Last night a dj saved my life with her soup

Mageiritsa” is a traditional Greek soup, usually served on the Saturday evening before Easter Sunday.   The idea is that after fourty days of fasting, you break yourself in gently before the monster feast the next day.   My mother, being English, does a version of this dish which in many ways is better than the original.   Like with her mousaka, it is less spicy and not so heavy on your system.   Like with her dolmades she takes all the shortcuts in order to get the job done faster.   And more importantly – she doesn’t wait for Easter to make it.   The slaughter of two goats provided the reason this time.   While visiting them on Sunday I had heard about that.   I just hadn’t made the connection.

Thursday.   It was a typical meal, the sort you try to get used to when you have three very young children.   One was climbing a cupboard in order to get to something he shouldn’t be.   Another was falling to the floor.   The third was loudly objecting to something. For some stupid reason the radio was also blasting at us.   Enough to drive my wife to a screaming fit, thought it didn’t seem to be helping much as the chaos continued.  The flu had finally caught up with me with gusto, blocked nose, sore throat and all.  It had taken all my strength to go out shopping and I was ready to collapse.

But not now, I was mesmerised.   Everything else faded in the background, the way the background fades when you photograph a flower with a macro lens, the way everything goes quiet before your ears pop on a flight.

She must have brought it around while I was out.  The dish was full to the brim.   The lemon juice I squeezed on could barely fit.   No bread, no salad, no nothing.   Just me and my mageiritsa.   I think I offered the kids a taste but I didn’t insist.   The commotion was still at a high but the bond between me and the food was unshakeable.   A river runs through it.   Meanderings of soup like cosmic string theory connecting me to my mum and probably to her mum ad infinitum.

Life tastes good.

I love you mum.

How to lose 90% of your web traffic in one day

Looking through all the analytics since moving www.alexanderchalkidis.com/blog  old stuff to www.alexanderchalkidis.com/dotnet it was obvious that Google bots were not going to figure this out for themselves. First I put in a few links in other blogs to see what would hapen. Nothing. If you search for any older articles on Google, you get the old link. Even after a month! So I put more links in other articles, even really popular ones at http://alexartisia.wordpress.com  and other blogs. Obviously the free version of WordPress behaves very differently to a properly hosted one, SEO optimised and all. So then my new www.alexanderchalkidis.com/blog , which is all properly WordPress hosted and optimized started featuring links to the new location. Still Google bots weren’t picking up.

So I shot off a Joomla website to test out how it behaves.  Completely prematurely and it looked terrible at first . I did not update any indexes or submit anything to Google Webmaster tools and see how long it takes them.  It was almost instant thanks to a few well placed links to older articles.   Essentially, what the machine had to figure out is that any link to my old blog can be easily converted to the correct new location, simply by adding a www.alexanderchalkidis.com/dotnet  at the beginning and replacing the “aspx” ending of the file with “html”.

So: http://www.alexanderchalkidis.com/blog/post/2009/12/Will-Xing%2c-Viadeo%2c-LinkedIn-or-Facebook-win-the-networking-war.aspx  is now http://www.alexanderchalkidis.com/dotnet/www.alexanderchalkidis.com/blog/post/2009/12/Will-Xing%2c-Viadeo%2c-LinkedIn-or-Facebook-win-the-networking-war.html

In bold the bits you have to add or change to the old location to get a new – working – one. My six year old son can probably do this, Google bots can’t.  Then again the whole point of the exercise is to increase targeted results without paying a penny in Google AdWords so maybe they don’t want to!  

While in retail with Public I really got excited about the experimental approach to business. Set an experiment up, test it, adjust, measure, tweak and again. Properly done in retail it is phenomenally useful. Now I am using a similar techniques with SEO. The way I handled this change, total visits to www.alexanderchalkidis.com  fell dramatically. From around 800 on an average day (peaks are 2500, lows are 450) it dropped to less than two hundred!

This gave me a unique opportunity to test assumptions about where the actual traffic is coming from.

1. Several permanent visitors which I thought were regular fans, turn out to be corporate (PR agencies probably) searchers, checking whether I have written something about them every day. From the looks of their queries, this is done automatically. Hey, that’s what you get for writing nasty (though true!) things about people!

2. My main loss is articles in minor blogs or websites which are not following up on their broken links, or not bothering to update them. (And just deleting them as they don’t work.) They were sending me a very healthy 30% of my traffic since several articles were deemed as “unique in their perspective”. These were articles I wrote specifically to examine how necessary a “other” opinion was in the cyber world and how it would circulate. Things like questioning whether eye laser surgery is really worth it which may have plenty criticism in the US but not in the Greek language.

3. Several other websites and journalists have tagged me by topic or category. I am obviously heavily plagiarised, thank you very much for the honour! Most do include a link to the original article. Now if only they would update it…  Google searching for one of my articles is up to 70% of what it was before the switch and rising rapidly.

THAT is how Onassis fans best

In one of it’s versions, the joke involves Aristotle Onassis on his honeymoon with Jackie deep in Africa.  Night after night Onassis cannot satisfy his new wife in bed as a large negro swings a large fan to cool them.  Eventually Onassis asks the servant to try his luck with his bride while he holds the fan.  Afterwards he asks Jackie:  “Was that better, my love?” to which she responds extremely positively.  Onassis turns to the negro and declares: “See?  THAT is how you need to fan to get results!”

Some time ago I wrote a summary of all the reasons a televisual show about technology is a tough nut to crack.  And then a few days ago I got asked again whether I would be interested in doing a TV show.  As I mulled the question over in my head I wondered:  where did all those ideas about new TV shows go?  Have I just lost interest?  Is the fact that I don’t watch any television affecting my motivation?  Is TV, that same medium that I so enjoyed producing for, suddenly dead inside me?

And then last night I watched episode six of The Pacific.  (My summary of how war film and television shows have developed is here.)  The Pacific started out as pretty bad television really, confused in its targets and only of interest to veterans and their kin for historical purposes.  At the end of episode five, the producers kicked in with the sort of power that Saving Private Ryan had.  Big time.  But that isn’t what interested me so much at this point.  (Though I did make a point of keeping those ten minutes to show my eldest son as an educational tool.)

It was the ecosystem build around the Pacific.  Starting with the great HBO official site.  Click here for a sample relating to this week.  There’s maps, there’s storyboards, there’s books, audio books, veterans, discussions…it is easy to say “well, they did all the work, why not show it?” but this is pretty stellar work.  Not in terms of web presentation or community building online but in pulling together the related work.  It pushes the related issues up in my agenda.  Even if I didn’t have a thing about the second world war I would get interested in learning about all these strange sounding little islands and the related battles.  Heck I even watched the Alister Grierson film about Kokoda in Papua New Guinea!  (Warning: if you are not Australian, make sure you get a version with subtitles, I missed half the story trying to figure out what they were talking about!)  The ecosystem of information around an old war on the other side of the planet seventy years ago increased the relevance of the show to me.  I always like to talks about “hooks” in any marketing concept and this is like a wall of velcro!

It is no profound statement that television is no longer the main attraction.  The interesting part of media production and consumption is now precisely the integration of all available media and products.  Firstly to become part of the consumers’ lives.  And secondly in order to make some money, one way or another, from the whole exercise.  More and more television is a loss leader, supporting or promoting other revenue streams.  This may even be true in terms of it’s reason for existing.  You might do a television programme these days simply to get your hands on enough video material to support a web concept.

Wow, writing a blog really does help you think.  I am now bursting to the seams with new ideas about TV shows.   All I need is a team of people producing interesting content and side products and I will stride in to enjoy myself. 

THAT is how you fan your bride Aristotle!

Tolstoy and the Greek War of financial Independence

“War and Peace” is monumental in the way it helped create the myth of the united Russian people.  Despite its size it glosses over and completely avoids going historically where the narrative would be in conflict.  Important battles aren’t even mentioned and the massive diplomatic effort to keep the armies fed isn’t present.  The two years that follow what is in the massive book are far more interesting as the incredibly disciplined Russian army entered Leipzig and Paris backed by superior intelligence and diplomacy.  However a Tolstoy is exactly what Greece needs now, not a loan.

It was the amount proposed as aid that got me thinking.  Sure the zeroes at the end of it are dizzying and in many ways an awesome show of EuroFinanceFirePower.  But it seems that it is just enough to keep Greece ticking until just before the next national elections.  Makes sense you could say.  Get your shop in order and you get more help, Mr Papandreou.  No giving it all away to gain favours like your Dad was so good at doing.

And then there is the matter of financing risk spread.  How involved are European banks in Greek debt?  Hard to tell but if you average out the guesstimates it seems that the amount the European Union is proposing to lend is just a bit less that it would cost their banks if Greece defaulted, a lot of which are practically national affairs.  And of course if Portugal, Spain or any other similar economy went down not even the EU or World Bank could muster enough cash.

So let Greece crash please.  We need to face up to the debt and restructure it like so many other countries have succesfully navigated these past decades.  It will do us good.  During the War of Independence against the Turks, the spirit of teamwork was incredible.  Same at the start of the second world War.  People singing in the streets for joy and working together, putting aside differences and just working to a common goal.  Both those wars then had a bleak period of infighting and turmoil as “normality” settled in.  We need to shake off “normality” not invite it right now.

We need to face up to the facts.  This is war.  We need to rally up to the common cause instead of digging our heads in a hole.  And if the politicians can’t write a book as good as “War and Peace” we need inspiring figureheads to do as good a job as possible.  This article is in English because it is not my fellow Greeks that need to read it; fellow Europeans, please take the moral high road.  Don’t chicken out and use Greece as a delay mechanism for sorting out the real structural problems Europe faces.  The EU can survive Greece’s economy crashing but if we let the threat dehabilitate us, world financial markets will just keep playing the EuroZone like this forever.  Like wolves isolating stragglers in a herd of deer, it will never end.  Restructuring debt isn’t the end of the world.  Sure Argentina got ugly, but Belize, Uruguay and even Jamaica did very civilized jobs of it.  The work of people like Lee Buchheit(download an excellent paper on the topic here) shows us exactly how the alternative would work.  Sure, there is no way to exit the european union but just as we stopped using the drachma, we could reinstate it as an inbetween phase to recovery.  And if anyone wants an inspiring story of a people rising from the ashes in tough times, follow Wilma Mankiller’s story as she fought an urban war to get Cherokee people proud again on their terms.

One way or another, in five years Greece should be able to stabilize things.  But if we build crutches into the core of a newly born Europe now, the whole idea of a truly united Europe will not be able to recover for decades.  It wasn’t the Russian winter that beat Napoleon, that is just a convenient myth, like all the myths about ancient Greek superiority we keep on the backburner in Greece as an excuse not to actually work.

I am kidding of course.  Greece has major liquidity issues, bank structural problems and an unhealthy reliance on the public sector which is completely corrupt.   We need the loans but it would be great if we could organize ourselves to actually make the necessary changes without feeling some “foreigners” forced us to make them.   If Greece is forced to make these changes too fast, a whole nation will struggle to transform itself so fast.   We have no Tolstoy and no Churchill to lead and inspire us and the social connections in the country aren’t strong enough to keep it together while we mature.

 

Like a lot of important writers, Leo Tolstoy was excommunicated by the Russian (Greek Orthodox) church.  The day after this was announced students and workers paraded in his honour.  So if Fitch wants to grade Greek bonds BBB- (just above saying it is toilet paper!) I say let’s take to the streets in celebration too; if this bunch of people really puts minds and hearts to it, we can and should get great stuff done!

Why on earth did you leave CRM implementation to the IT department?

I was talking to the CEO of a market leading services company recently.  He was trying to entice me to get involved, I was trying to avoid telling him too bluntly that the cosy family-style management he had lived with all these years was about to crash completely.  We skirted about the issues.

“With your sort of market position, it sounds like you could really do magic with a good CRM” I suggested.  “Oh yeah, we bought one of those last year…I think the IT guys are doing it.”

Here’s what I propose:  go get some social scientists to do it instead.  Anthropologists would be great, sociologists if they are not too wishy washy.  Because focusing on the customer should no longer be the domain even of the traditional marketing department.

Marketing has always been squashed between a sales department gung ho attitude and some magical creative juice produced on demand to impress.  Throw a CRM project their way and yes, they will do a better job than IT for sure.  But is that what we need these days?

What sort of salary is your customer living on?  Where is she living?  How on earth do you expect to relate to someone so different unless you have developed the methodological toolset?  This does sound a lot like anthropology, because this is what you need to do.  I would willingly have one of my fingers chopped off for access to Facebook, VISA or Google customer data.  Not that I wouldn’t miss playing the guitar, but the social scientist in me would be in heaven.  It is not about finding shortcuts to selling to them.  It is about understanding how they think and how they feel.

You can do a lot of this without losing any fingers.  Work a different position in your company.  Dress up and play a different role on any sidewalk.  Talk to strangers.  But companies need to be a bit more systematic about this effort.  And what the social sciences have learned over the past half century is an invaluable starting point.  Call him a CCO or whatever you want, but someone near the top of the organisation has to want to understand customers and to add value to their lives.  It isn’t just market research or R&D that has to come under this position, but it is a good place to start.   Any customer facing function needs to be rethought with this hat on.  And in a position to get things done about it. 

Because the customer isn’t going to wait around for you to get it right much longer.

Tribal Shame, Doping Control and how to keep Greece’s deficit from mounting again

I should be ashamed of myself.  After the Greek football team triumphed in Euro 2004 Iwas the only person in the country and probably the planet, publicly stating (and even writing) that we didn’t deserve it.   I claimed the Greek team was doped (any other way to explain how a team that never lasted past 65′ suddenly went into overtime running like Ben Johnson?) and that opponents took bribes.  It was an Olympic year, we had the budget!   To add insult to the injury I am fairly sure that even our first ever modern Olympic medal in marathon running, back in 1896 with Spyros Louis was in fact the result of Greeks giving him a couple of lifts at parts of the route not covered by judges.  OK, I am an obvious cynic.

 

One of the reasons I got particularly annoyed at Greek doping scandals is because I experienced the disappointment in kids that looked up to them first hand

It is not just because they are unusual that these views didn’t get much airing.   There is no public forum designed to feel ashamed of itself.  When Kostas Kenderis was almost caught just before the2004 Olympics ( a ridiculous story with him escaping doping control on a moped and then staging an accident so as to avoid a blood sample being taken) it hit me even more strongly.   The reason everyone gets away with such behaviour is because we are not acting in a natural, tribal  way.  Can you imagine the same athlete being of Japanese decent?  He would have been found dead in his apartment for the shame.  The shame he brought to his country, to his fellow athletes, to the Olympic ideal. 

You only had to look at the hearings for the Toyota case recently in the US to see this in vibrant colors.  Toyota’s only sin was spreading too thin in terms of control of its enormous supply chain.  They didn’t do an Enron.  But the shame of it all…  So why don’t we just purposely design controls in business and in sport to encourage the tribal approach to guilt. 

“Guilt” as a legal term is way to shallow.  Someone can be pronounced “not guilty” even though we 

all know he is; and he can laugh straight into the cameras as he glides away from the court.  And people can feel deep guilt or remorse about things they never controlled or were in any way responsible for.   It is a social construct.  The whole concept of “corporate responsibility” was always inadequate in my mind.  It is like trying to sell a product that nobody really needs.  “You really need this product, buy it!” sell which gets a “and why the hell do I need this?” response type of situation. 

Tribal guilt is not like that.  Get that athlete to go to court with his entire team.  Introduce penalties to his federation.  Make the negative publicity a communal hit, not something personal.  Shrugging it off as a whim of a particular person is too easy.   This is not some kind of twisted mean streak, it makes perfect sense.  The reason we need guilt is to reinforce our common values.  Tiger Woods apologised not because it is any of our business what he does in his bed or a hotel room, but to show us he is not evil; he feels remorse and agrees that the societal norm of not sleeping around too much in an obvious way is correct. 

Get Kenderis, Enron board members and the Greek football team in the limelight with the system that turned a blind eye to their misbehaviours and we achieve a similar pressure point.  Which seems to me to be a pretty similar set of problems and solutions to Greece’s current financial mess.   Individual citizen’s as wrongdoers hide behind the “everyone else was doing it” facade.   Politician’s hide behind the “every other government did it” scenario. 

It is common in such situations to assume that the system that creates the problem, can’t solve it.  Especially amongst Greeks it is taken for granted that it is too deeply ingrained in our characters, our national “style”.  Heck, even in the war of liberation against the Turks in 1821, it is well documented that Greek soldiers refused to fight if their pay was late.  (With the battle raging right next to them!) 

This is not the case.  It only takes one prominent working  example of the shame system I propose for it to become established.  It could catch on like a Greek summer wild fire and spread as fast.  And maybe sports is the ideal place to start.  I put myself forward as an initial victim of this approach.  If footballers in the 2004 Euro team, Kostas Kenderis supporters or relatives of Spyro Louis want to,  I am willing to be put in front of a jury of fellow bloggers to test whether this slander I am spreading is justified or not! 

Maybe they will start commenting things like “hey, alex, this post seems preposterous!” instead of just letting me get away with it so easily next time…

WordPress and the power of interface

As I turned yet another blog of mine to the WordPress engine it occured to me that once again, interface rules.  Once a user gets used to it, why bother learning anything else?  Which also explains why people give away so much software (like WordPress) in order to get you attached to some other payable product.

Same applies to mobile phones, heck there are people who consider the original Nokia (pre touch screen) universe, an interface that they are fond of!  (It’s true you can do simple stuff really fast on those phones …)

Anyway, www.alexanderchalkidis.com/blog is still down for server upgrade and I am not sure whether I will even bother to keep trying with that blog engine anymore.  The back up copy of everything up to the time of back up is up at http://www.alexanderchalkidis.com/DotNet for your reference.  That is two years’ worth of bloging and SEO experimentation there!