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2015 Kansas City Royals – Champions Both On and Off the Field

Posted by Tony Vargas on November 2, 2015 in Sport |

Many who know me well have heard me say that the Royals’ extended futility turned me into a passionate soccer fan, especially when I lived abroad for an extended time. However, this very unique and special edition of the team of my youth has rekindled a flame for, not just the sport but, a way of playing a game that emulates how we can and should approach living life.

Kansas City Royals 2015 World Series ChampionsI don’t know that I recall seeing a sports team of any type show my children such a wonderful example of working hard, never giving up in the face of adversity and also, well, never forgetting to have fun along the way! I am genuinely inspired and proud of the 2015 World Series Champion Kansas City Royals!

What may make this team even more special is that, even among themselves, they represent a very rich swath of cultural diversity coming together in a way that has felt magical at times that should serve as an example for the rest of us that goes beyond sport.

So, here you go, folks.. A true team and inspiration that, 30 years later, has brought many lifelong fans closer to a feeling we all shared a long time ago; in a manner that feels sweeter than it ever was before! Congratulations! ¡Felicidades! ¡Parabéns! (In all three languages spoken by those represented in this photo!) Wow!

Poseso… Tony

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The Relevance of Nuance in Sports – World Cup Edition

Posted by Tony Vargas on June 23, 2014 in Sport |

The good folks at Merriam Webster will tell you that a nuance is a subtle distinction or variation. A look on my Facebook timeline, Twitter stream or the comments on World Cup articles I have been feverishly following the past two weeks tells me that the nuances that make the world’s game beautiful to so many remain largely misunderstood in the US but I have come to believe that the exponentially high interest, both good and bad, in the nuances of soccer is a very good thing and I’d like to tell you why.

Memo Ochoa Mexico vs. Brazil My first example from this World Cup took place a week ago when host nation Brazil played to a 0-0 draw against Mexico. I watched this game with emotional interest pulling strongly for El Tri, as the Mexican National team is known to the initiated and saw one of the best matches played to date during this world cup. However, my social media timeline was inundated by casual fan commentary about how silly soccer is because you can tie or worse still, God forbid, end in a scoreless draw. What you miss though, if that’s the stance you took was that Brazil had 14 shots on goal and 8 of those shots were “on-frame.” Mexico created 13 shots on goal with only three of those staying on-frame. My first nuance point to make here is to compare those 14 shots for Brazil and 13 for Mexico, for a total of 27 shots and ask you, if you are a fan of another stalwart, more standard American Sport like Baseball or American Football and ask you if there are 27 action opportunities that determine the outcome of the sport you cheer for primarily. My guess is that the answer is yes within a reasonable percentage of variance. So, nuance lesson number one, challenge yourself, when watching soccer, to condition your mind to look beyond the scoreboard. The action on the field will reward you as you measure the symphonic build-up of each opportunity that is created.

Also of note within the context of the Mexico-Brazil scoreless affair was the performance of Mexican goalkeeper, Guillermo “Memo” Ochoa who made 6 saves during that match, most of which were at near point blank range, against the potent Brazilian scoring front-line, led by their star Neymar, in a goalkeeping performance that will go down as one of the very best in the history of the World Cup. Ochoa almost single handedly kept Mexico alive and preserved a draw, which netted Mexico one point in World Cup group play at four points total; even with hosts Brazil, giving Mexico the gift of increasing their shot of  advancing to the second-round, knock out stages of the tournament.

My second example also focuses on another tie result that occurred on Sunday, 6/22/14 when the US Men’s National team took on Portugal, the nation where polarizing figure and reigning Balon D’or winner (award given to the world soccer player of the year), Cristiano Ronaldo hails from. Now, going into this World Cup, most soccer pundits gave both Germany and Portugal the best odds for advancing out of Group G ahead of the US and Ghana. Even after Portugal was embarrassed by Germany 4-0 in their opening match, most expected an angry Portugal side to next line up against the US looking to avenge that loss, even though two of Portugal’s four starting defenders wouldn’t be playing due to either injury or suspension. Conventional wisdom said that the US should expect to assume their rightful, traditional place in the pantheon of world soccer hierarchy and receive their drubbing.

USA World Cup Watch Party in Kansas City

USA vs. Portugal World Cup Watch Party in Kansas City, MO

But this isn’t a conventional US Men’s National soccer team. Led by head coach and German soccer legend Jürgen Klinsmann, he has used unconventional tactics to assemble an American side that is as hard working and as unexpected as their head coach. He has focused on mixing American born soccer passionate players who have developed state-side with children of American service members from mainly: Germany, Norway and Iceland who have collectively been thrown into a soccer pressure cooker and produced a footballing dish that tastes unlike anything we have created previously.

I believe that Klinsmann is precisely what US Soccer needed after taking the reins from his predecessor Bob Bradley who admirably brought US soccer as far as he was able to. He has put together a team that both astounds and, in all honesty, even dumbfounds you at times during fleeting moments of inattention to detail. Never was that more evident as it was during yesterday’s 2-2 draw against Portugal. However, as was the case during the Mexico-Brazil affair, if you simply looked at some highlights or the final score, you missed a wonderfully symphonious performance by as complete a US team as this nation has ever fielded. A symphony complete with both beautiful harmonies and head shaking dissonance.

On a routine miss-clearance by US defender Geoff Cameron, the US gave a surprised Portuguese forward, Nani an easy goal during the first five minutes of the match. At that moment, a nation that seemed ready to get behind the boys in red, white and blue like never before seemed to resign themselves to the inevitable but then something unexpected happened. The US side seemed to close ranks, kept attacking and creating high quality opportunities throughout the first half, knocking on the door of evening the score line several times. As you felt and assessed each opportunity, you could perceive that Klinsmann’s intense confidence had been infused into his side and they were going to keep Portugal’s potent attack at bay while shifting the balance of momentum back to the US attack. And then it happened.

In the 64th minute and well into the second half, American midfielder Jermaine Jones caught a rebound off a corner kick, moved the ball to his right to create space and bent a brilliant shot into the right side of the goal. Portuguese keeper, Beto, didn’t even move. The stadium and an appreciative nation erupted in chorus. This setup a 25 minute final sprint to see if one team would win or if both sides would end in a draw. Consider another nuance here: running constantly over 90 minutes. Have you ever wondered how far a soccer player runs during a 90 minute match? Players wear monitors to track this and they will average between 6 to 10 miles travelled every single match. Just to put this into perspective, according to a Gizmodo research report:

  • NBA player Luol Deng of the Chicago Bulls was measured running 2.72 miles during a game in 2012,
  • NFL cornerbacks and wide receivers generally run about 1.25 miles per game,
  • MLB Baseball players don’t run even a mile during a typical game.

So, 65 minutes into yesterday’s match, there was a 25 minute sprint remaining to determine the outcome and there was to be no timeouts or television breaks during that time. That may cause you to look at the nuance around the drama of soccer injuries a bit differently.

Back to yesterday’s match. It wasn’t until the 81st minute that a brilliant crossing pass from clutch US player from game one against Ghana, Graham Zusi found a carefully positioned Clint Dempsey, carefully maintaining his line, so as to remain onside for a deflection into goal for what appeared to be an unsurmountable lead. It wasn’t.

Somewhat controversially, five minutes of injury time was added to the match at the 90 minute mark and, like two weary boxers, both teams traded punches with the US trying desperately to keep Portugal from the third of the field which they were defending. Somewhat unexplainably though, the second perturbing dissonance of the US effort occurred with less than a minute to play when normally dependable midfielder Michael Bradley far too easily gave up on possession  and lost the ball in the middle of the field. Portugal has one last run in them and Cristiano Ronaldo himself made a picture perfect cross to a diving Varela who had subbed into the match in the 69th minute, had fresher legs and beat, guess who, defender Geoff Cameron, who headed the shot into the goal emphatically to steal a guaranteed spot for the US in the second round and saddle them with a 2-2 draw. But, through our disappointment, both US fans and players now have a belief that they not only belong on the field with perennial FIFA power houses like Portugal but can win these matches. The US may very well be, under Klinsmann’s leadership, prepared to shed the role of irrelevant soccer country and become a nation that matters on the global soccer stage.

Argentina Superstar Lionel MessiSo, here’s nuance lesson number two, don’t be afraid to connect emotionally with the emerging US soccer team that has rapidly become more than relevant globally. The women’s national team is already world class, even dominant, and the men are doing everything possible to follow their lead. I have done my best to let you see this past week’s events through my filter and, trust me on this, many within the community of the global soccer elite are starting to take note and, if the US national team, was an emerging stock, would be buying shares by the boatload. Don’t be afraid to diversify your sports investment and spend some time and effort in getting excited along with me. This coming Thursday morning, 6/26/2014, the US will face their biggest challenge yet when they face one of the favorites to win the world cup, Germany, country that our coach Jürgen Klinsmann both played for and has coached. Here’s the scary thing about this group. They haven’t played their best yet. Let that sink in.

Will Klinsmann have them ready for this task on Thursday? We will have to wait and see but I’d be foolish to bet against him at this point. There is reason to get behind this special group and they will need even more of the collective spirit of a national to get them over this next hurdle!

Poseso… Tony

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WORLD CUP 2014: Split Loyalties – Who do you root for?

Posted by Tony Vargas on June 12, 2014 in Sport |

Spain wins the 2010 FIFA World CupFour years ago, the country where my wife and children hold a passport for won the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. Today, the next quadrennial edition of the games kicks off and I, for one, am so incredibly excited to see if the defending champs: Spain, my country of birth: the U.S. or the nation of my father”s heritage: Mexico will be the country to hoist the most cherished prize that exists for those who eat, drink and live for: “El Jogo Bonito.”

I have been asked by my friends at Al Día News, in partnership with Philadelphia Daily News, to write about my love for the most global of global games. My initial piece was published today in both English and Spanish to coincide with the kickoff of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, which commences today in Brazil when the host nation clashes with Croatia. Here are both versions of my article for your review:

In English:

Originally published by Philadelphia Daily News

En Español: 

Publicado originalmente por Al Día News

Feedback and thoughts below are welcomed!

Poseso… Tony

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The eBank Value Proposition Framework

Posted by Tony Vargas on January 21, 2014 in Banking and Finance |

I have recently published a framework myself and a team of colleagues built a few years ago focusing on how community financial institutions could and should leverage financial services technologies to go toe to toe with the big boys in the online banking and eBank User Experience space.

MosesI enjoy reviewing past work during planned review and strategy cycles to see if predictions and analyses previous made holds water over time. This particular study focused on what we affectionately referred to as The 7 eBank Commandments as, in our attempt at creative branding, we were known to chuckle in our war room a time or two, imagining Moses coming down Mount Sinai and sheepishly realizing he had lost a few commandments along the way.

At a high level, the 7 eBank Commandments we documented and worked to rationalize in this framework are:

  1. Listen to me & Respond accordingly,
  2. Personal Touch,
  3. Seamless Assistance with my Banking Needs,
  4. Banking my way,
  5. Tools to better manage my money,
  6. Social Networking &
  7. Viral Marketing

If you’d care to read the framework in more depth, you can access it via my SlideShare Account which I have embedded within this article right here:

What did we miss? What would you add? Feel free to offer any thoughts and/or feedback on this study. Financial technology evolves quickly and this sort of exercise can feel like nailing jello to the wall but too, I learned from an important mentor in my career, Nick Pflumm, that the relationships and trust built with customers are the most important asset of any financial institution. Well executed technology will always simply enhance those relationships; not replace them.

Poseso… Tony

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A Literary Review – The Crunchwrap Supreme

Posted by Tony Vargas on December 11, 2013 in Life and Family |

I could use your help. You see, I have tried to be a good parent and teach my children the important things in life:

  • A sense of personal responsibility,
  • The most important word in the English language is “Attitude,”
  • That faith can see them through their darkest hour,
  • There is no challenge so great that can withstand relentless persistence,
  • Courage is the absence of fear…

But nothing could have prepared me for this. My lovely daughter is an unapologetic, border-line obsessive fan of the Crunchwrap Supreme, the well-intentioned abomination brought to you by the Tex-Mex fast-food chain, Taco Bell. I mean, it has all of the ingredients that we taught her to love but, the presentation of this product leaves me, well, shaking my head to be honest. And that’s not all…PoePortraitShe has recently immortalized her affinity toward this gastronomical abhorrence in verse. She and her classmates were assigned the task of writing a parody of an Edgar Allan Poe poem. Arguably, Poe’s most famous poem, “The Raven” got the nod. What you will read next is the product of her flour, corn and ground beef lust. I was left both speechless while also morbidly impressed at the same time. Please feel free to read this and offer me tips on how I should move toward assimilation of this cross I must now bear; as I try to understand how I have somehow failed my children gastronomically. Cards, flowers, words of support in this dark hour are all welcomed!

The Crunchwrap Supreme

by – A. Vargas

Once upon the midnight hour all I wished was to devour a tower of Taco Bell. Over time my stomach began to growl so I went out on the prowl in search of a Crunchwrap Supreme for this ol’ gal.

I gave the waiter my demand. “A crunchwrap supreme, only this and nothing more”  was my simple command. Eagerly I awaited its arrival that was greatly imperative for my survival and it was then the waiter spoke and said “Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore; due to outbreak of illness the Crunchwrap Supreme we serve no more.”

All my soul within me burning, soon again I heard him speak. “Madam, you will fall prey and your insides will likely decay so if I may suggest, it is only for the best, a cheese quesadilla or even a tortilla? For you do not wish to meet the same fate as Ana María, Sofía, or Mr. García.

Let my heart be still a moment and allow this deep hunger to be cured;-“ALL I WANT IS A CRUNCHWRAP SUPREME AND NOTHING MORE!”

Though his suggestions held little meaning-little relevancy bore; For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being should result to this extreme and go without a Crunchwrap Supreme.

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken, “Madam, I do apologize for I can see anger rising within your eyes. Instead of a Crunchwrap Supreme how about fiesta potatoes with sour cream?”

My fiery eyes now burned into the waiters core and I wailed out a scream demanding a “CRUNCHWRAP SUPREME!”

A rare and radiant fast food meal, which the angels named Crunchwrap Supreme. I will continue my persistence until I am delivered with my sole reason for existence.

The waiter who I now considered a traitor said “Madam, why can you not fathom the words that I have spoken? This sickness is relentless so please can you end this and order a tortilla made of flour that is freshly cooked every hour?”

I shook my head for I would rather be dead than to order anything else instead. Once more louder than before I beamed, “CRUNCHWRAP SUPREME!”

Due to the hunger I began to plunder onto the floor impeding entry from outside the door. All I could wonder was whether I would ever scarf down a meaty and cheesy Crunchwrap Supreme.

In this moment my heart and hopes remained broken and my last words ever spoken were the soft whisper of my unattained dream, “Crunchwrap Supreme.”Crunchwrap Supreme

Now, if by some stroke of misfortune, you’ve never been exposed to this original work by Poe or simply haven’t read it for some time, please allow the incomparable James Earl Jones to read it to you:

Poseso… Tony

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Confessions of an Overprotective Dad: The Dating Threshold

Posted by Tony Vargas on July 18, 2013 in Life and Family |

Anissa & TonySeveral years before I became a father, I learned of another father who had put a tradition into place with his daughters that affected and moved me profoundly. He instituted a custom where he was the first date his daughters would have when they became of age to begin dating. He planned to take them out, bring them flowers, open  doors for them, take them to a nice meal and most importantly provide a good example of how a gentleman should treat a lady.

Several years later when we learned that our first child would be a girl, it wasn’t long before I started dreaming of the day when I could institute this practice with my own daughter. It’s not easy being the father of a beautiful, intelligent young woman but that is precisely the blessing that we have received in the case of our daughter Anissa.
Anissa & Tony 2When she was a little girl, I often joked about how I wouldn’t allow Anissa to date until she was 35 years old. Of course I knew no matter how hard I tried to avoid it, this day would come and it has. That day is today. This evening I will experience this special milestone with my daughter. I am nostalgic and perhaps even a bit bittersweet about the threshold we are about to cross but too, I am filled with pride and joy and love that this day has come and I remain faithful that God will fill the beautiful young woman Maria and I are raising with wisdom to carry her forward through the life that awaits her; always respecting herself and the loving example we have always tried to set for her.

Your mother and I love you very much Anissa. Our parenting will continue and I will probably continue to be a pain in the rear more often than not but we’re proud of you and excited for all you have and will become. May God bless you and illuminate the path that lies before you.

Poseso… Tony

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Nick Pflumm: Remembering a Friend and a Mentor

Posted by Tony Vargas on May 13, 2013 in Banking and Finance |

Nick PflummYesterday the world lost a great man when Nick Pflumm passed away. To be honest, I always felt unworthy to call Nick a Friend and Mentor but that’s precisely what he was to me and so many others. In addition to Nick’s significant success in his profession, he had a gift for inspiring those around him to do more and be more and man did he have a spirit and a laugh that could raise your own spirits! There’s a reason we all called him, “St. Nick!” My heart remains so unbelievably heavy for Nick’s family and the seemingly endless circle of influence of humanity, which seemed to grow on a daily basis.

I received an email invitation last week, passed along from Nick’s family, when it became evident that Nick would soon pass, to share some thoughts about him and his affect on my life and, I have to admit, this brought me a tiny measure of contentment to gather these thoughts, reflect upon and publish them for my own catharsis. I humbly offer these now here on my site in reverence and respect for a man I esteem as highly as any as well as to serve as a call to myself personally to live life with greater purpose each and every day.

During the summer of 2003, I had been living in Spain continuously since 1998 and was enjoying Madrid, as well as the Spanish culture immensely as I’d worked hard to integrate completely within that culture but invariably felt homesick every time I returned to KC for the summers to visit with family. It was during this particular summer trip, the day after taking my father to play golf for the first time in his life, when he and I returned home all smiles and excited for this new milestone in his life.

However, those smiles were dashed as soon as we walked through the door as another milestone was about to viciously insert itself into our lives. My mother had just gotten off the phone with my father’s doctor. My dad had recently had a biopsy performed on a lump in his throat which results showed was malignant. Our family came to understand the word “Cancer” that day in a very real and brutal manner. Further tests revealed three separate category four tumors in my father’s throat and throughout his neck. His chances of surviving treatment were very low. And, I was due to return to Spain that next week with my family. Our world changed in a moment. My family and I stayed an extra week but did eventually return to Spain but our hearts remained in Kansas City.

The next six months were unspeakably challenging for everyone; my father of course most of all. But he was a champion and, even when we were all told around Christmas time of 2003, say your goodbyes, he kept a better attitude than most while the rest of us slowly fell apart; ripped by the realization that we were about to lose the rock of our family and, for us and others, our hero. I bought a ticket to come home to KC during the holiday season for the first time in years to spend time with my father and say my own goodbyes. My father had a very, very challenging 2004 but slowly began to improve and miraculously beat cancer but, around the middle of that year, I felt like I needed to return home and be near my family.

That’s where a chance, long distance encounter with Nick Pflumm changed my life and started me down a path that has made me a better man, both personally and professionally. A long-time friend, who was employed with First National Bank of Olathe needed help with a presentation he was putting together for an awards meeting at the bank where Nick was the EVP and Chief Operating Officer. Actually, to be more accurate, this was a PowerPoint Presentation and my friend and two colleagues had been working on creating a “Jeopardy” themed presentation for this meeting for a few weeks or so and just could quite figure out how to pull off a Jeopardy presentation from within PowerPoint. I received a frustrated email from my friend saying, “Tony, can you help me out? We can’t seem to get this to work.” Now, I’m a systems engineer and technology project manager by trade. “Engineering” PowerPoint presentations wasn’t precisely my core competency. And, as stated previously, I had been looking to return to Kansas City since my father’s cancer diagnosis in a similar capacity but between Sprint laying off thousands and Garmin not being in a hiring cycle, pickings were slim for me.

As a matter of fact, when my friend emailed me, I was just arriving home, late in the evening, as Madrid is 7 hours ahead of Kansas City, following a 10+ hour work day and was pretty beat but my friend and I were very close so I said to myself, What the hell… I’ll try and do this for him. Well, the PowerPoint Presentation they had sent me was in bad shape. I had to scrap it and start from scratch. I was able to rebuild it and send it back to him about 40 minutes later completed and ready for use at the event, which was scheduled for that very evening, if memory serves me correctly. I later learned that the Jeopardy board was such a big hit that my friend was asked about how he pulled it together by Nick, who was seated at the same table that evening. My friend mentioned to him that it had been put together by a Kansas City native, living and working in Spain who was looking to find a job back home. Nick was intrigued and asked him for a copy of my résumé.

To fast forward, 7 phone interviews later, I had a soft offer to return to KC and work for First National Bank of Olathe in “some sort of IT capacity” to be determined and I jumped at it because there was something inspiring and motivating about Nick and the people who surrounded him that was palpable and I could even sense it over the phone and an ocean away. Selling my home, business, packing up everything I owned to ship back to the U.S. just made sense and Nick was the positive force that set me perfectly at ease with this decision. I never doubted myself. I still find it funny that, after working in Europe all of those years as a Telecommunications Engineer, Project Manager for European Commission funded Technology Projects, building eLearning, eBanking and other eCommerce related websites and end to end systems, it was a Jeopardy themed PowerPoint presentation that got me back home to continue my professional development and enjoy the gift of additional time with my father and the rest of my family. I would eventually become the Vice President of IT for the bank but I’d have taken this same leap of faith regardless in order to work with Nick, to be honest.

Working with and for Nick has been one of the most privileged experiences of my professional career. But working with and for Nick was never purely a professional interaction, as has been my experience. Nick took the time to get to know each member of his team and used the foundation of each relationship and his uncanny intuition to put each team member in a position to succeed by gifting each of us a measure of trust. I’m reminded of the parable of the talents as I felt that, regardless of the quantity of talents in measure of trust that I was gifted, Nick always left me with a desire to work very hard to validate this trust and earn additional opportunity; never for my own gain but rather for the team’s gain. This has always been Nick´s “Secret Sauce” in my experience. If he’d decided to be the manager of a sports team, he’d have won championships without a doubt but community banking was Nick’s playing field and he was the consummate hall of fame caliber professional! Nick worked as a champion and inspired others to give a championship effort every day, like no other leader or colleague I’ve ever been around. Nick was one of a kind; there will never be another like him!

I know I’m not alone in this assessment but Nick is and always has been in a category of three men, I esteem well above any other famous athlete, business or inspirational figure and aim to model my own life after as a professional, husband, father and man. I place Nick in a category with my father and my father-in-law, the other two men I most admire and respect for their examples of leadership, work ethic, vision and sacrifice and aim to emulate each and every day. I consider my life enriched and better for having had the honor and the privilege of working with and for Nick Pflumm. I’ve also had the honor to get to know Donna and other members of Nick´s immediate and extended family and am thankful for having been warmly and respectfully treated by all, in any encounter I’ve had with the Pflumm family.

I feel like the effect Nick had on my life; both as a man and a professional is a part of me and always will be. Whether I needed a friendly set of ears about how to survive raising a child through their teen years or needed his critical review of a key technology strategy proposal, Nick always made you feel like yours was the most important issue on the table. It’s because of Nick that, whenever somebody comes into my office with something they need to vet, I take the time to make those investments of active listening in those relationships because that’s what Nick would do. I apply the same principle to my personal relationships as well. And that’s just it. I’ve come to measure myself as a human being in many respects by emulating the example that Nick gave to so many of us who were fortunate enough to spend time in his circle of influence. I’m better for this. Those who Nick’s life touched are also better for this as well.

God bless Nick and the entire Pflumm family.

Poseso… Tony

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In Lerd Heaven with the Samsung Galaxy Note II

Posted by Tony Vargas on March 30, 2013 in Technology |

I admit it. I’m a proud Lerd. What is a Lerd, you ask? Well, it’s not an Iranian village located in the Ardabil Province by the same name. Nor should it be confused with the popular Urban Dictionary definition citing it as a pejorative compound of the words Loser and Nerd.

Nope. To be called a Lerd in my universe is a great thing and should be worn as a badge of honor. Myself, along with several other technology professionals, who all happen to be Latino, began calling ourselves Lerds, which is short for Latino Nerds, over the past year. We routinely have fun one upping each other; always digging up the newest tech toy, tool, coding technique, etc. most often before many of the rest stumble upon them. This is a good way to stay up to date and ahead of the next budding trend before it hits the mainstream.

So, when I was invited by Sprint to test the new Samsung Galaxy Note II, you can imagine how I was quick to announce my good fortune to the rest of the Lerd faithful. Quickly, I was the envy of the circle and, I must admit, I’ve really had a lot of fun with the Note II and find it a remarkable device for multiple reasons.

Samsung Galaxy Note II

Click on the Image to Enlarge

However, it’s one thing to get a Lerd excited about testing the new gadget and it’s something very different to vet this product from the perspective of those who don’t spend the time and effort we do immersing ourselves in technology as the Lerds do. I had my work cut out for me, for sure. Here”s what I learned about the Galaxy Note II  along with a sprinkling of my thoughts and commentary for your consideration:

  •  Size: The Galaxy Note II is the big, REALLY big brother of the Galaxy S family of Android mobile devices manufactured by Samsung. The screen on the Note II measures a whopping 5.5 inches! However, it’s not bulkier than the first Note. It’s actually slimmer and weighs less.
  • Screen Resolution: The screen resolution of 1280 x 720 is actually slightly lower than the first Note. However, when you factor that the device is equipped with a 3100mAH capacity battery to give abundant life to the 1.6ghz quadcore processor, you have enough firepower under the hood to do quite a bit and a beefy enough battery to leave any other comparable iOS or Android device owner running to charge their device long before you even start to sweat!
  • Operating System: I was especially excited to test the Note II’s Android 4.1 Jelly Bean operating system that comes with some neat Android features like Smart Stay, which keeps the screen on as long as it detects a face in front of it. Also of note, I enjoyed Jelly Bean specific app functionality like Google Now as well as enjoyed the generally speedier UI performance thanks to Project Peanut Butter. This operating system seems to have joined a lot of neat, cutting edge functionality in one package for a pleasant distribution.
  • S Pen Improvements: While I”m not completely sold on the S Pen or “Intelligent Stylus” which, for example, will launch the on-board Note app when you pull the stylus out, seems to continue to improve at offering an appeal to those whose text input skills aren’t as refined as others”. However, the S-Voice improvements are considerable and are so advanced that you man be tempted to say: “SIRI who?” after a while.
Note II: S Pen and Productivity Apps

Click to Enlarge Image

  • The Camera!: The camera is a strong point for the Note II. The rear facing camera is a solid 8 megapixels with auto focus that comes with and LED flash, which can be very bright but generates high quality photos. The front-facing camera comes in at 1.9 megapixels and is capable of HD recording. It”s up there with the best on-board mobile device cameras on the market though. My latest Twitter AVI was snapped on the Note II.

All of this really cool, well thought out functionality considered, a mobile device has to make sense for your life and personal/professional necessity. It’s in these simple terms that I feel the Galaxy Note II could really be useful for a user that falls into one of two main categories:

  1. Tablet Purgatory Folks: Are you a user who prefers the increased real-estate and ease of use of a larger screen Tablet device but also needs the portability and simpler mobility that comes with a standard, smart-phone type of device? If so, the Note II may be the ideal device to consider. It”s not as big as it seems and the simple act of reading and browsing news and emails on this larger screen is really a Goldilocks-esque “just-right” feel if you find yourself caught in that space between point A and point B for your mobile needs.
  2. Searching for the NOT iPhone, Android Device: Many Android users are loyal, just as many iPhone users are loyal. Many would argue that the Android manufacturer that has come closest to emulating what is good about the iOS user experience while offering the openness that Android operating systems are famous for, is Samsung. And the Note II isn’t their first trip to the Rodeo. But it may be their best offering yet. And, this device may be landmark in that is is a true hybrid between tablet and smart-phone, mobile device that”s quite unlike other offerings you may have seen previously.

I had a lot fun giving the Galaxy Note II a test drive. I received the call about this opportunity a couple of weeks after the Super Bowl commercial featuring Seth Rogan and Paul Rudd… along with a cameo by Lebron James at the very end. This was honestly one of my favorite Super Bowl commercials this year and did factor into getting me excited about this review and the inevitable bump it would provide within my “Lerd” circles when I was contacted so I feel it only appropriate to close out with that same spot. Who knows, if all of the rest of my Lerd-y commentary hasn’t convinced you to give the Galaxy Note II a look, heck, maybe this will:

Poseso… Tony

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My Education Crossroads. A World of Opportunity

Posted by Tony Vargas on October 19, 2011 in Culture |
This article was included as one of the featured pieces during the 10/20/2011 #LATISM Twitter Party: EDÚCATE – Transforming Higher Education.

My story is a simple one but it’s not an uncommon tale, as there are many Latinos in the U.S. who will relate with this story. I was born in the heart of the U.S. to a multi-cultural family, exposed to different languages and cultures from birth and later chose the path of becoming an immigrant myself.

Mexican Labor was used to build Kansas RailroadsMy family migrated from the northern border town of Guadalupe Bravos in Chihuahua, Mexico in an effort to flee violence in that region a few of generations ago, stayed in the heartland to help build the railroads and connect the East to the West, returned to Mexico during the Great Depression and later returned to Kansas City to stay. As a matter of fact, many forget that the U.S. was connected via rail largely thanks to the back-breaking work of Mexican, Italian, Irish and Asian immigrants.

I was fortunate during my upbringing in that my parents encouraged me to try my hand at whatever I was passionate about. This freedom coupled with an amazingly constant blue collar example of hard work and perseverance offered me a blueprint that has served me very well throughout my life. Many who know me today, think of me as an engineer and a technologist first but I actually attended the University of Missouri at Kansas City on a full-ride music and academic scholarship. My original intent was to study music education. However, an internship at my part-time job with GE Capital locally sent me down a different path, though I celebrate and value my experience in both the arts and sciences. This combination has helped me become an unusually effective and innovative technologist.

madrid_la_puerta_de_alcalaToward the end of my studies, I met my wife of seventeen years and mother of our two children. Let me be honest. I married up. Way up! We were blessed that, four years into our marriage, we followed an opportunity to work and live in Madrid, the city of my wife’s birth. It was there that I refined my native fluency with the Spanish language, completed my graduate studies in Computer Information Systems at, arguably, the most prestigious Spanish language university in the world and blossomed into the innovative, technological problem solver that has allowed me to ”pay the bills.”

All of this wouldn’t likely have been possible, and most certainly never have been as fulfilling and complete had it not been for the privilege of carrying the dreams, hope and constant impulse of my family with me along this journey. To this day, every time I see him, my father ends every visit we share by telling me with awe-inspiring sincerety: “I’m proud of you, son.” This embarrasses me and I feel unworthy of such praise as it is he who has always inspired me, but it always makes me feel amazing! Honest, I”ve never seen him quit or give up… at ANYTHING! I desire to set the same example for my children.

latina_student_educationAnd this is my message to those youth who I now try to encourage to follow suit. You are part of a larger cause and you are not alone. Literally millions support you and remain ready and willing to help you along your own journey to educate yourself and turn this world upside down with the amazing gifts you have to offer. ¡Ánimo… os acompañamos; os apoyamos!

Poseso… Tony

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Protecting Your WiFi Network For Your Family

Posted by Tony Vargas on July 10, 2011 in Technology |
Originally published on 6/27/2011 for the Papá HEROES Alliance.

Family Wi-Fi SecurityWhile the advice in this article is directed at parents of children who use the Internet via home Wi-Fi connections, the best practices shared here are applicable to anyone who has setup a wireless home network. There are plenty of Horror Stories of those who stopped by the local electronics store, bought a $60 off the shelf Wireless router, took it home, set it up only to discover their credit card information had been compromised!

Wireless networks transmit data over radio raves, which makes them inherently insecure. I don’t mean to scare you but do hope to open your eyes and encourage you to review the setup of your home wireless network to help make certain that you and your loved ones surf safely, just as the rest of the Papá Heroes do!

Wireless Router SecurityLet’s keep the focus of this discussion at a 50,000 foot level. Some additional, closer to 10,000 foot level resources will be provided at the end of this piece. Here is a basic checklist of items you should be aware of within your home network if you have a Wi-Fi router attached to your home Internet connection:

  • Use Encryption! Simply put, apply WEP/WPA/WPA2 security. From left to right, WEP (Wireless Equivalent Privacy), WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) & WPA2 security standards will encrypt the data your transmit over your wireless network. NOTE: The WEP standard is really discouraged nowadays. While some encryption is better than none, it is strongly recommended that you utilize WPA encryption at a minimum and WPA2 is even better!
  • Change the default password of your Wireless Router! The bad guys know what the factory pre-set, default passwords are on all brands of Wireless routers. So make certain to change that default password and remove a significant loop-hole from their arsenal!
  • Don”t broadcast your SSID! The SSID is the technical term, which refers to the “Name” of your wireless network. You will see this field labeled in the administrative control panel for your wireless router. There is typically a check-box that will allow you to “Hide” the SSID from wireless network “Sniffers.”

Identity Theft in Progress

  • Keep your wireless router hardware”s firmware up to date! … The manufacturers of wireless network routers often update the security features of the router’s internal operational software. And while we”re on the topic, make sure too to be sure that the computer systems that are connected to your home network, via physical or wireless connections are also regularly updated via automatic and spot manual updates as time permits. This includes:
    • Make sure you have an up to date anti-virus,
    • Make sure that the firewall is turned on. Routers often have built-in hardware firewalls. Make sure it is turned on as this provides an extra layer of protection.
    • Regularly update your Operating System (Windows, MAC etc…) by download the latest security updates when they become available. These updates will fix security holes holes or bugs the Operating System may have, which attackers might use to hack into your system.

This advice really just scratches the surface but this is a good list of simple, best practices that can make your family’s Internet surfing experience safer and richer. During the research I performed for this piece, I found some additional resources you may find useful if you’d care to dig deeper into this subject. I’m including these for your reference as well:

Happy Surfing!

Poseso… Tony

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