Action Boys night

Hyena Road – liberal Afghanistan

It was an epic Rambo film.  He single handedly beat the Russians and helped the heroic Afghan people get their liberation.` He stood there with RPGs, AK47s and anything else he could strap on his oiled half naked body and beat an entire army, helicopters and all.

By now, we have seen pretty much everything there is to see about “that war”.    There have been documentaries, heroic ones, bleak ones, “what is the point?” ones, hand held camera affairs.   Some of 94227a5760b2a257ce89d3cb53d077d1them were actually impressive, breaking new ground thanks both to the new technology and this unusual situation the armies have found themselves in.  To their credit, almost all the films make good points about the futility of war, the pride of the Afghan people and the dirty job the soldiers on all sides are called to do at enormous personal cost.

Hyena road is something in between all the previous stuff.  It is a proper feature film, no grainy handheld video cameras or amateur footage included.  It has proper actors and builds proper characters, mostly likeable ones.  None of them get shot in the opening sequences, in fact, there isn’t much killing involved in general.

1716e677311022ce660c6a4ebd8daa26The film is very Canadian.  No American style chest thumping.  If it goes near a cliche, it does its best to avoid it.  Both in terms of content and in terms of style.  For a relatively low budget film it is remarkably accurate, precise and well made.  I have seen many films about Afghanistan which obviously makes me an expert.  This feels authentic, it flows easily.

The more I write about it, the more there is to praise.  Many nice little touches in the characters and their side stories.  Canadian dry humour in what they say.  If this is Canada at war then all Canadians should be proud of them.

PS the ending is terrible.  5.5/10

Business Communication Society Technology

The Asian Toad and Google research for business

My friend James is probably the smartest person I know.  Whether he is teaching himself music in order to do the soundtrack to an amazing documentary of his, building innovative mammal free zones in New Zealand, riding a motorbike or in Madagascar fighting the Asian toad.

The what?  When a modern human comes across something unknown, we Google it.  Just like that.  Which means that billions (3.2 billion) of searches a day globally can tell us a lot.  People in the UK search for “toad” more than other countries, but of course there are toad in books, children’s series, music band and all sorts of other things.   Maybe there are opportunities in those for some sort of co-promotion.  The English are followed by Ausies, Americans, Canadians, NZ and …Nigeria?  Following Google searches is a bit like the dictionary game.  I just spent five minutes learning about “The Grasshopper and the Toad”, a short story by a Nigerian, as well as the use of the word “toad” in Nigerian politics.  Which is exactly the sort of peripheral knowledge you need as a business when researching your topic.

For example searches for “toad” have seasonality.  Unfortunately this doesn’t seem to be because of some amphibian habit.  For example in the UK, October seems to be the main month for “toad in the hole”, a popular local dish, comfort food for many.  By contrast in the America, searches for “toad” peak every year at May and Arkansas is the state leading in interest.  If you are planning a campaign for the Asian toad, maybe do it in the winter when people so you don’t compete with all the people asking “what is the difference between a toad and a frog?”    In Australia searches for toads are in the Northern territory, don’t waste any ad money elsewhere.

Of course Google “normalises” the data.  Which means they try and mess it up enough so you can’t reverse engineer it, or use it to compete.  Still, with time, even without numbers, you can see that there are more searches for a “horned frog” than an “asian toad”.  You can follow that path too and look for promotional opportunities if you want to.

I picked the example of the Asian Toad on purpose.  If you are using a business problem you are often too close to the topic to explore.  For example searches for “toad” correlate in seasonality in the U.S. with searches for “vinyl siding”, “house paints”, “insects” and “utility trailer”.  Each of these terms merits some online detective work.  Working around the limitations of data provided by Google is actually inspiring.  Searches for “frog” correlate mostly with “garden clogs” in America but while checking this out I discovered “save the frogs”, a poetry competition in Australia which made quite a digital dent in terms of stats.

Searches for “toad” in Australia correlate with the term “religious”.  The search to figure out why this occurs won’t fit in a blog post.  But you see the point:  playing around with Google search data brings new ideas to your project.  It changes priorities by giving new angles.  Something you consider secondary might be a huge business opportunity in a specific segment.    New ideas are born, old ones improved.  We are all essentially trying to build a model of how things work.  Use Google’s model to tweak yours.

It is a big and complex world.  Don’t let your assumptions narrow things down too quickly.  Oh, and check out – tell people about the Asian toad and let’s all do something about it.

Business Society

What the Oscars and your business can learn from the NBA

Yannis Antetokounpbo is not your average Greek.  Born in a poor neighborhood of Athens.  Nigerian parents.  2.11m tall and with amazing physique, he is a wonder to watch whether it is in the Greek all star game, Team Africa or the NBA.  A young man with a great smile he can get Nigerians, Greek and people from Milwaukee excited.  At the same time!

When Dirk Nowitzki plays in New York, Germans flock to watch him.  Maybe because he won the  German Sports Personality of the Year in 2011, maybe because they knew someone who played with him at Röntgen Gymnasium or maybe because he was the first non American to win the Naismith Legacy Award.  In all, around 100 non American players from 37 countries or territories play in the NBA.

There are young American kids, black, white, yellow or red, buying basketball jerseys with the name “Kristaps Porzingis”.   Ever heard of that name before?   In fact the Latvian player is fourth in jersey sales after Stephen Curry, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.    And those names you have probably heard of!

Now let’s compare that to the way Hollywood works.  Another year with protests about no black nominees.   Don’t see many Greeks there.  Nor Nigerians for that matters, or Germans or Latvians.  And you are surprised the ratings are down?   When a young basketball player like Porzingis is truly amazing, it is simply a matter of time before he “ends up” in the NBA.  Family, medical or political conditions can’t stop the process.   As an audience we demand that the best on the planet gather to entertain us.  We want to see how the twenty year old 2.21m power forward can manage against Nowitzki or LeBron.  It is the Gladiator arena of our age, except we pay them well instead of killing them off at the end.

An excellent foreign actor, director or composer is not sure to end up with an Oscar.  In fact he or she might never even make it to feature films.  There is no draft, no preselection, no scouts sending videos to CEOs saying “hey!  You have to watch this and get this kid on the team!”   No detailed statistics about shot percentages, rebounds or blocks per game averages.  Hollywood is a closed club where who you know is more important than what you do.  No surprise then that the old white guys in there tend to select other white people.  There is no mechanism to freshen them up as long as people keep going to the movies.

The National Basketball Association on the other hand is race agnostic.  A team owner who made racist remarks last year was instantly vaporized.  No pseudodemocratic dilly dallying or decision by committee, he was out with the first retweets.    Your business should be more like that.  Not just colour.  Forget degrees, business sense or even attitude problems with the kids you are looking at; focus on anything amazing and unique around you and build a work environment which thrives on it.  Remove obstacles like racism or any such -ism.

The NBA is where the best basketball players in the world gather to complete and put on the best show in the world.  For the entire world.  By the entire world.

Business Technology

Trump is right about something! Made in USA counts for a lot

You probably rushed to dismiss it.  After all, in this globalized world it seems counterintuitive that Apple should produce iPhones entirely in the US.  Some would say impossible.  And it is Donald Trump saying it, the man is ridiculous almost 24/7.

Now think about it again.  Cost?  Yeah, sure it would be more expensive to produce in America but Apple has the margin to support it.    It would not be more expensive to the consumers.  And even these Tim Cook days of actually giving back to shareholders, it isn’t just about the stock market.  Apple stock has become a global “too big to fail” ticker, it’s price was never really connected to its performance much anyway.

Some say it is impossible to produce an iPhone entirely in the US.  So let me get this straight.  There are countries out there more advanced than America?  And this is OK with everyone?  Nobody else perceive a medium term threat in the situation?  It is true that no country actually produces an iPhone, it is simply a matter of assembly.  So why can a Mac pro be produced in America and not an iPhone?  Samsung might not seem much of a threat these days but that can quickly change.    You set up your whole supply chain somewhere else and pretty soon “somewhere else” is selling iPhone knock offs at a tenth of the price.    Furthermore they attract more customers on the back of their legitimate claim to be manufacturing or assembling iPhones.  Their countries learn how to produce such items in terms of all their processes, taxes, permits, government procedures and a million other little things we call “know how”.  You are greasing the way for anyone else to roll in and compete.

I know all this sounds very unliberal and unbusinesslike.  That is because we have been schooled to always assume that the free market is the best choice.  It usually is.  Abusing worker rights in China is not.  There is nothing liberal or free about what Apple has been doing (and continues to do) to squeeze its suppliers.  It didn’t join the move of “Made in Argentina” when Samsung and Blackberry did.  Apple doesn’t care about building long term relationships with any market in the world other than America.  Apple always treated its distributors like crap, was always secretive, has always decided from the top and bossed everyone else around.

Well there is no point running complex business analysis or logistics calculations on it.  It is a matter of soul.  What is Apple about?  If it is a truly global company, why does it act like a bunch of Californians with attitude who don’t care about anything?  Making iPhones in America won’t solve any problems.  It won’t make them worse either.

And it just might force the company to face up to the fact that it isn’t really sure what it is about anymore and how it connects to consumers.




Greek retail woes part 2 – chains and balls

Let’s say you want to plan an in store activity for a tech product.  “We have thirty stores all over Greece!” beams the person you are talking with.  Here are a few questions to ask before setting out your promotional strategy.

  1. What is the percentage of traffic of your top 2 stores relative to the rest?  Case in point, a well known chain with more than 40 stores.  The first one had 160 thousand visitors last month.    The next four had just over 50 thousand.  And all the rest had …well…very few.    Unless you want to waste money having people trek all around this beautiful country for nothing, decide where to focus.
  2. Which stores are almost dead?  In the above (real) example, almost half the stores had less than 25 thousand visitors in a month.  They are neighborhood affairs, sometimes not even fully owned by the chain, often family run or with some other story.  They might make their money on computer repairs, selling business software or anything else but what you want them to promote.   A long history of failed promotions can be told by old merchandizing kit in their stores…
  3. How accurate are your footfall figures?  Many stores have multiple entrances.  Even a keen statistician would have trouble calculating what the actual traffic was from their numbers.  Other stores have cafes, restaurants, bookshops or tickets within.  Is that the kind of traffic you want for your product?
  4. What time of day is the action?  This is very complex.  Not just about looking at the data.  Greeks have their own rhythm.  They might window shop some times of day and have the time and inclination to speak to a merchandizer but simply go in to buy supplies quickly at other times.  We have our own holidays and dates which are best to focus on.
  5. Which salespeople are the ones to influence?  Even in these times of multinationals and international (style) marketing, Greek stores often operate in a pretty old fashioned way.  There is often a person who is the gatekeeper for the store to really promote a product.  Often not even on the store floor, this might be the manager (in a smaller store) or the experienced salesperson or the person considered the purchasing expert.

Everyone in Greece has become much better at pretending they are all business when it comes to in store promotions.  They talk the talk and look good on PowerPoint.  But way too often they operate in an old fashioned, conservative and protectionist way.  Your promoters might be shoved to a corner which looks good on paper but doesn’t work, with little help in rush hour and no real support in order to make sales or change people’s opinions of your products.

Start asking these sort of questions though and you might gain enough respect to get your job done.


Don’t waste good money on Greek retail – part 1, the stats

From afar, it probably seems like a mystery.  Greece has no money.  So why are so many tech items still selling well?  It isn’t easy to get a handle on the market as it feels pretty third worldly most of the time.

For starters you need to recognize that there aren’t very good stats for most things.  I can cite several phone calls received from influential trade magazines looking for numbers.  They pretty much take whatever you feed them and have few reference points to know if you are making it up or not.  Often the results are ludicrous.   And they dress it up in wishy washy language or vague charts rather than admitting that “based on brief chats with two people I got on the phone from Greece….”

Others try and make assumptions or extrapolations based on official figures or trade associations’ statistics.  The former are very sketchy as we have parallel imports galore and many other factors distorting the numbers.  Trade associations in Greece are generally weak, not very active and not very high tech or online.  If you do get any numbers they will probably be out of date and refer only to a few larger companies.  Government agencies are even worse.

Greeks are generally secretive and don’t give away business information.  To make things worse often the IT infrastructure is spread over many different databases and software.  Many systems might not be online, relying on import/export procedures of various sorts.  So it’s not just that they don’t want to give anyone good figures about their sales;  it’s that even they don’t really know what is going on in their sales!

A good example is store traffic data.  This is absolutely essential for planning any retail promotion and guess what?  Almost no Greek company has decent figures.  Most now have some sort of technology installed to monitor visitor numbers but they are plagued with distortions.  Some stores have multiple entrances and exits making it hard to calculate, others have cafe or restaurants within their premises making it impossible to know how many people shopped and how many just ate and left.  Sure, over time, these glitches should straighten out and give a more complete picture; if you combine them with that other data.  Which you don’t have!

So all these fancy promotion ideas you have, well, just bear in mind that you need a rather big pinch of salt in order to implement them.  Get a feel first hand before you OK any spending. A major problem is that most “chains of stores” that Greek tech retailers say they have are in fact rather unbalanced affairs.  But more on that in part 2…


Boys Family Girls Kids

Bubble boy. Without a DogTooth

A baby is born with no immunity.  His mother is overprotective and literally tries to keep him in a bubble for his entire life.   Sounds like an arty farty foreign film…actually that was “Dogtooth”, a Greek Oscar awarded film, copied in turn from another similar film.   Overprotective parents and the sick extents to which they go some times is a familiar theme.

388cad74c2839a0b1f500d82be9451a3Except this one is all the fun without the dark, sinister obscure references. Other than the basic premise, which it doesn’t dwell on much, it is straightforward family fun and action.   OK, weird at times.  Boy in the bubble falls in love and the rest is just one big crazy series of entertaining events.  Nothing to disturb or worry anyone, plenty grown up jokes included in between the gags for the kids; everyone has fun.

Come to think of it, why bother making a dark, grown up version?  This was much happier and if anyone wants to think about overbearing parents, they can do it afterwards on their own time, can’t they?


5/10 if you’re a film critic (or lower), 7/10 for most families looking to laugh for an hour or so.


Action Boys night

Stealth – when Top Gun met A.I.

There have been many movies about Artificial Intelligence lately.  Most of them pretty good actually, generally quite thought provoking.  Especially for those of us who regularly talk to our phones and rely on cloud services for daily stuff.  Close to home as they say.  But none of them were fun.

In the good old days, if you wanted character in a plane, you painted a mouth on it!

So here are three hitech warplanes who get a new team-mate.  An all singing, all dancing, all watching and listening plane that learns on its own.  If you know very little about drones, you might think it is somehow close to reality.  If you know anything about military protocol you will not.  But that isn’t the point.

The First World War was the first time air warfare had played a role in combat and this picture of French warplane, Caudron G3, was captured by a photographer in 1914: Everyone says “Top Gun” when you speak about plane movies, but by the end, this is more like “ET” meeting the “Iron Eagle” trilogy.    Epic stuff.   People smile at the right time, salute, explode and laugh just when they should be.  Well made movie.  For its kind.  As long as you don’t try and relate anything you see to anything in the real world, geography, politics or technology.   They even threw some romance in for good measure.

This is not for everyone.  If I wasn’t in the right mood, it wouldn’t even be for me.

Date Family Real Worldy

Bridge of Spies. I wish Spielberg was Greek!

When “Schindler’s list” first came out I lived in London.  I was meeting a good friend and major movie buff that day.  Over the years together, we had watched all sorts of Iranian, Afghan, Icelandic or alternative South Pole native penguin films.  I had even enjoyed some of them.  He is as far from Hollywood movie wise as you can put someone.  But he must have heard something good about it from someone he trusts more than me, so he graciously came along.

Use this FREE printable decoder wheel to send & receive secret messages without anyone being the wiser. A great resource for teachers and homeschoolers for spelling practice, math, writing activities, word work, etc. Also makes a wonderful addition to spy theme parties.: At the end of the movie he had to admit it was pretty good.  Or “not as bad as I expected it” in his words.    Since then Spielberg has moved on a lot.  In fact I credit this entire genre to him.  “Didactic movies which are made with enormous attention to detail and a ridiculous amount of research but are actually watchable and entertaining too while standing on their own as films too.”   Since “Saving Private Ryan” it has become a trend.  “Band of Brothers” or the Pacific adventures of the US army in WW2 on TV were simply mind blowing in the amount of work involved.  I wish we had Greek film directors as able in “good” propaganda like this.  From Byzantium to more recent history, we need the good Press urgently!

Movies with a message can get pretty tiring.  These weren’t.  OK, some of them overdid the appeal to emotions, flags, flashbacks and old men standing in front of graves.  (All of which worked with me by the way, I cried like a baby through most of all that!)  Often American propaganda films are just too heavy handed.  Spielberg though, has it all figured out.  He doesn’t need to whore himself or the cast in the pre-film publicity.  Bridge of Spies is not only the great director back in form, but the whole PR machine being sensitive about it too.

Ah, and the film.  Instantly attention grabbing shots, great character material.  Even if you don’t get caught in the plot you have to admire the technical aspects.  As the story unfolds you figure it out:  the Cold War is still relevant.  From Gitmo to Putin, these issues are still very much alive and important.   Not a fan of Tom Hanks,  but luckily the great director doesn’t let him “do a Tom Hanks” all over his scenes.  Most of it is keen, sharp and to the point.

I clicked on the “Date” category because I assume that for some couples this is “heavy” and “serious”.  In any case, if you don’t know much about this era, it would give you something to talk about over dinner.  Which is precisely why I give it 7 out of 10 (if you haven’t got a clue) or 6 out of 10 for the rest of us.  All those hours with Alex watching arty farty movies allows me a certain amount of snobbery, eh?



Boys Date Family Girls Kids

Burnt – Rocky does cookery for kids

These lessons from star chef Thomas Keller include how to butcher a rabbit and tips for saving freezer space.:
No, this isn’t the sexy guy from the movie

This is not meant to be a movie for kids.  Nice looking guy, romance, cookery….it is datenight material.  Our hero is a genius fighting ghosts from the past.  But he does it in such an easy way, nobody gets worried.  Kids can watch this, no problem.

If nothing else, it is a great antidrug advert.  Kids, don’t take drugs because bad people will chase you for money, you ruin your life and it is generally a big dark cloud.  No needles, no mess shown.  Quite the opposite.  For someone who hasn’t really thought about cooking as a job, this is a great introduction.

5 Knives Chefs Can't Live Without on Food & Wine -- 4 out of 5 are Japanese. I better stock up while I am here.:
“But Daddy, why on earth are knives so important?”

My eldest is twelve years old now, time to start thinking about careers.   Well if he wants to be a chef, this is one way to start getting excited about it.  The importance of teamwork, good ingredients, hard work, presentation and many other facets of the job.  Sure, they are glossed over in a very female-audience-friendly way, but it still works.

You never really worry too much that he won’t make it but this is a watchable 5 or 6 out of 10.