» Goodbye Dave.

I don’t know why, it could be the cold weather or just coincidental, but December is fast becoming the month so many good Jazz and Blues musicians of ol’ pass away. Oscar Peterson, for example, in 2007. Or James Brown a year earlier. This time it’s Dave Brubeck. ‘Take Five’ is the piece most identify him with, and ‘popular’ doesn’t even begin to describe its appeal and success — recognizable by so many generations in the fifty one or so years of its existence. Yet his work goes well beyond than this single track that everyone feels so familiar with. After all, who, in their right mind, could possibly forget ‘It’s a Raggy Waltz’, ‘Blue Rondo A La Turk’ or ‘Take The A Train’. Dave was undoubtedly one of the great pioneers of his time.

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2012.12.01

Oh my God, it’s full of funds!

Νεοφυείς επιχειρήσεις. Καινοτομία. Εξωστρέφεια. Επιχειρείν. Ένα μεγάλο γαϊτανάκι από εραστές του φιλελευθερισμού, πιστούς του καπιταλισμού, των αγορών, κάποιους τολμηρούς και άξιους, κάποιους — απλώς — θιασώτες της όλης υποκουλτούρας, της ‘φάσης’, του χαβαλέ και της (σαφέστατα υποκριτικής) αίσθησης της αυτονομίας, της ελευθερίας κλπ. που επικαλούνται συχνά οι δορυφόροι της επιχειρηματικότητας. Παράλληλα ένα τεράστιο κενό σοβαρών επενδυτών. Μια τεράστια έρημος σοβαρής επιχειρηματικής νοοτροπίας και φιλοδοξίας.

Κι’όμως, εχθές ‘αποκτήσαμε’ τέσσερα χρηματοδοτικά οχήματα σημαντικού μεγέθους. Yippi ki-yay! Οχήματα με αρκετές δεκάδες εκατομμύρια προς διάθεση για την υποστήριξη της ελληνικής επιχειρηματικότητας. Δεν γνωρίζω σε βάθος τα άτομα που απαρτίζουν και τα τέσσερα, όμως γνωρίζω κάποια από αυτά. Γράφω το εξής άρθρο λοιπόν, ως μια φιλική συμβουλή προς τους (νεοελευθέντες) διαχειριστές των funds, από τον Πραγματικό κόσμο του Επιχειρείν, από την Αγορά: οι έλληνες επενδυτές, στον βαθμό που έχω εκτεθεί σε αυτούς, πολύ συχνά δεν έχουν απολύτως καμία συναίσθηση των διαφορών μεταξύ των ιδίων και των θεσμικών, υπερπολλαπλάσιων σε μέγεθος και εντελώς διαφορετικού πλαισίου λειτουργώντων funds της Κοιλάδας του Πυριτίου. Σκέφτονται και φέρονται με τον ίδιο, παράλογο τρόπο, μόνον που, επιπλέον τους λείπει η εξωστρέφεια, το όνειρο και η φιλοδοξία. Τους λείπει η παιδεία και το πραγματικό ενδιαφέρον για τις επενδύσεις τους. Συν τοις άλλοις, στην κοιλάδα το παράλογο γίνεται λογικό: Η υπερβολή είναι ο κανόνας. Η προσφορά και το ταλέντο περισσεύουν. Η αγορά είναι στρεβλή και οι μεγάλοι επενδυτές είναι ο θεσμός και όχι απλώς ένα μέρος του συστήματος. Μην κάνετε τα ίδια λάθη με αυτούς, μην προσπαθήσετε να τους αντιγράψετε. Η Ελλάδα δεν είναι Silicon Valley, και τα funds που στήθηκαν δεν θα την κάνουν SV μέσα σε μια νύχτα. Φερθείτε εξυπνότερα, εκμεταλλευόμενοι αυτά που μπορείτε για να αφήσετε και εσείς το λιθαράκι σας στο να μπορούμε κάποτε, εμείς ή οι επόμενες γενιές, να λέμε πως πήγαμε την Ελλάδα μπροστά. Έστω και λίγο.

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2012.11.24

A Very British Coup (1988)

“‘A Very British Coup’ is a 1982 novel by British politician Chris Mullin” according to Wikipedia. But this post is not about the book. At least not directly. It is about the ‘original’, 1988 TV mini-series. I love mini-series as I find them to be perhaps the most appealing film-making format of our times, the sole format that has eluded both the demographics-based, profit-maximising paradigm that is the norm at Hollywood and beyond, or the milking-it-until-it’s-dry, fillers-r-us paradigm often found in TV series. But then again we’re talking about 1988, almost twenty-five years ago and things were a bit different back then.

The spoiler-free version of the plot goes as follows: This is about a working class, charismatic and honest British politician, Harry Perkins, who gets elected as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, under a purely socialist manifesto. His pledges, removal of Nuclear Weapons from the British Isles, as well as foreign (viz. US) bases, neutrality and withdrawal from NATO, vast economist reforms focusing on education, health and public welfare seem unacceptable by the country’s long standing allies, the United States and Western Europe; his programme seems radical and his ‘revolution’ scares those that strive to brand him a Marxist, a Soviet instrument, a crazy fool. Inevitably his election, puts him at odds with the ‘The Establishment’ and starts a sequence of schemes and plans to discredit and, eventually, dethrone him.

While somewhat dated by today’s standards, the series is impressive in many ways; the acting, especially by Ray McAnally (the PM) is exceptional, the atmosphere is dark and raw and despite the various flaws the situation seems real and compares favourably to other works involving similar themes. But above all lies the premise: this series presents a situation that rings very true in today’s economically and — increasingly — culturally bankrupt European states. The book, upon which the original series was based, was written at a time when politicians like Tony Benn, the likeable veteran socialist former Labour MP was a potential leader of the Labour party, and by extension potential PM. Labour was split between centrists and leftists and the leftists may have frightened the British Establishment, as communists did in the previous decades in countries like the United States. It was the beginning of Margaret Thatcher’s first term as a leader of the United Kingdom, and a ‘Harry Perkings’ type leader was the most obvious antagonist to Margaret Thatcher’s mono-thematic “free market über alles” premiership.

Even then, mass poverty was a possibility — and for many a reality — public debt is mentioned as a mechanism for foreign powers to affect policy, scheming and the cloak-and-dagger of British Public Service and power failures becoming an everyday phenomenon. Back in today’s southern European states, the similarities are striking. Even formerly powerful European states are not so far away from it either.

A Very British Coup ends differently to the book and much more dramatically at that; it serves as a reminder of the illusion of liberty in our modern democracies, the fragile balance between competing forces and interests that results in peace, relative prosperity and that blissful sense of stability upon which people depend to live their lives.

Despite its merits, I find ‘A Very British Coup’ simplistic at times, especially for a mini-series, a format that is supremely positioned to exposing more detail, having fewer corners cut and overall having more substance than the alternatives. Sadly, the book also recently became the inspiration for yet another TV series. A series that bears no resemblance to the original, but is a reminder of what was great about the original series. Secret State is a modernised loosely-based version starring Gabriel Byrne. Contrary to the original, it seldom rings true; its characters are caricatures and the circumstances unconvincing. Sarah Dempster of the Guardian called it ‘ludicrous’ and ‘Spooks with its head in a bucket of dumb. It’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Sigh’. I tend to agree with her criticism and despair at the lost potential of this amazing medium.

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2012.10.22

Using OTE’s 11888 to provide fast CLID data for FreePBX/Asterisk

For those using FreePBX (a configuration/administrative interface that manages Asterisk) there is a CallerID Lookup module, published by the FreePBX team. The module allows you to interface with data sources using several methods, one of them being http.

Like many companies, we maintain several systems that can be easily integrated with our VoIP PBX system, but we also receive a number of calls from the public, viz. companies interested in advertising on GEO|ADS, adding their business to AthensBook or ThessBook, or asking for a quote for a project. OTE recently revamped its aging whitepages.gr site and incorporated its content into their ‘umbrella’ 11888 business directory operation. The new site is faster, more beautiful and written in a more professional manner, as far as the markup is concerned, which makes it a perfect source of caller id information for a large number of telephone subscribers in Greece. Around one hour of Ruby scripting using Mechanize, Sinatra and some custom transliteration tables to convert the scraped names to their latinised counterparts (Cisco phones don’t seem to like Greek characters all that much) resulted in the following script (github)

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» Mazower’s Opinions

Mark Mazower has, for some time now, been writing poignant and increasingly strongly worded opinion articles about the effects of the crisis, the social and political repercussions that few politicians and economists bother worrying about while trying, unsuccessfully, if not plain badly, to enforce a flawed economic policy throughout Europe. His articles are grounded, accurate with the facts and highly worrisome, a scarily intense forewarning of how things can go wrong; they demonstrate the kind of foresight you would expect but seldom find in the foolish, greedy and highly myopic politicians currently governing Europe.

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2012.09.26

Mango / Tears of Steel

Tears of Steel is the fourth film (and the first live-action short) by the blender foundation and a giant leap forward for the community and the software. It is a sci-fi film that showcases recent work on blender, including Compositing, the Cycles render engine and many of the features introduced in the blender 2.6x series, like BMesh.

Like most blender foundation films, this one suffers from the the usual suspects: bad audio, bad accents and now, for the first time, they are complemented by pretty bad acting (the guy with the monocle is borderline unbearable) and a somewhat frustrating script; surprisingly I found the music to be more than decent; yet the true value of this film is the amazing work on blender and the impressive gfx and cgi the artists created for it. If anything, leaving æsthetics aside, Tears of Steel successfully showcases how far blender has come and will hopefully spur more people to contribute and use this amazing piece of open source software.

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» Εκτός κατάταξης

Δεν ξέρω αν θα ήμασταν πάνω από την μεγάλη πλειοψηφία των Αφρικανικών χωρών στο Web Index του Tim Berners Lee, αλλά είμαι βέβαιος πως το γεγονός πως δεν είμαστε πουθενά στην κατάταξη είναι δείγμα της έλλειψης σοβαρότητας, ενδιαφέροντος και αξίας που δίνουμε στην δικτύωσή μας ως χώρα. Αν μη τι άλλο, εν διαμέσω κρίσης, οι επενδύσεις για την βελτίωση των δικτύων ευρυζωνικότητας φαίνεται να έχουν παύσει, οι επιδόσεις των υφιστάμενων συνδέσεων έχουν παγώσει ή χειροτερέψει για πολύ κόσμο και εκεί που η Ευρώπη περνά ταχύτατα σε δίκτυα νέας γενιάς με ευρεία διαθεσιμότητα VDSL2+ και FTTC/FTTB/FTTH εμείς ακόμη συζητούμε για εγκατάσταση περισσότερων mini DSLAMs έτσι ώστε να μην βρίσκεται η μεγάλη πλειοψηφία των συμπολιτών μας καταδικασμένη σε ταχύτητες κάτω των 5-6MBps. Φυσικά, στα μάτια των πολλών, όταν το διακύβευμα είναι η ίδια η επιβίωση, η ευρυζωνικότητα καταντά ένα γραφικό αντικείμενο συζήτησης. Κι’όμως, αν μη τι άλλο, αν η ‘ανταγωνιστικότητα’ της Ελλάδος θέλουμε να σημαίνει κάτι παραπάνω από την εξαθλίωση του βιοτικού επιπέδου των κατοίκων της, αν ο στόχος μας δεν είναι η εργατική τάξη, η αποδοτικότητα του δημοσίου ή η διαφθορά της Κίνας ή της Ινδίας αλλά αυτές της Σουηδίας ή της Φινλανδίας, τότε η ευρυζωνικότητα θα έπρεπε να θεωρείται μείζον θέμα στους κύκλους των αρμόδιων υπηρεσιών και υπουργείων. Και προφανώς αυτό σημαίνει πως η Ελλάδα — μάλλον — θα έπρεπε να εμφανίζεται στο ευρετήριο του Tim Berners Lee και δη σε θέση που δεν θα μας προκαλούσε συλλογικά κατάθλιψη.

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2012.09.02

Visualising geospatial data using SVG, Python and Javascript/d3

Geography is an immensely important tool in the modern business environment. Doing business globally was the first wave of the globalised economy, and the widespread use of internet-based services and e-commerce only accelerated and solidified the notion. The next wave came with mobility in the form of location-based services. Today everyone can create location-based tools that span the globe, and many companies do, but in my view this is akin to a car manufacturer producing a single model for Chinese farmers and European urban commuters alike. Hyperlocality, the concept that each location is worthy of particular attention, that it has unique characteristics and inherent value impossible to tap by going ‘global’ is slowly becoming a major trend. In 2009, while bootstrapping AthensBook, ThessBook and GEO|ADS it was our only choice.

For us geography is everything. We didn’t start global or even regional. We started local, paying attention to the needs of the people in Athens and Thessaloniki and expanded our featureset accordingly; with limited resources and funding. The importance of understanding geography is amplified when your geographic realm is a city, as opposed to a country or region. When we launched GEO|ADS in early 2009, the business world didn’t really know what to do with it. Even today, mobile advertising is still in the process of coming up with standards, conceptual or technical, the world is trying to understand how to use it, how to extract value from it. With GEO|ADS we were the first platform to provide meaningful, consistent high-resolution spatial analytics to our customers in 2009 for Athens and Thessaloniki. We always thought this was a fundamental point where we could contribute valuable, differentiated feedback, compared to the Web or traditional media.

Our spatial analytics reports have long been generated largely automatically as kml files, a de facto XML-based standard that originated alongside Keyhole’s Earth Viewer. Keyhole was a company funded by In-Q-Tel, CIA’s venture capital appendage, and focused on a single (publicly offered) product, the Earth Viewer. The application was very much ahead of its time and it was only through the acquisition of the company by Google in 2004 that turned it into a product enjoyed by the masses: Google Earth. Choosing KML was an easy decision for us, as the format is open and the output usable by everyone — Google Earth is free and infinitely more accessible, usable and engaging than your average GIS application. It is also deeply interactive, as users can zoom, pan and rotate around regions of interest extremely quickly, allowing business development managers and marketers choose locations for campaigns, expansion, targeting more easily and quickly than it would have been possible otherwise. Being XML based meant that we could write a relatively short Python script and leverage all the amazing facilities KML and Google Earth provide.

In addition to customer reports, however, as part of our operations at Cosmical, we often employ spatial analytics for internal use, to understand how our users interact with our applications, identify potential improvements or interesting types of venues to be considered for future versions and, enhance our hyperlocal character by identifying local trends and featured venues. For this purpose we have been using web-based technologies and more specifically SVG in conjunction with CSS and Javascript to create interactive, scalable and æsthetically coherent reports.

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