lectures don't contain a lot of equations, not because they are not important but because according to Feynman we should understand the big picture first and then dig into the details.

A word of caution: if you are a bit slow like I am, you will have to re-read chapters 3 and 4. Chapter 1 is reasonable enough, however, half way through Chapter 2 I started wondering if I had skipped a few pages. I actually had not, but all of the sudden "adding arrows" to figure out probabilities was not enough for me to explain the double-slit experiment. Needless to say, I had to start all over, and I am still going through it.

(At some point, maybe I should start reading more "real" stuff, i.e., my Operations Management book to continue my understanding of inventory theory, forecasting models, and such silly things. As Homer would say, "Mmmmh, real world...")

11:44 PM | 0 comment(s) |

Ronaldo is back
Thursday, June 22, 2006

So Ronaldo decided to start playing--and broke a couple of records along the way.

I saw the highlights of the game, and Brazil seems to be playing the way Brazil should play. It takes them a while to warm up. It's probably a good thing--one of the main fears of most soccer power-houses is to peak too early during the competition.

Did Argentina peak? Did you watch Argentina's tie with the Netherlands? A goal should have been nice, however, both teams played with a few of the substitutes. (It sounds weird to call Messi and Tevez subs.)

Argentina plays against Mexico, and Mexico almost beat them during the Conferations Cup. It will be a good game.

I do think the duel of this Cup is shaping up: Brazil vs. Argentina.

Great goals so far, and Yahoo! has quite a collection of highlights. Check them out, in case you are missing the games (as some of us).

10:59 PM | 2 comment(s) |

Marketing and Scheduling

FIFA does not allow advertisers selling their hardware during any World Cup match. This means that there are no interruptions throughout the whole game (except for the usual dive).

It's a good rule for everyone, expect for advertisers. Thus, the multi-million exclusive deals between FIFA and multinationals to advertise in the field--do you notice the back-boards full of MasterCard, Hyundai, and Budweiser logos?

We can't forget, of course, the swoosh, the feline, or three bars on the right side of every country's jersey. In addition to the zoom shots of those boots dribbling through 1, 2, and 3 defenders?

You can't buy better publicity than that. Actually, you can: sport companies pay countries to exclusively use their brand during every match, in the hopes that impressionable young minds (like mine) go out and buy those Nike Mercurial Vapor II. (I've actually read that those things give you crazy blisters.)

But I started this entry because I noticed something interesting in regards to the scheduling.

In Canada, the cup is being broadcasted in two sport stations: TSN and SportsNet. What I found peculiar is the schedule of every game, and I think marketers have a hand at play here.

You see, the afternoon games actually start at 3:00 PM, however, every game has been scheduled for 2:30 PM (and the last few days at 2:00 PM).

I think that because the networks can't break between games to display those Hyundai ads, they have scheduled the matches before they actually start. It can be argued that the pre-match is important, hence, the 1 hour difference.

I fell for such scheme: on the weekend I showed up at my cousin's house to watch Brazil play at 11:00 AM, and, surprise, surprise the game started at 12:00 noon. Did they get me to watch those ads? They did. But I have caught on--I will not show up early anymore.

Note that this is pure speculation on my part, and perhaps a bit of cynicism derived from my Marketing lectures. If I were a marketer of these products, I would actually want viewers to start watching up to 60 minutes before the actual game, as the FIFA 2006 World Cup is the biggest event in the world, and the most watched--no other event compares to it.

(Note that I don't follow any professional sport's league so I don't know if it is "normal" to schedule games 1 hour in advanced. Maybe it is the norm and not the exception, as I think it is in this case.)

12:57 AM | 0 comment(s) |

Brazil keeps winning, but Argentina is the one playing the beautiful game
Sunday, June 18, 2006

Football (soccer) is a team sport. Teams win World Cups, however, it is the individual effort of each player that creates a strong team.

As expected, Brazil keeps winning games because of their cheer talent, not because they are playing particularly well together.

Playing with 10 men is also a handicap.

I don't mean literally 10 men in the field. They have had 11 players at all times. What I am referring to is the tendency of Ronaldo to just walk around the field and never doing anything of substance. I think he already accepted and said so himself that he is indeed "out of shape," or round shape more likely. (Unforgivable for a player knowing 4 years in advance that he will be called to the team. Barring injuries--and he tends to have a few--he should be in top shape.)

We all know that he was indeed the best striker in the world, but his days as a professional footballer of top calibre, I think, are over.

It is hard to imagine to be in his position trying to prove the entire world that he can still deliver the quality of football we expect from him--he is a performer after all. Journalist in his country keep writing that he shouldn't have been included in the Cup's team, to save the embarrassment and his reputation. But Perreira believes in him a bit too much for everyone's liking.

We've all seen it: as soon as Robinho replaces him, the team start to actually play and create great opportunities. Robinho, today, is a better player than Ronaldo.

I do think that everyone in the team and the country wants Ronaldo to break the goal scoring record of all time. With 2 more goals and he's done. And he probably will score at some point. He will, eventually, be able to control a ball and put it into the net.

I hope he does score his 2 goals and just give his spot to Robinho. Or better yet, Pereira benches him for a couple of games to serve as incentive to do better the next time. (It is unlikely, though, he is Ronaldo.)

So, who will win the Cup? It will be between Argentina and Brazil. If Brazil doesn't replace Ronaldo and start playing "bonito," Argentina will take it all.

Why? Argentina seems to have the "team play" patented for this tournament. The 6-0 win against Serbia and Monte Negro was a clinical performance. Cambiaso's goal was preview to 23 passes from the Argentine team (I even think Maradona, sitting in the bleachers, touched that ball). It was one of the best goals of the century, so far.

And Lionel Messi is not even starting yet. He is truly a great player: "la pulga" of 18 years of age. In this particular game, Argentina scored 3 goals as soon as he came in (for 15 minutes only). We can't, of course, credit him for everything, but you can clearly see the team starts running faster, playing better, and, most importantly, scoring glorious goals--Messi set one, and scored one.

And to the coaches (I know you read this): Perreira, bench Ronaldo; Pekerman, start Messi.

By the way, I can fully assess and recomend to both of these coaches on their particular situations, as I have taken many teams to the World Cup. :)

(Everyone and their dogs seem to become experts when it comes to football. Have you heard yourself saying "I could have scored that...How can he have missed...He sucks...")

10:31 PM | 1 comment(s) |

All good maps...
Saturday, June 10, 2006

I feel like I am out of the loop. I did not know Microsoft had web maps similar to google's.

They are both really cool web apps. And they both have similar user interfaces. And, not surprisingly, the results look similar--the earth from a satellite picture should look the same, after all.

(For those in the know, you should recognize the place.)

Microsoft maps:

Google maps:

8:13 PM | 0 comment(s) |

Trading secrets

Aside from the "buy low, sell high" mantra, is there really a good strategy for investing in the securities market?

I am not sure, but insider trading may give you a bit of an edge.

To quote Peter Lynch, as quoted by's home page: "Insiders might sell their shares for any number of reasons, but they buy them for only one: they think the price will rise."

I wonder if anyone uses this site as a tool in their investment strategy?

7:50 PM | 2 comment(s) |

World's funniest joke

    A couple of New Jersey hunters are out in the woods when one of them falls to the ground. He doesn't seem to be breathing, his eyes are rolled back in his head. The other guy whips out his cell phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps to the operator: "My friend is dead! What can I do?" The operator, in a calm soothing voice says: "Just take it easy. I can help. First, let's make sure he's dead." There is a silence, then a shot is heard. The guy's voice comes back on the line. He says: "OK, now what?"

7:16 PM | 2 comment(s) |

Translate my pages on the fly
Friday, June 09, 2006

Given that my blog is written in English, I think most of my visitors are from English speaking countries. However, after looking at the geographical distribution of my web logs, I noticed I get a few hits from European countries.

I think English is the lingua franca of the internet, but with the online population growing constantly my reach is limited. So, I have included a "translation" facility to each of my entries. Well, I really don't do anything. I just use google's translate facility :)

Do you want the JavaScript code?

Why now? The World Cup is finally here, and according to John Hodgman, of the Daily Show Show with Jon Stewart, "3...trillion" people watch the event. That is quite a few of different languages, other than English.

I am here to serve you better.

7:46 AM | 0 comment(s) |

Tickle me Elmo, the internet way: the stolen Sidekick

This is one of those internet things: either you have heard of it or you have not.

I still do not know what to make out of it: someone found a Sidekick on a taxi cab around New York. The "finder" took some pictures with it, while the owner bought a new one and kept using the same contract. Because these things do everything via the service provider's server, the old Sidekick content was downloaded into new Sidekick and it just snow bowled into what it is now: the story of the stolen Sidekick.

Mean spirited or righteous deed? It is complicated. If you find something and it is acknowledged that you do not own it, it is like stealing. Like I said, it is complicated.

This whole thing is like attaching a scarlet letter, with the difference that it is an "i" or "e" or "w" (as in internet, electronic, or web) letter. Of course, people without "internets" have no idea of what is going on.

1:52 AM | 1 comment(s) |

Google's spreadsheet is cool, but so is ZohoSheet
Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Google came up with one more free application. Some predict that at some point it is going to contain advertisement. Coming from google, I would not doubt it.

But there are other options. I am actually surprised no one else is talking about them.

This is ZoohoSheet. It is very impressive. Try the graphing facility. And while you are at it, right click and view the source--it seems to be all JavaScript.

Compare to googleSheet. Google's offering is a work in progress, I am sure, so we should expect more from it.

One thing is puzzling about ZohoSheet. How are they planning to make money? The service is free right now.

I guess it is one of those sophisticated business models:
  1. Create Service for free use

  2. ???

  3. Profit
Oh well. For once google is the follower...

10:29 PM | 1 comment(s) |

Operational Excellence

I know very little about FedEx's process, but from where I am standing they appear to be a marvel of automated logistical efficiency: everything just works.

However, if you interrupt the system's flow, you start to see why it needs to be an automated logistical solution, i.e., you cannot change the product offering.

Philip Kotler, in his book Kotler on Marketing: How to Create, Win, and Dominate Markets, wrote:
    Operationally excellent companies like [...] Federal Express operate highly efficient systems that are difficult to alter...Operationally excellent firms operate like machines, and that is both their strength and their weakness. If they tried to be customer intimate and made many changes to satisfy individual customers, they would not be able to perform at their promised level of efficiency.
In the same chapter where this passage is found, he also mentioned the three "value disciplines" of the new age marketer: product leadership, operational excellence, or customer intimacy.

No business can be the best in all three. Treacy and Wiersema (as quoted by Kotler) suggest that a company's aim is to be the best in one of them and "achieve adequate performance in the other two disciplines."

I wanted to see how strict FedEx's value discipline was. To this purpose, I spent an afternoon in the life of a flow unit in FedEx's process: I decided to pick up my computer from FedEx's main depot, instead of allowing them to deliver it to my door step.

My computer was coming from an authorized IBM dealer in the US. The package, weighting 7 lbs, needed to be delivered from Ohio, US to Ontario, Canada. The machine arrived to Canada in less than 24 hours (very impressive).

All international packages coming into the country need to be cleared by customs. In the ideal world FedEx has created for us, end user do not have to worry about the logistics, and custom officers.

You have two options: one, if you are an importer, you can set up an account with FedEx to handle all these nuisances; two, in case you are doing a once of type of import, you can give power of attorney to FedEx's agents and they do all the leg work for you.

Like I said, I wanted to break the flow and, at the same time, see our Canadian Customs system at work.

It was a painful ordeal. (Relatively speaking. It could have been worst.)

First of all, I had to go to FedEx's head quarters to pick up paper work that I needed to present to the Custom officer. Then I took the paper work to the custom's office to be drilled down by dutiful government employees asking 101 questions: "Why are you importing? What is your status in Canada? Did you know you have pay duties on all imported items? Who manufactured the equipment?" Etc., etc.

Once the officer knew everything about my laptop and geological family tree, he (he was a he) proceeded to create a bill with all duties and taxes that I needed to pay, conveniently enough, at a the cashier's booth. Once everything was paid, I drove back to FedEx's head quarters to present the stamped receipt and then and only then they sent someone looking for my package among thousands and thousands.

Needless to say that at each stage there were quite a few people already waiting in line. Suddenly queuing theory started flashing in front of me and I knew that I had to wait a long time with M/M/1 type queues everywhere--Erlang probabilities became pointless when the one actually waiting was me (no offence to my Operations professor.)

And the moral of the story is: these type of services are automated for a reason. Do not break protocol and save yourself a great deal of time and frustration.

In some cases, though, some companies will cater to your special needs. But it has to be profitable for them to change their value offering. In the case of FedEx, they were very helpful in guiding me where to go, however, they would not change their core business around just to serve me better, i.e., call one of their many truck drivers to drive me around town so I can clear my package.

In truth, there was not much FedEx could have done. I did ask them to hold the package for me, after all. It also became clear to me that if I would not have meddled in their core competencies, I would been home sipping cold margaritas instead of driving around Mississauga a whole afternoon in hot, humid weather.

12:01 AM | 0 comment(s) |

Super MBA Expectations
Tuesday, June 06, 2006

While surfing around CIO Magazine, I found Edward Cone's article titled Management: IT Education and The Modern-Day MBA. He wrote:
    Employers--whether they are looking to place fresh talent on the IT management track, or find business-line executives with technology savvy--need to understand that not all MBAs are created equal. Business schools vary widely when it comes to teaching about technology and technology management in their master's degree programs, though all must provide a minimum level of exposure to technology-related subjects in order to receive accreditation. But while you can assume that any MBA graduate will possess a basic understanding of accounting, organizational behaviour and business operations, there is no fixed standard on what graduates will know about IT when they enter the job market.


    That means employers have to know what they're looking for--beyond the degree itself--and they are not always happy with what they find.
As a hiring manager, you need to look beyond the MBA designation, but that is obvious, I think, and one word can summarize the whole article: interview.

When it comes to looking for a specific type of manager, a company cannot (and rarely does) just employ the first MBA graduate that shows up at the door. Behind the three letters there is always a story and a successful career of core competencies in many different fields.

Most MBA programs are part theory, part practice, and try to teach the basics or running large scale enterprises. But they do not teach everything--IT or Finance or Accounting included.

Moreover, Information Technology is too broad of a term and covers a large number of permutations. For example, IT in a purely Software shop does not mean the same as in a Nuclear plant setting--they clearly have different requirements. However, there will always be strategic and managerial issues that an MBA graduate is likely to have different tools to draw from.

Problems in business settings are unlikely to have right or wrong answers, and no class I have taken so far (undergraduate and graduate level) taught me that "X" is the only answer to a particular issue. In a commercial setting, as a manager, you either create value (ethically and lawfully) or you do not--which in the end is the measure of most, if not all, for-profit companies. Weather you have an MBA or not makes little difference--delivery of results is the key.

Because of the type of business schools offer, MBA graduates can probably do any type of managerial job, specially overseeing large scale businesses. However, when there is a specific technical requirement, I would think a one hour interview would tell you if a particular MBA is what you are really looking for.

For example, a Software Developer or Engineer with an MBA is probably a better choice for managing or directing software companies, or be better at driving the IT requirements of any company. But this same Software Engineer with an MBA will not be a good fit to run an HR department, even if this person has taken OB courses while in school.

So I have a bit of an issue (and a personal opinion) when I hear that MBA programs are failing to teach "X" or "Y" skills. It is probably the same as saying that Computer Science Schools are failing to teach "X" or "Y" skills. I think we have been saying this since specialized training or University education was invented. It matters little which school or program we are referring to, if we look hard enough, something will be missing.

Finally, if we expect any type of school to train our future employees, we better do our homework and make sure that we are hiring the right person for any job. Mr. Cone quotes an anonymous "veteran executive" as saying:
    While they [MBA graduates] were all focused on the big picture and growing top-line revenues, no one understood the need to apply tried-and-true IT management disciplines to ensure the success of their development and integration efforts. Clearly, they either missed the MBA class that covered these core disciplines, as applied to IT, or it wasn't a class that was offered. The result was a $40 million write-off by the parent company, and a major restructuring of the company's MBA hiring and on-the-job training/apprenticeship programs.
So, with this particular example, who failed whom? Was it the MBA school or the hiring process that allowed $40 million to be wasted?

In the end, what is important is not to point fingers, but to remedy the problem, which apparently they did by revamping "the company's MBA hiring and on-the-job training/apprenticeship programs."

Note that this executive did not say her or his company "fixed" the schools where these "bunch of smart MBA grads" attended. Likely, there was nothing wrong with the schools.

These programs vary in shapes and sizes, and I am certain that some MBA graduates (even from the less prestigious business schools) will need no apprenticeship program to be very successful leaders. I would argue that it is their past professional experiences that will drive their success and not a comprehensive list of MBA courses taken during graduate school.

After all, paraphrasing Gertrude Stein, a school is a school is a school, and it is up to each individual to take in as much or as little as desired.

It is too easy to say that Universities failed to teach a particular skill employers were looking for. In the same token, it is illogical to place someone to create nuclear reactors without having studied, at least, basic physics; or, similarly, giving the reins of a whole IT department to someone who does not know what TCP/IP stands for. In both cases, is a bit of a mismatch of expertise and expectations. Moreover, blaming schools for not providing proper training is a bit of a stretch, I think.

(This example has OB case written all over it--too bad, I already took that course.)

6:32 PM | 0 comment(s) |

Jon Sewart: comedian, fake daily newscaster, and soccer player?
Friday, June 02, 2006


I would have never guessed that Jon Stewart, from the Daily Show, was a soccer player.

10:52 PM | 0 comment(s) |

Undoubting and Pointless

    "Every individual has a philosophy, a system of beliefs about philosophical issues such as love, the 'good life,' death, the value of money, duty to country, and the role of the government. [...] the development of a philosophy rest ultimately on the individual. Whether one's philosophy is sophisticated or elementary, enduring or changeable, it cannot be a task delegated to others."

    Classical Philosophical Questions (7th edition).
Given such responsibility, can we realistically construct a set of beliefs that are in accordance with the world around us?

Charles Sanders Pierce, said to the be "most profound and original" of US philosophers, explored in his essay The Fixation of Belief four distinct approaches that aid in arriving at personal beliefs.

Every experience during our lifetimes gives shape to our reasoning: we are affected by everything we read, anything we are taught, or by the actions of our loved ones. To Pierce, these experiences lead to methodologies that aid in fixing our beliefs: method of tenacity, method of authority, method of intuition, and method of science.

Seeking to understand our surroundings is nothing more than seeking the clarity of belief, i.e., go from a state of doubt to that of a state of knowing, which is essentially the belief that we are no longer in a state of doubt. However, the process is not entirely free of obstacles. Pierce wrote, "both doubt and belief have positive effects upon us, though very different ones." Belief makes us behave in certain ways when action is required. Doubt, on the other hand, has only a flight effect on behaviour, i.e., it only "simulates" action until doubt is erased.

If we are rational animals, after exhausting every option and seeking truth through logic and scientific observations we must arrive at irrefutable facts--"A is A"--however, everything is personal belief based on supposed objective deductions. But we must believe that rationality rules in order to individually accept reality as it is being computed quark by quark. Letting others decide for ourselves may leave us in convenient states of docile oblivion and blissful ignorance--both permanents states of doubt.

5:24 PM | 0 comment(s) |

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