Why the death of Anthony Bourdain should mean nothing to you

Use others as inspiration but never use them as a measuring stick to decide if your own life measured up.

This article is in no way a comment on Anthony Bourdain.
I love food and love cooking and love travel. I’d never seen (or even heard of) Anthony Bourdain until an alert came across my phone from the BBC that he was dead. And that apparently he had committed suicide.
I read some things about him and he seems interesting enough and I might go back and read and watch more. And I think it is incredibly sad when someone reaches a level of ‘success’ that he seems to have reached and still feels that life is worth living.
Like with the death of Robin Williams I wonder what the knock-on on effect will be – the whole “if he doesn’t see the point, what about someone like me”?
And that is why I am here to say that the life and death of Anthony Bourdain mean nothing to you. Bourdain had his own life, lived his own way. His level of outward success might inspire you to follow your own path to a level of success, but it should not make you feel that whatever gains you have made have been for nothing because he felt he could not go on, despite his successes. You do not walk in his shoes, suffer his demons, attain his successes. That was all him.
What you can do is more important because it is within your own life. No matter how many awards Bourdain received, you still had to get out of bed in the morning and do whatever you do. No matter how many times Bourdain faltered, it takes nothing away from the accomplishments you’ve had. The times that you’ve shone, be it in a small or a big way.
This is the dirty underbelly of celebrity – when someone raised so high by society is not ripped down but of their own volition ends their life we are left with this void. The whys. This is why you can’t let your self-worth or your happiness depend on the two-dimensional representation of another human being. We might – will – never really know what was going on inside Bourdain’s head. And there is no reason why we should.
You can make your own successes. You can conquer your own demons. You may use others as inspiration but never use them as a measuring stick to decide if your own life measured up.
I have nothing but sympathy for those around Bourdain, his friends, and family – including his girlfriend Asia Argento, whom I met briefly years ago. When someone in your life commits suicide it is a tragedy.
But please, just remember, Bourdain was not in your life.

Customer Service – How to infuriate your customers

A great way to infuriate your customers is to send them form letters that hint that you could answer them, but really you can’t be bothered and that they are just generic “actors” you meet along the way to making lots of money.

We only, usually, contact customer service when something goes wrong. It is exactly at this point a company can choose to make you feel like a person or a number.

Imagine that you take your kid to the hospital. They’re sick. The doctors wheel them away and return a few hours later saying, “sorry, your child died”. Horrible, right? Your reaction would probably be to ask “what happened?”.

Imagine the doctor’s reply is something like “in children, there can be various causes of disease or trauma. Some of these diseases, or traumas, may not be able to be resolved. In some cases, the end result of this is that the child dies. We, as doctors, do everything we can to help the child. Just because the child died does not mean there was a problem with the child. Or that in future, if you bring in other children, they will die.”

That doesn’t answer your question, does it? That any human being would think this answers the question is madness.

Yet, this is exactly the kind of customer service I received from Western Union. Yes, people sometimes still have to send money by Western Union to reach remote parts of the world. I tried to do this. I created a transfer online and paid by credit card. Some hours later I received this email

Dear PHILIP SMY,

Money Transfer Control Number [MTCN] is: xxxx

We have received your order, however, we regret we are unable to process your transaction at this time. Unfortunately, your order has not been authorized by Western Union and we are unable to complete your money transfer.

If you feel this action is in error or have further questions as to why your transaction was declined, please contact us by email at customerservice@westernunion.com, by phone at 800 336 4597, or visit a Western Union Agent location.

You can find an Agent location on www.westernunion.ca.

Thank you for using Western Union!

First of all “if you feel this action is in error”…well… no kidding. I asked for a transfer and you said no. Of COURSE I think it’s an error.

Second, my god, I hate when people say something like “Thanks for using Western Union” when in fact it was a complete balls up! “Thanks for visiting the hospital!”

So, of course, I asked for details. That’s when they hit me with the “your child died, but that doesn’t mean anything” response.

Dear Phil Smy

We would like to extend our most sincere apologies for the inconvenience this matter has caused you.

Please be informed that sending money has to go through the verification process. You may have been able to send money before to the same person and location but this does not guarantee that all of your transactions will automatically go through. Please note that every transaction is being reviewed in a case to case basis. It is the system that decides whether the transaction is approved or declined. Moreover, your transaction being declined doesn’t also mean that you are being blocked from using our service. You can try sending the money again but straight approval is not a guarantee.

We understand your concern and frustration, we must mention that after a customer requests a transaction online, the transaction is sent to a risk engine. Based on defined rules, the risk engine automatically declines risky transactions, approves genuine transactions and refers some transactions to our Digital Review Team for manual reviews and customer interviews (if needed) by phone. In some instances, our risk engine cannot make decisions by itself. Your transaction was being under review by our Digital Review Team, unfortunately they determine to cancel it. To protect our customers we have strict security measures in place for online payments. We recommend you to resend the transaction and be aware that a live representative can be calling you shortly to complete the validation process or you can contact us immediately after you sent the money transfer to check the status of the same.

Please do not hesitate to contact us as soon as possible so we further assist you. Your kindly comprehension and patience is highly appreciated.

Our customer care team is dedicated in providing you with assistance you need and can be contacted 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We can be reached at our toll free number 1-800-325-6000 or email us directly at customercare@westernunion.com.

Sincerely,

Western Union Customer Care

That is a lot of writing to say “we didn’t do it”. There is no “reason” in there. Yes, there are possible reasons. But no reason in my case. I wasn’t asking for a paper I am researching. I want to know about MY CASE.

Also, come on Western Union, can’t you write proper English? “Your kindly comprehension”….what?! And “unfortunately they determine to cancel it.” This was in the past, so, I think you mean “determined”.

This kind of customer service is further proof that companies just don’t get it. Western Union, of all people, should be doing everything humanly possible to keep customers happy. They are a measure of last resort – this is the age of PayPal and cryptocurrency!

Treat your customers like people. Listen to their questions and actually answer them. It’s not rocket science. If you “don’t have the resources” to do this then why do you “have the resources” to take on new customers. Customers are not ATMs, there to give you money. They are people trying to solve a problem by using your services.

My Year In Crypto #2 – Crypto Confusion

In this episode, you can literally watch my brain spinning as I try to understand a fundamental concept – what is the relationship between the “white paper” of a cryptocurrency and the “coin” of that currency that you buy on an exchange.

The white paper I refer to is the one for “EOS” a supposedly exciting coin and good investment opportunity.

Interested in trading CryptoCurrency yourself? Next episode I will discuss opening accounts…but one exchange I highly recommend is BiNance!

My Year in Crypto #1 – What is Crypto Currency?

I’d heard about it. I’d ignored it. I looked into BitCoin in 2010! I’d even mined, but thought it was too slow and at the time it was worth nothing. It was like doing SETI.

Even as late as last year friends asked me if it was a good investment and I had to honestly say I had no idea.
Some people say now it’s too late. But, I’ve made a career of being late to the party, so I’m going to spend 2018 looking at and investing in, crypto currency. Every month I will invest at least $500 of my own money into different AltCoins. So that’s about $6000 for the year. Let’s see if crypto can beat my regular stock investments, in which last year I made 29.4%.
I am a buy and hold kind of guy, so I don’t envision me getting into day trading – I’m also too busy to do that!
I hope you’ll follow along and watch me either lose $6000 or gain and learn about this exciting investment area.
But before I start on that adventure I thought I’d prepare a little background
So what is CryptoCurrency and what is BitCoin – the grand-daddy of them all?
Back in 2008 BitCoin was announced. Its intention was to succeed where others had failed. Namely, in creating an alternative to government-backed cash. This was not the first time it had been tried, and you could argue that even PayPal was an attempt at this. But, the difference that BitCoin held was the decentralized nature of it. It was peer to peer sharing. It was the BitTorrent, the Napster, of money. BitCoin, and all AltCoins/CryptoCurrencies are simply abstract representations of value. Like your bank account. Your bank account is not a little pile of money in the corner of a building somewhere. Your bank account is rows in a database. The only person who really knows what is in your bank account is your bank.
So to that extent, BitCoin is no different. Except that BitCoin’s database is something called the BlockChain, which is a decentralized database of ALL transactions having to do with BitCoin. So everyone knows how much money is in your bank account. It can’t be fudged or faked because all these records are spread across the world, reconciled and confirmed through strong cryptographic means.
So whereas the bank can go in and change your records, with BlockChain currencies – CryptoCurrencies – that is impossible.
CryptoCurrencies have 5 transactional differences over the current cash system:
  1. Irreversible: After confirmation, a transaction can‘t be reversed. By nobody. And nobody means nobody. Not you, not your bank, not the president of the United States, not Satoshi, the unknown inventor of bitcoin, not some BitCoin miner in Guangzhou. Nobody. If you send money, you send it. Period. No one can help you, if you sent your funds to a scammer or if a hacker stole them from your computer. There is no safety net.
  2. Pseudonymous: Neither transactions nor accounts are connected to real-world identities. You receive Bitcoins on so-called addresses, which are randomly seeming chains of around 30 characters. While it is usually possible to analyze the transaction flow, it is not necessarily possible to connect the real world identity of users with those addresses. — This is an area I am curious about as it seems that if you give someone your address they should be able to search the blockchain for your “bank balance”.
  3. Global: Transaction are propagated nearly instantly in the network and are cryptographically confirmed over time. Since they happen in a global network of computers they are completely indifferent of your physical location. It doesn‘t matter if I send Bitcoin to my neighbour or to someone on the other side of the world. Ironically, this way of doing it is actually the area of concern that has opened up the whole AltCoin market, as they often offer faster and cheaper ways to confirm the transactions.
  4. Secure: Cryptocurrency funds are locked in a public key cryptography system. Only the owner of the private key can send cryptocurrency. Strong cryptography and the magic of big numbers makes it impossible to break this scheme. A Bitcoin address is more secure than Kim Jong Un’s stash of candy bars.
  5. Permissionless: You don‘t have to ask anybody to use cryptocurrency. It‘s just a software that everybody can download for free. After you installed it, you can receive and send Bitcoins or other cryptocurrencies. No one can prevent you. There is no gatekeeper.
Also, a key monetary difference is that most (if not all) cryptocurrencies are limited in their supply. Unlike cash, which can be printed willy-nilly (ask someone in Zimbabwe!), the technology limits the number of AltCoins that will ever be available.
I’m not going to get into all the technical details behind all this. It’s not totally relevant to us as investors at this point in time.
People talk of BitCoin being a bubble, one who’s time has already passed. That may or may not be true for BitCoin as a commodity, but I think that the concept of CryptoCurrency is here to stay. It is a technologically-backed paradigm shift. We can see a clear evolution towards it – from PayPal to mobile payment systems like mPesa. To call the whole thing a bubble or a fad is akin to back 100 years ago when the horse and buggy industry said that the automobile was a fad. Personally, I can already see that BitCoin, specifically, will not be used as a standardized payment method. The transaction costs are too high. BitCoin is more like gold – a way to store value. Other AltCoins have come along and have a much better chance at being a cash substitute. But more on that in other videos.
In short – a CryptoCurrency is any “value exchange” ledger based on a decentralized cryptographic system.
So that’s it. In the next video I’ll show you how to invest in AltCoins and what I’ve already invested in.
I am not asking for you to pay to follow me, and I’m not saying what I will do will be of any value to copy. I’m not starting a “AltCoin” investment newsletter. I am an experienced investor, and experienced in tech startups. But I’m not going to sell you the idea that I have cracked the way to make money in CryptoCurrency.
If you want to join in on the fun, leave some comments below with your investment ideas. And let’s learn together.

Oh Canada.

It never ceases to amaze me how Canada, and Canadians, have permitted the corporations and politicians to weight the laws in favour of corporate greed over human requirements.
 
25 years ago Philip Howard published his great book “The Death of Common Sense: How Law Is Suffocating America“. Reading it at the time I took some small comfort that Canada was not that way. I left Canada 20 years ago, and returning now for extended stays I see that in fact Common Sense has truly up and died in Canada as well.
Canada was charmed and bullied by corporations and politicians alike, all in the name of progress. And now we are left with the hostile, uncaring, faceless “press 1 for poor service, press 2 for worse service” culture that everyone bemoans.
 
Complaining to your friends is good. Complaining to the organisations better. Organising opposition is best. But already the law is so heavily on the side of companies that opposition becomes risky. From independent milk producers risking jail to home power enthusiasts, Canada has become a bizarre place that touts it’s freedom while cowering in the corner.
 
Yes, it is worse in <insert country of choice>, but just because next door you get poked with a stick in both eyes doesn’t mean that getting poked with a stick in one eye at home is something to be proud of.

Customer Service…the hint is in the name

For most of the year I live in Japan. Japan has some of the best customer service I’ve experienced in my time and travels on this great Earth of ours.

But, I also spend a lot of time in my native Canada. Canada has this reputation of being peopled by “nice” people, and they treat everyone so “nice”. This is an illusion that we, as Canadians, love to believe in. But, the truth is, Customer Service in Canada is pretty poor.

Here’s my experience from today.

I thought I’d treat myself to a movie. Last week I did the same. Hey, it’s cheap on Tuesdays down at the local Cineplex. Last week I had the whole Canadian experience: bought myself a Tim Horton‘s donut and coffee and went to the movies. I sat in the lobby of the Cineplex, drank a little coffee, exchanged some pleasantries with the “nice” staff and then went in, complete with coffee, to catch Baby Driver. Nice!

This week I thought I’d repeat the experience. I went to Tim Horton’s got my coffee and cookie and headed to the Cineplex. So pleased was I at last week’s experience I even had signed up for their “Scene” card!

But, like a scene from Lord of the Rings, I was greeted by the gatekeeper. A troll that informed me that I had a choice to make: the coffee or the movie. I explained that last week I took the coffee in with me. The gatekeeper said that was impossible as they have a strict “no outside drinks” policy.

Customer Service Tip #1: never call the customer a liar. Even if you are sure they are (btw I wasn’t lying)

I said “OK, I’ve already got my coffee so I’ll refund the ticket”. Gatekeeper said ok and sent me to the ticket desk. Times are tough for the Cineplex because they seemingly can’t afford to have any staff. There was no one at the ticket desk. I had to go to the concession counter (where a group of rather rotund staff were snacking). After waiting in line so that customers could get their food and drink I was served. A senior member of staff had to come over to do the refund. I once again explained the situation. He shrugged.

It was here they missed a trick: they could have said, ok, last week was a mistake but since you’re already here and have a coffee just go in. But please know that normally we don’t allow in outside food and drink.

Customer Service Tip #2: if the customer wants something that costs you nothing, give it to them.

The manager then proceeded to take this wonderful opportunity to TRAIN THE JUNIOR STAFF. It took forrreeevveerrrr to get the refund.

I left the cinema, coffee in hand, and tweeted the following:

After doing some other things, I got back home. I had a response to my tweet!

I find Twitter to be the best medium to contact customer support. I was happy! Maybe I would get some recognition of the situation. Well done Cineplex!

Customer Service Tip #3: The customer wants to be acknowledged

So I sent a DM back with the details.

I thought they would say sorry and do something that costs them close to nothing: credit my scene card with a movie visit (note: not give a free movie) and push me 1 movie closer to the Buy 10 get 1 free. In other words, give me a 10th of a movie – which on a Tuesday would be worth 59 cents!

See Customer Service Tip #2, above.

Here’s there response:

Hi Phil, Thanks for getting back with additional information! We sincerely apologize as your recent visit with us was not satisfactory. We do have a strict outside food policy that all of our theatre locations have to abide by. We apologize for the miscommunication during your recent visits and have forwarded your concerns to the theatre management team for coaching purposes, as we do not want a situation such as this to ever reoccur in the future. Thank you for bringing this to our attention.

I was shocked. I didn’t tweet as a way of helping them update their employee handbook!

I responded:

Your definition and mine of strict is different I guess because employees don’t seem to be informed of this ‘strict’ policy consistently.
I appreciate that as a potential customer my time is of literally no value to you (as you have demonstrated) but a goodwill gesture that would cost cineplex nothing would have gone a long way.

Shall we step back a minute and look at this policy?

All of us know why this policy is in place.

It is not to protect the cinemas from damage – Cineplex are more than happy for you to take THEIR food and drink into the cinema. The policy is in place to force you into buying food and drink from their concession stand. Given time I’m sure Cineplex could come up with other reasons – perhaps to prevent you from bringing in alcohol, though presumably you would smuggle alcohol in, not carry it openly and as they don’t search you on the way in its not an effective rule for that.

So we all know. It’s a rule to make them more money. It does nothing for you, the customer.

Customer Service Tip #4: If your policies aren’t a legal requirement or making things better for the customer, you should start to question those policies.

I know what some of you will say. Wow, Phil, this is a real First World Problem. Boo hoo, you couldn’t take your coffee into your afternoon matinee.

But that is not, in fact, the point. I don’t think it is a First World Problem.

The idea of good customer service should not be something we’re grateful for. It should be the standard operating procedure for companies. How did we get to the stage where we sit and take it (and grumble about it) and then go into work and dish it out? It has become ‘normal’ to get crap service. We used to complain when we got bad service, now we are amazed when we get good.

We accept (but bemoan) Robocalls. Misleading advertising for financial products. Fear based drug pushing on TV. Rude and inattentive staff in banks. Defective merchandise at the big box store.

It is days like today and experiences like this that make me shake my head and pity the state of things in the True North Strong and Free. We might be a kinder, gentler nation, but we are being preyed upon by corporations who see us as simply sheep to be sheared and then slaughtered (and if you think I’m exaggerating as someone who was pitched a reverse mortgage and then lost their house).

Ok. Rant over.

At least I got my Tim Horton’s coffee*

 

 

 

*(another myth Canadians love to believe: Tim Horton’s is Canadian. It’s not. Your money goes to a faceless Brazilian corporation. Sorry, Canada.)

My Thoughts on the Brexit

[youtube id=A3ZGy5xg1V4]

this is the text of the video I made about this

My name is Phil Smy. I am a Canadian who lives in Japan. But because my parents are British I have a UK passport.

Because of my UK passport I have lived in Holland, Belgium, Spain, Germany and Switzerland. I spent a lot of time in the UK as a child, my mother is a die hard royalist, and my father was a West Ham supporter.
I can’t vote in Thursday’s referendum, but, I wanted to voice some opinions about it – and what better place than the Internet to do that?
I want to talk about 3 things:
First, there is this very slickly made pro-leave video – Brexit – The Movie – that is horribly inaccurate and designed to provoke fear and anger. I want to address some of those points.
Second, as a successful businessman myself, I want to tell you what I think the business impact will be.
Thirdly, I want to share my personal feelings.

But first, I want to start with a parable. Once upon a time there was a kingdom in the land that thought it wasn’t getting a fair shake. Granted, at the council of kings people agreed that the language that was only spoken in that kingdom should be an official language of the council. They also agreed that the kingdom could raise and keep it’s own taxes. And make trade agreements with other kingdoms. Basically, do whatever they wanted, but, also be part of the council of kings.
The kingdom hated this. The king was ok with it, but many princes tried to whip the people into a frenzy. Some formed violent factions. Some protested peacefully. Many wanted out.
Now, you’re all saying that was a pretty crap parable, obviously about the Brexit. But it wasn’t. It was about another such situation that I saw up close – the Quebec sovereignty movement. Almost since joining Canada, parts of Quebec wanted to leave. They thought they had good reason. They had the second biggest economy inside Canada, and were full of natural resources. And they fought hard for many years, but decided, in the end, to stay in Canada… because it made good financial and political sense. And, truth be told, by the time they really got the chance to decide on it, it was way too late. The horse had escaped, so why burn down the barn?
And this is my feeling about Brexit. Maybe if Britain had never joined Europe, or had decided to leave at an earlier date there would be more legitimate arguments. But right now there is literally only one valid argument – Britain wants to be 100% responsible for its own success or failure. i.e sovereignty. And, as far as I can tell from history, sovereignty alone never bought anybody a hot meal. Also, in the case of the Brexit, the word is being misused. Britain ALREADY has sovereignty. All European states do.

So let’s get on to Brexit the Movie. I’m not going to go through minute by minute. Firstly, I don’t have the rights to show it, but mostly because it’s a long video! So let’s hit the highlights.
Right off the bat, they take aim at the supposed ‘big bureaucracy’ of Europe. Including my favourite scene where, because the presenter can’t get into a taxi and get taken to ‘the place where Europe is governed from’ there is something inherently wrong. Have you tried to do the same in the UK? The whole government machine doesn’t sit inside the Houses of Parliament.
But let’s look at this ‘big bureaucracy’ issue.
The EU has a population of around 508 million people. And the Brexit video is right – the number of employees, as quoted by the European Commission themselves, is around 10,000. That’s a lot of people, for sure.
In contrast, the UK has a population of around 64 million people. And, again, from the papers directly issued by the government, the UK parliament staff – not including all the consultants attached to all the ministries – is a little over 2000. But, that means that for every 100,000 people in the UK, there are 3.18 – painful to be the .18! – people in parliamentary employment. In contrast, in the EU commission, for every 100,000 people there are 1.96 – oh, let’s just say 2! That’s only 2/3rds, by population.
There are some incredible sections of this video where they say what a waste of money it is that the EU gives so much to charities, universities and the arts. There are 2 things about this that really rile me. First is this whole ‘the EU is run by bloody French elitists’ thing. That the UK is good working class people and we don’t need any of your poxy arteests thank you very much. The second is the blindness to the fact that a big chunk of the money the EU gives to the arts goes to the UK! Your libraries, your galleries, your artists, your scholars – THEY are getting money from the EU. Do you think the UK government will step into the gap that a Brexit will create for those people? Because this is the thing that the video tries to avoid – that people and organizations in the UK are the recipients of lots of EU money. And there is nothing wrong with that. That is your RIGHT as a member of the EU. And it’s not just the arts. 50% of British farming subsidies come from the EU. More than €1.2 billion comes into the UK to support low income housing projects in places like Scotland and northern England.
And this is why the British government has to say that if a Brexit happens there will have to be austerity measures in the budget to cover the loss. And we know how well that worked in Greece, where old men are setting themselves on fire in protest to how they can’t afford to eat.
Brexit The Movie also takes a long poke at EU regulations. Yes, there’s lots of EU regulations. Yes, they seem to cover silly things. But, newsflash, these regulations make products safer, cleaner, more fuel efficient and standardised. Already the rest of Europe can plug things into the electric when they travel…unless they go to the UK. So don’t try to claim that all EU regulations are followed. Also, true, you can no longer sleep on a pillow made of discarded razor blades. But I think that’s a good thing. Personally, I’m happy to know that some standards are being applied to the things I buy in the EU. Which, of course, is another point. These standards are for things SOLD in the EU. Because of this, when dogs and cats in North America and Asia were dying from Chinese-made pet food that contained harmful levels of toxins, it didn’t happen in the EU. 40% of the UKs trade is with the EU, so, all those things are STILL going to have to comply to EU standards. And if the UK doesn’t adopt similar standards for imports, well, its goodbye Fido.
There is also the ridiculous implication that England could become like Switzerland, despite the fact that the expert quoted in the video – economist Dr. Ruth Lea – says that ‘to think Britain would be like Switzerland is totally bizarre’. Switzerland has 8 million people – less than London – and its major industries are mechanical and precision engineering, pharmaceuticals, banking and watchmaking. How that maps to the British skill set I’m not sure. And politically Switzerland’s structure is completely different. Britain would need to re-write it’s constitution and many of its laws for it to even start to be like Switzerland. So much for going back to the old days.
The video is so contradictory, it’s maddening. At one point they claim how limiting, with regards to trade agreements, being the EU is. The EU only has agreements with 2 of the top 10 regions that the UK trades with. But, hold on. So you’re trading with regions without a EU trade agreement? So, it’s NOT so limiting after all I guess.
But enough about that video.

Of the top 10 economies in the world, 4 are in the EU. France, Germany, Italy and the UK. What a Brexit is saying that France, Germany and Italy – Italy! – can make it work in the EU, but Britain can’t. Britain would be better off alone. A great footballer does not decide to quit his team and play by himself. David Beckham – and he was #1, not #5 – didn’t say, look guys, I’m scoring all the goals here, so I’m going it alone.

The UK joined the EEC in the 1970s. Before that, things were, lets be honest, pretty grim in the UK. I remember going to my grandmothers house in 1970s Southend On Sea and honestly, I don’t think they had a refrigerator. My parents left the UK in the 1950s because opportunities were so much greater elsewhere. So, when people talk about ‘taking back Britain’ remember that it was the British government alone that kept things like rationing going, that attacked the coal industry, that balked on things like child labor. I don’t know what people are thinking, but, before joining the EU it was not the common man that had all the money and the power – it was the elite, the captains of industry, and little was in place to protect the worker. What the Brexit campaign seems to tell you that times are horrible and it’s time to pull up the drawbridge. This is, in fact, not the case. Today the UK has the lowest unemployment rate it has had in a very long time. Under 5%. That includes all the immigrant workers that the UK wants to turn it’s back on. The pro-leave campaign thinks that it’s young people will be better served by NOT having the opportunity to live and work in Europe. That the aging population in the UK will be better served by NOT having inexpensive, yet experienced, home care staff coming in from the continent.

A Brexit will not save British industry. Because most of British industry is already in the hands of foreign companies. Tata will not change its mind about British steel because of a Brexit. If I was a business owner based on the continent that also had facilities in the UK, I would probably close those facilities and move things inside the EU. It only makes common sense to do that. The British fishing industry already has the biggest quotas on any fishing industry in the EU. And, remember all that EU money?, well that is what will fund the deepening of ports in Scotland to allow larger, newer, trollers to come in. Do you think the UK will fund these projects that will not only help local fisherman but also create construction and infrastructure jobs? It is also the EU that would pay for any retraining, or moving to new technology or even new industries, for these fisherman and their families.
The Brexit campaign talks about how, when God closes a door he opens a window. And that window is China. A Chinese, non standard, lead glass, window. Right now China accounts for less than 5% of the UKs exports – and the UK is in a massive deficit with China, importing far more than it exports. You know who is the UK’s biggest exporter to China? Jaguar Land Rover. And who owns Jaguar Land Rover? Tata Motors. The UK’s top 5 exports to China in 2014 were: road vehicles, medicinal and pharmaceutical products, power generating machinery / equipment, metalliferous ores and scrap metal, general industrial machinery, equipment and parts. And in those areas, those imports only account for 1% of China’s imports in those industries. i.e. bucket. drop. By the way, the Chinese just pumped in a few billion to build new nuclear reactors. I live about 80km from Fukushima. My top tip: don’t build nuclear.
Tata stock is already going down due to Brexit fears. What happens when stock prices go down? Companies cut costs. What’s a big cost? Employees.

So, enough of all that. Enough of the business and statistics and all that crap. Here’s my personal feeling. We live in a world where we are all getting more and more closely connected. It’s a scary thing. You feel like you lose control, when your neighbour can find you on Facebook and know that you were out at a party and didn’t invite them. But that’s the world we live in now. As a UK citizen you have an incredible opportunity to take part in that world. You have access to all those countries, all those people. All that food! The UK is not the only place in the world that values sovereignty. The UK is not the only place in the world that values it’s history and culture. By being part of a group you don’t LOSE anything. But, to be part of a group you need to participate.
If you don’t know who your MEP is, that is not all their fault. You could make the effort. Your MEP should also get involved. It is insanity to think that the UK does not have a voice in EU policy. Nick Farage – someone who’s making it his mission to get the UK out of the EU, despite the fact that he is an MEP – was on the EU fisheries council. He had a voice and could have made changes to help the UK fisherman. But he never went. Out of 42 meetings he attended 1. You can’t say a group doesn’t work if you don’t show up. Other countries in Europe – funnily enough, the ones that have the best performing economies – are the most active inside the EU commission. The EU commission is run in English! Despite that incredible fact, UK MEPs are rarely in attendance.
As citizens you do have a right to be outraged at how the UK is involved with the EU. But the solution is not to leave, it is to participate and make the whole Union stronger.
You probably didn’t watch this whole video. You probably don’t think that I have any right to weigh in on this issue. But I can tell you, as a British Citizen, a businessman, and a lover of the great collection of unique cultures that Europe is, I would be sad to see the UK bow out because it was just too hard to make it work.

My Olympic Sport

Olympic Rings

With surprising frequency, the International Olympic Committee adds new sports to the Olympics. For instance in 1936, at the Berlin Games, Basketball was added. In 1964 – at the Tokyo Olympics – Volleyball joined the list. More recently, tennis and mountain biking were added. And finally, at this summer’s Olympics it will be golf.
So, I can still hold my breath that in my lifetime my favourite sport will be added, and with the advances available in medical technology maybe I will even be able to compete.
For my favourite sport, my favourite pastime, is, in fact, complaining. From traffic to tourism, advertising to Zoolander 2, I can complain about it.

Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that complaining is a sport normally reserved for the elderly. True, in times gone by the aged had the advantage in the sport of complaining because a popular style of complaining is the ‘things are not as good as they used to be’ school of complaining. And the older you get, the easier this becomes.
The beauty of this style of complaining is that the comparison can age along with the complainer.
For example, today an older person – like myself – might say that movies are not as good as they used to be – now they are all franchise films and explosions.
But 30 years ago, an older person – like myself – might have said that movies are not as good as they used to be, they’re all science fiction and sex.
Even 80 years ago an older person – like myself – my have said movies are not as good as they used to be – they have sound.
The truth is that the ‘good old days’ are always in the past, and the past can be rewritten.

But I’m here to tell you that complaining is NOT just a sport for the aged. It can also be a younger persons game. I know, I know – the ‘not as good as they used to be’ part of you is saying that young people today aren’t smart enough to complain like you used to complain when YOU were younger.
But the youth have an advantage that most of us when we were young didn’t have – the internet. And with the internet comes one of the most powerful tools in the game of complaining: a little bit of information. Not a LOT of information, because you don’t need a lot of information to complain about something. In fact, it’s better to have just a little bit of information. And even better still if that information is wrong.
Because if you have a lot of information about a subject a couple of things happen: first of all, you can cross dangerously from complaining into criticizing. Because a critic is someone who can complain about a subject, but back it up with lots of references and historically accurate information. And of course in today’s fast paced world, being historically accurate and being able to back things up with valid references also means one more thing: you are boring.
Because the thing about complaining is that you are voicing the opinion of the common man, not some over educated elitist. And of course the common man, as any good complainer can tel you, is an idiot.

If complaining made it into the Olympics, like figure skating or gymnastics it could have a long program and a short program. For the long program I recommend equipment of a sofa or a bar stool, or perhaps as a long distance phone call with your mother. The short program could be held in the aisles of a grocery store.
Certain categories would have to be covered – the stupidity of television presenters, for example.
That could be followed by how money doesn’t buy you what it used to. Of course the triple salchow of complaining would be to let your ignorance of art not stop you from complaining about how ridiculous modern art is.
Of course modern art has always been ridilculous, even when modern art was the impressionists.

I have a new appreciation for complaining since I turned 50 last month. I woke up on the morning of turning 50 with a back ache and a craving for a Cherry Blossom…not the Sakura of Japan, but the sickly sweet chocolate covered cherry candy made in Canada in the 1970s. Because the candy of today just isn’t as good.

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I also see that now I have a chance.
I am gathering signatures online for adding complaining to the Olympics, even as a demonstration sport.
As a quick aside there are many humorously named sports that have been demonstration sports at the olympics: Bandy, Skijoring, Kaatsen – which is not Cat juggling, as I had thought – and my personal favourite, Korfball.
In the past such sports as pigeon racing, kite flying and even fire fighting were demonstration sports and never made the real olympics so why not complaining?

But I doubt they’ll accept it. The Olympics aren’t as good as they used to be in the old days.

I originally gave this as a speech in Sendai, at the Sendai Toastmasters Club

May Vlog Challenge

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Of all the forces in nature – gravity, magnetic attraction, nuclear fusion – surely one of the strongest is peer pressure. It’s responsible for untold amounts of change – for better and worse. When we talk about peer pressure it is almost always in a negative context: Little Johnny tried LSD because his friends were doing it.

I can think of several times in my life where it’s been true – I did something stupid (not that taking LSD is necessarily stupid) because my friends were doing it. I drove around a driver’s training track at high speed, at night, in the Canadian winter, drunk and slid my car through a snow fence. Heck, one time I even went to church!

But there is a positive side to peer pressure as well, as indicated by what I’m up to for the month of May!

Quite a few of my friends have taken up doing a daily vlog. There’s as many different reasons for doing this as there are people. Some do it to get out of their shell. Some do it to belabour their point of view. Some do it simply because they are exhibitionists. Some do it because they think their story will help others. Some do it because, well, what the hell! Why not?!

For me it started out trivially. But quickly I realised that it’s not simple, and like a lot of ‘not simple’ things it had some benefit.

I’m 10 days in and I can tell you that making a video – even a 2 minute video – every day is not easy. And that’s exactly the point.

I see this now as being similar to James Altucher’s ’10 ideas a day’ thing (which I also try to do). Sure, anybody can write down 5 ideas for something like ‘What should I write a blog post about?’ or ‘What am I grateful for about yesterday?’. But 10 ideas is tough. About idea 6 you start to sweat, and by 10, if you’re being honest with yourself, you’re really stretching.

In the case of the daily video challenge, I struggle to come up with vloggable topics. At first you think it’s going to be easy. You can vlog about creativity, or business or film… but then you turn on the camera and you realise that those are just too big. You’ve got a couple minutes (yes, I could make longer videos by my sub-challenge was to do short videos as my other ones all hit at least 10 minutes). You’re not going to talk about ‘creativity’ in 2 minutes. And people aren’t watching to see you read the dictionary. They want YOUR take on an ASPECT of creativity.

So I am learning to whittle the topics down. Which is great, because the epiphany comes that digging into ‘creativity’ can give me 3 or 4 videos. I can talk about how creativity relates to my business or about different outlets for my creativity or books I’ve read that help my creative process or even play a song on video!

A big mistake that I see some other vloggers making is not being personal. I think when you start out you think you can be sort of a third person voice about things. But, like I said, people are looking for your personality. People connect with people, then through people to ideas. I know that there is a need for privacy, and there are certain things – and people – in my life that I won’t talk about on camera, but the feelings can still come through. I have been sculpted by my life experiences. And the people who are watching me, presumably, are watching because they want to see things filtered through those experiences (whether they are aware of that or not). So I put myself out there, on camera.

I’m an introvert. Talking to people is painful. But vlogging is also helping in that regard. It’s a way for me to open up without having to – yet – look someone in the face. And I’m finding that the more I vlog, and the more subscribers I get, the more interaction I have with people. And the less I get worried about it. So there’s that 😉

Anyway, I hope you’ll watch my videos. I think that some of them offer valuable tips into how I get through life and others are hopefully entertaining, if nothing else.

I’d love to hear from you if you’ve tried a daily vlog challenge (note: choose a short month! I’m an idiot and chose May). Or leave a comment if you’ve watch the videos, etc etc. Or comment on YouTube. In short – get in touch!

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Book Review: Zero to One by Peter Thiel

Recently I reviewed the book ‘Zero to One’ by PayPal founder Peter Thiel. You can watch it below.

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Here’s my notes for the making of the review.

this week it’s the great book about creationism. not the book of genesis. It’s Peter Thiel’s zero to one.
This video was delayed because I actually read this book twice in two weeks.
My mind was, in fact, blown. A term I don’t use lightly, or often.
First off – who is Peter Thiel? Perhaps he is most famous as a founder of Paypal, and an investor and advisor in Facebook.
In other words, he’s bloody rich, and powerful. And a law school grad, so don’t mess with him.
So, what is Zero to One? The term itself is talking about innovation.
To do more of the same is to go from 1 to n. To create something new is to go from 0 (nothing) to 1 (something).
The best example is that globalization is to go from 1 to n. Technology is to go from 0 to 1.
Thiel, like myself, is an unabashed technologist. He puts forward a compelling argument that technological change is what will guide the future – and what fueled the dramatic change in human existence between 1770 (the steam engine) and 1970 (the computer). We need technological breakthroughs otherwise we are screwed, environmentally speaking. If China and India simply copies the American consumption model, and the american fuel model, the world is doomed.
Since 1970, apart from computers and communication, pretty much nothing has really changed (I would argue that medicine has evolved, but perhaps not gone from 0 to 1).
The book is meant not as a playbook for creating a company, but, as inspiration and an identifier of the patterns of successful, world changing, companies.
Perhaps because of his legal training (or perhaps he was drawn to legal training because of this) Peter Thiel is a contrarian. He questions the beliefs of the majority – both socially, as in the question ‘What important truth do very few people agree with you on?’ – and the conventional lessons brought about by the belief that technology companies were defined by the dotcom bubble of the late 90s.
He brings up the 4 points that most modern business guru’s talk about:
  1. make incremental advances
  2. Stay lean and flexible
  3. Improve on the competition
  4. Focus on the product, not the sales
He counters with what he believes makes a powerful, lasting company
  1. it is better to risk boldness than triviality
  2. a bad plan is better than no plan
  3. Competitive markets destroy profits
  4. Sales matter just as much as the product
These four points are at the core of the book.
Because Thiel so strongly believes that massive technological change is needed to save the planet, being meek and incremental is just not going to cut it. A different way to sell  shoes online is not really an advancement.
In my mind he takes a straight shot at the likes of Eric Ries and the Lean Startup with comments like this:
“Leanness is a methodology, not a goal”
“Iteration without a bold plan won’t take you from 0 to 1″
But it is his ideas on competition and monopoly I find most interesting. Thiel believes that monopolies have a distinct advantage for not just the company, but society. And by monopolies he means Google, Apple or the days of IBM, AT&T etc. Because when a company has a monopoly they are free from the kingdom wars between rivals. They are free to invent. Competition, as defined by economists, reduces companies to faceless equals, providers of homogenous, replaceable solutions. If you are providing a homogenous solution then by definition you are not changing the world.
There is one piece of solid advice here:
The lesson for entrepreneurs is clear: if you want to create and capture lasting value, don’t build an undifferentiated commodity business.
I love the quote about the finance industry:
Finance is the only way to create money if you don’t know how to create wealth.
Thiel also argues against Globalization (as I said already about the adopting of western consumerism). Globalization means substitution – you take this job here and move it over there. It is a reshuffling of the deck, a moving of the chess pieces. Through technology though we can get complimentary advancement, not substitution.
The book is filled with valuable information. I believe that it is a business book that – true to the vision of the man behind it – is unique. Thiel is not someone who is on all these podcast shows that seem to swap guests – the very height on undifferentiated. I think Thiel is off creating a better future. This book has made me question everything about how I look at creating new businesses, and the scale at which I should be thinking. It has made me optimistic about the future, and that maybe, for some – too late for old people like me – the utopian vision of the future we had in the 1960s might happen.
This is not an operational book – I still believe that Drucker pointed the way there. But as Thiel says,
arguing over process has become a way to endlessly defer making concrete plans for a better future.
There is so much good stuff in here that I could quote it for days.
If you want to be inspired, and you want to take the high road to builder a better future, then you owe it to yourself to read this book. Many times.
And ask yourself this contrarian question:
What valuable company is nobody building?