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Branch Off Available for Pre-order on Kindle

Branch Off Cover

Branch Off is available for pre-order on Amazon Kindle! The official release date is March 20th, 2015. Enjoy, and go click on the cute little Pre-order with 1 Click button.

Geek Tool: Victorinox MiniChamp Alox

When I was a kid, I suffered this kind of crush for Swiss Army* knives. I was so damn obsessed that I persuaded my parents to buy me a little one, which I still remember with love. Yes, love. You see, MacGyver was (is?) my favorite hero.

And then, one day, when I was playing in the snow on the side of a hill (not sure exactly where) I lost it. It must have slipped out of my pocket, and that wrecked me. I was sad for days.

A few years later, when I was a little older, I bought another one (which I still have). It was a Wenger model with a fair number of tools, and for a while it always was with me. But then pockets began getting packed full with other things like wallet, keys, and grown-up stuff like that, and the knife was left home alone. Swiss Army knives never returned to my mind.

Until now.

Victorinox MiniChamp Alox

That’s my key ring, with more non-keys than keys.

The real threat is not a woman with a credit card, but instead a geek with a credit card. You see the result above: a Victorinox MiniChamp Alox.

I shelled about €35 for that little piece of engineering. It’s a solid, tiny, shiny thing packed full of wonders. It does feel like that, plus like a Swiss clock turned knife. Its build quality is so accurate that you want to cry. It’s awesome.

Moreover, I feel like a child again.

*) Sackmesser in German, they are indeed issued to Swiss Army soldiers and officers. There’s a specific model built for them, which is also issued by other armies in the world to their respective forces. The name is more than appropriate, even if Swiss Army is a registered trademark of Victorinox AG. Switzerland must really be a weird place.

Problem Solving

There’s something unique about working in engineering: problem solving.

You are usually presented with a problem – be it a software bug, a performance issue, an engine that doesn’t start, or a mold stain on a wall – and work your way to find a solution.

I tend to be pretty decent in my (by now rare) software debugging sessions. I point in some direction and the cause of the problem is in fact there. Well, most of the time. This is due to experience, of course, but as irrational as it might seem, a little gut feeling is also at play.

What I noticed lately is that these problem solving abilities, often listed as soulless requirements in job listings, extend from one field to another. Being a good software developer (and hence able to squash nasty heisenbugs) means you’d also be a good mechanic, provided some training. You begin to develop a sixth sense for bugs which is surprisingly valid outside the software field. I reckon it’s due to logic (and maybe lateral) thinking, and to the fact that the human brain is a spectacular pattern recognition machine.

You start seeing problems and puzzles differently, and in your head some kind of non-trivial attack plan forms. This is wonderful, and it helps in real life as well, to fix all those small problems and issues you face everyday.

Branch Off Cover

Branch Off - Cover Draft

This is a not-so-unfinished-draft of the cover for Branch Off. It also means I’ve settled on that title, which I reckon is no longer provisional.

As usual, I designed it myself, and I’m reasonably proud about it. I think it has that nice hint of Seventies’ feeling into it, with plain colors and stylized graphics, which are in tune with the title itself. For those font nerds out there (I’m slowly becoming one), the front text is in Bebas Neue, while the back description is in a very elegant Futura Book.

I also did a version red, but I prefer this one, as it is a little colder and more apt to the story told inside.


The Future of Private Transportation

Recent history has often seen laws and regulations holding back technological and scientific development. I’m not going into controversial topics like stem cell production, instead I’ll give a look at something more mundane: individual transportation.

Take Uber and all the controversy it has been able to generate: the technology was ready, but regulations, and the society at large, weren’t.

I’m not taking a side in this story, as I’ve never tried Uber or any of its competitors, but from what I see its usage experience is better than that of regular taxis. I’ve received personal threats on Twitter for writing something to this extent, a while ago. Taxists are entrenched as they have a position and a business to protect, which is understandable, but the society must come to terms with this. It will happen, on day. Innovation always finds a way to sneak through the cracks of our walls and change our life, one little improvement at a time.

Car sharing is not different: to make it work, two types of problems had to be resolved: regulatory and technological. In this case the regulations were somewhat simpler to handle, as it’s just a very short car rental. Technology had to be developed to support a usable service that gives users a sense of trust and reliability. Smartphones and their ubiquity played a fundamental role in this. While it was possible, technically, ten years ago, car sharing became viable only in 2013, that is when the required technology was a commodity.

In a not so distant future – maybe ten to fifteen years, with a bit of luck – I see car sharing widely adopted with cross-city availability. This means that we’ll be able to get out in the morning, take the first car in the street, and travel to another city or to a vacation place. The majority of cars will be shared, and not private.

If you think about it, all the cars you see sitting around in parking lots or on the streets are useless: they’re wasting space and occupying material and financial resources. Now imagine if you could take any car in the street and pay only for the time you actually use it, wherever you go. That would be fantastic.

Google Vehicle Prototype

Now let’s add the last bit to the picture: self-driving cars. Safe, fast, and ecologic. To those countering the safety argument with bland comments about how humans will always be better than machines at driving, consider this: in a few years of limited experimentation, Google’s self-driving cars have logged 40 years of collective driving experience, which is arguably more than most people out there have under their belts. Moreover, you get consistent driving behavior across all vehicles, instead of thousands of independent minds going on about their business as if they own the road.

Yes, I believe that will be the future: shared, electric, self-driving cars that you take or book at need, always in good condition, and that you don’t have to purchase.