Categories
Society

Twice a stranger: the children of Lausanne

Whether we like it or not, those of us who live in Europe or in places influenced by European ideas remain the children of Lausanne; that is to say, of the convention signed on a Swiss lakeside after the First World War which decreed a massive, forced population movement between Turkey and Greece.

A bold opening, to what is one of the best books I have ever read by Bruce Clark.  Put it on your list for understanding the modern history of Greece and beyond.  …there are still many people inside and outside the Balkans who would like to see the ‘Lausanne principle’ reapplied; for example, by allowing Bosnia to break up into one or more states, or by dividing up Kosovo.

It is a serious legacy.

For the remainder of the century, the memory of the giant Greek-Turkish exchange was a powerful influence on policy makers all over the world. It was taken as proof that it was possible, both practically and morally, to undertake huge exercises in ethnic engineering, and proclaim them a success. Massive population exchanges, agreed by governments over the heads of the ordinary people, became a conceivable and often attractive option for world leaders. As the history of the 20th century shows, the temptation to use such methods is especially strong in certain types of political or geopolitical situation. For example, it can arise where one form of imperial authority (from Soviet communism to British colonial rule) is collapsing; or when a new nationalist power wants to consolidate its authority; or when a new strategic order is being created in the aftermath of war.

The beauty of the book is that after shooting off these bold claims, the author takes a quite different tack.

All over Turkey and Greece, you can see the physical remnants of a world whose component parts seem to have been broken apart, suddenly and with great violence. On remote hilltops in the heart of Anatolia, there are gutted shells of stone whose original, sacred purpose is revealed only by a few streaks of ochre paint on an inside wall; the last remains of a Christian fresco. In a nearby village, amid the wandering livestock and muddy tracks, you can often find a sturdy building of two or three storeys, now used as a hayshed or stable but clearly designed for some nobler purpose. On enquiry this turns out to be the remains of a school where Turkish-speaking Orthodox Christians were taught to be a little more Greek by teachers dispatched from Istanbul or Athens. And in the stark, featureless towns of northern Greece, the evidence from buildings is equally startling and puzzling. 

And he doesn’t just cover the topic with flowery prose.  It is the human stories that make it real for the reader:

Believers in a traditional Hellenophobia-Turkophobia would have stared at the sight of the Mytilene Greeks spreading farewell meals for their departing neighbours, and later accompanying them to the quay, where Christians and Mohammedans, who for a lifetime had been plowing adjacently and even sharing occasional backgammon games at village cafes, embraced and parted with tears. Then, seated on their heaped up baggage, with their flocks around them – the women weeping, the children hugging their pets, the gray-bearded babas all dignity, as is their wont – the Mytilene Muslims set forth for unknown Turkey.
– National Geographic magazine, November 1922

The book has the magical ability to transfer us from the touching episodes between people, to international diplomacy in the same page:

At the beginning of October 1922, a young Turkish officer called Kemaleddin went down to the harbour of a deserted Aegean port and bade an emotional goodbye to a distraught Greek woman. As he did so, he murmured the name of one of his three sisters who had been killed recently by the Greek army in his home town of Bursa. He also promised the Greek woman, Agape, that he would do whatever he could to ensure the safety of her eighteen-year-old brother, Ilias, who was one of the 3000 Greek men and boys from the town who had been taken prisoner, supposedly to engage in forced labour. This encounter between Kemaleddin and Agape, recounted by her many years later, was the culmination of a poignant human story which unfolded against the background of the momentous, and for many people, unspeakably painful events which took place that autumn on the western edge of Anatolia.

If schools in both countries were serious about education, this book would be compulsory reading.  For a Greek it is shocking to read about the masses of Muslim populations and their expulsion, yet:

In today’s Ayvalik, there are not many people with detailed knowledge of that period. If a local person wants to talk history, it is more likely to be the history of Crete, and of what it was like to be a Muslim there. Among Cretan Muslims, the memories they cultivate most strongly are almost a mirror image of those cherished by the Orthodox Greeks. The moments which official Greek history celebrates, they lament – and vice versa. In their collective memory, the advance of Greek nationalism is an unfolding tragedy.

Clark not only has a great understanding of modern Balkans but a unique capacity for empathy:

These deportees were given no choice in the matter. Nobody asked them whether they would have preferred to stay put, with all the attendant risks of being a small minority in a state where the majority was bent on affirming its domination. Nobody asked them how they felt, or to which nation or community they felt most attached. The personal feelings of the people involved were the last thing considered by the politicians who decreed the population exchange. What they wanted – and this was not an ignoble desire – was an arrangement that would be durable and minimize the risk of further war, either in the immediate future or in a subsequent generation.

As if this coctail was not good enough, the author also has an uncanny ease in attaching the past events to current developments:

Religions, languages and national traditions that used to co-exist now live separately, because no new terms of co-existence could be found. For better or worse, the Sultans provided a sort of shelter under which Muslim sheikhs could receive the faithful in Salonika, and Christian mystics could work their miracles in the villages of Cappadocia. When that authoritarian roof collapsed, people on both sides of the religious divide had to flee for their lives.

The sad fact is that multinational empires have given way not to multinational democracies but to sharply defined nation-states; and the process of redefinition has often been a violent one. 

 

Categories
Business

Does the stock market work better than journalism?

The bias of stock market movements and the psychological phenomenae that affect it have been pretty well documented.   The purposeful ways of manipulating it less so, though with every new scandal we learn – usually retrospectively – something new.   As a person with some history in technology, what never fails to impress me is how tech journalists get carried away.  A recent example is Facebook.   Glowing reports and hyperbole, dotted with a few lifestyle titbits and dashed with vague futurological questions was all we got for years.

And then came the IPO.

Suddenly we learnt all about its internal management issues.   Guess what?   A major percentage of  Facebook’s users (that enormous number journalists flouted about in the titles) is fake accounts.   Oh my, what a surprise!   We learnt about Zuckerberg’s lack of skills for the job.    The huge problems in the business model, the enormous questions about the kind of advertising it sells.   The possible impact from legal action in relation to privacy concerns.

All this was either non existent in the press before, or glossed over.   But when it comes to paying good money to buy a stock, we are obviously more careful than we are when choosing what to read.

Categories
Business

Apple won’t sue Google and Cook is a better manager than Jobs. Which is bad.

Of course Apple won’t sue Google!   Getting a positive verdict when fighting a foreign company in a US court is one thing.   Going up against Google is quite another.  Even without the closet of Motorola patents, Google wouldn’t lose.   It would be like going up against the water utility company; they just leave you to die of thirst while you wait for the verdict.   And even if you win, you will always worry what they might put in your water…

And Tim Cook, unlike Steve Jobs, is a good manager.   He doesn’t take chances like that.   He doesn’t believe in hocus pocus quack medicine.  He has made Apple a much more “normal” company.   After almost two decades of irrationality, he finally gave out dividends.   He actually talks to investors.   After a decade of forcing slave labor in China he finally decided to look like he is doing something about it.    Employees in the US no longer live with the fear of a Jobs’ attack on them; they actually have time to drink coffee now.

There is more formal organisational structure; without Jobs, other people actually get some real responsibilities.   Around 53% of the employees who reference “MBA” on their Linked in profile have been at Apple (non retail)  less than 22 months.  After a lifetime of closed garden design …hey, OK, he can’t change everything all at once!   There might be a few chinks in the armour but it is still a secretive company.  Only problem is, we are less and less interested in their secrets anymore.

Apple is based on the wow factor.   Tim Cook will make the best of disappointments like the iPhone 4s.   The company will of course not remain as succesful as it has been in the past years.   But it will not fall down all of a sudden.   He is milking the brand carefully.   But making it a “normal” company is obviously a very…unApple thing to do.   Normal companies don’t perform like Apple did under Jobs.

So don’t hold your breath.   Some people say “let’s wait and see the new product launches before we decide”.   I don’t think you need to wait for anything.   It won’t be a spectacular success.   And it won’t be a spectacular failure either.

Normal.   Heck, they might even start giving away more than 1$ a year to charity…

 

Categories
Society

Purple rain, Obama and Jesus Christ

The sky is purple.”   As you create the mental image of a deep purple colored sky, you might walk across to an open window.   You will see a blue (or grey!) sky.   The mental image is shattered and replaced by reality.   Congratulations, your brain is working.  Or, to put it more accurately, the part of your brain that checks other parts of your brain is doing its job.   When you dream you might be able to fly, lift airplanes or be a millionaire; when you wake up it all goes away.

Modern brain research has shown us that a charismatic person can temporarily take that ability away from us.   Much like our defences are softened when we sleep, we allow a gifted speaker to put thoughts in our heads without examining them.  If you are good at presentations or sales pitches you may have had one of these moments:  the audience is taking it all in, it is going great and then someone reacts.  “Hey, wait a minute…”   He has noticed that he was getting carried away and is trying to snap out of it before you close the deal.   (Charismatic Leadership: An Exploratory Investigation of the Techniques of influence – George A. Sparks)

In terms of brain activity is much like hypnosis.   A state whereby you are more susceptible to suggestion.    Cult leaders often use it to achieve a mass dellusion.   Marshall Applewhite managed to get 39 people to commit the largest ever mass suicide in the U.S.  Max Weber considered charismatic leadership as a phenomenon attached to an age where people believed that the leader was uniquely connected to the supreme being.  Before the “legal-rational” age.  (Three Seasons of Charismatic Leadership – Tamás Czövek & Carl E. Armerding)   Research has moved forward since then and the leader-follower interaction (LMEX theory) has provided a good framework for more multi faceted thinking on the topic.    It also produced simple “to do” lists such as setting an example, challenging the status quo, visioneering, providing moral support and empowerment of followers.   (Social Construction of Charismatic Leadership – Timothy P. McMahon)

The image of a fearless leader running ahead in “battle” (whatever business, political or athletic battle that may be) is almost hard wired into or brains.   Yet, as we head into the information age, the evidence mounts that it is baggage we need to leave behind.   In an age of Wikipedia and collective intelligence, can we really assume that a single person can interpret reality for us?   What we probably need are people that can help create the right context for solving problems as a group.    Indeed even the leadership process needs to constantly justify its existence.   Much like an electronic forum.   We occasionally need administrators.   We always need contributors.   We seldom need leaders.

So a word of advice to budding political, business or religious leaders: the game has changed.   If you are going to rely on those few which are still looking for a magic button saviour, you will soon be out of business.   We need leaders, but they need us more than ever.

A good overview of how management thinking has evolved on this topic is in “Charismatic Leadership in Organizations” –  Jay A. Conger, Rabindra N. Kanungo

 

Categories
Society

A great introduction to modern Greece

It could almost be a travel guide but it has a story as well.   “Eurydice Street: A Place in Athens” by Sofka Zinovieff is a great answer to all those Greeks which get over excited about anything in international media even remotely negative about this country.

Athenian friends had told us we were mad to want to bring up our children where they were bringing up theirs. ‘Greece is good for holidays but not for living,’ they said. ‘It’s impossible to work, and it’s unbearably hot.’ I recalled various British friends who just thought that Athens was hideous and polluted.

Yep.   Indeed a common start to any conversation.   Ι will pack some copies next time I go abroad on business to answer them.  Her international experience and eye for detail puts it all in perspective.

Athens may be an ancient city, but it is also uncompromisingly modern. And there’s hardly anything else in between the two extremes. It’s almost as though the Athenians went straight from carved marble to reinforced concrete, skipping the intervening centuries. 

 The vehicle is perfect.   Her husband is Greek and she has two daughters to explain Greece to.   So it reads less like a pedantic travel guide and more like a novel.   From the beginning it is amusing:

Searching for somewhere to rent quickly got depressing. We enjoyed the fireplaces disguised as the Parthenon and the plaster caryatids and classical columns that were scattered around brand new houses like icing sugar decorations on wedding cakes. And we laughed about the ubiquitous and horrible, dungeon-like room known euphemistically in Greek as the playroom. But we didn’t want to live in these places. Friends from the more traditional, inland suburbs of Kifissia, Maroussi and Psychiko, in northern Athens, were sardonic. They told us pointedly that the seaside areas we were exploring were especially popular with ex-basketball players, the nouveaux riches, and Russian mafiosi.   We’d never get through a winter there, they said.

She doesn’t always manage to blend in.   But even the failures show the limits of differences:

Even I (who have always needed my sleep) was becoming accustomed to going out to dinner at ten or eleven p.m., and staying up until three a.m. or later. I remembered, somewhat ashamedly, how I had once requested to meet some friends for dinner at eight-thirty. I had been howled down:

‘What do you take us for, Germans?’ 

The author does love Greece.   But not in the exaggerated way some foreigners do.   She always has a deep reason and a simple fact to illustrate things:

As I walked down into the centre of town, I marvelled at how Athens has managed to keep so much charm in spite of the abuse it has suffered. Even in the most modernized districts there is often a sense of neighbourhood. You still have the same neighbours, even if you now see them across fourth-floor balconies instead of on the front door steps, and the local kiosk, grocery, coffee shop and church still hold central positions in daily life. 

I assume this new breed of Grecofanatics will find some bone to pick in one of her descriptions.   But as far as I’m concerned they are almost always spot on.   Insightful in ways that people living here can hardly understand, particularly since everybody is cutting down on international travel lately.    Here she walks into the civil service:

He invited me to see his office one day, and we walked through the old, scruffy building which was just about to be renovated. Long, dusty corridors gave onto rooms where civil servants sat drinking the ubiquitous frappe (iced Nescafe), smoking furiously, and playing patience on their computers. They were perhaps the bureaucrats known as ‘chair-centaurs,’ who are supposedly so inseparable from their desks that they seem to be welded to their chairs, as the centaur’s human top is joined to his horse legs. 

And the author’s anthropological background obviously comes in useful.   Admire this succing description of the most popular of Greek words:

They insulted the boys by using the word for ‘wanker’, malakas, and became highly adept at using this astonishingly versatile and common epithet. It is not only a slur on somebody ignorant or incapable, but is used by friends as an affectionate equivalent to the English ‘mate’. Thus, teenage boys can interject ‘ela malaka’ (‘Come on, you wanker’) between every other word, but it is still strong enough to be used as a satisfying insult by an angry driver or an abandoned girlfriend.

 In some ways, as I look at the quotes I chose, I am not sure anymore if this is “a great introduction to modern Greece”.  The economic crisis is changing most of these carefully painted portraits.   But if anyone can do a good description of the next phase of Greek life, my vote goes to Sofka Zinovieff.

Categories
Society

Why Greeks evade tax and my car lies to me

It is now 2012 and one piece of equipment regularly lies to me.   Your $300 smartphone will tell you where you are, it has a compass, a GPS and all sorts of fancy sensors.   Yet your $40,000 automobile lies in your face.   The speedometer never, ever shows your actual speed.

Most people assume this is a design glitch.   Maybe it just can’t get the speed onto a round interface accurately.   But in this day and age of electronics, it doesn’t seem to make sense.   Surely, at least with electronic dashboard, the speed reading would be accurate?   Actually it isn’t.   Ever.   And it’s not a technical issue.

By law, automobiles are allowed to lie up to 10%.   Depending on the country and local variations that is.   In most cases they are fined if the car ever shows less than what it is doing.  Which is my point.   Governments force the auto industry to err on the side of showing that you are going faster than you are so that the police can arrest you if you go to fast.   And you won’t have an excuse.   You can’t claim that your speedometer was showing less.  It is an artificially created cushion; a widely accepted movement of reality as understood by our technology.

But since my GPS, or even simply timing my car on the motorway for a few miles shows me how wrong my speedometer is, why don’t they actually make an accurate one?   Theoretically, variations in tyre size could affect the accuracy speedometer.   Not much, unless you turn your sports car into a monster truck that is.   Couldn’t a car company actually make an accurate speedometer?   A couple of models (mainly hybrids) are pretty close already.   It isn’t a technical problem.    Cars are full of pixie dust.   Half the speedometer is dedicated to speeds you will never attain, often speeds the car can’t even reach.

Maybe one day governments will finally do away with this parody.   Law enforcement agents don’t book you for going 51mph on a 50mph road anyway.   Even if your speedometer was inaccurate to a small degree it wouldn’t matter.   It is still analogue so you would be hard pressed to be that steady a driver to be able to drive with one eye on the dashboard at exactly the speed you want anyway.   The whole idea when driving is that you take care to be safe and fit in with the current conditions on the road.   Speeding tickets should be concerned with a mismatch between driving behavior and driving conditions anyway.

So in this day of smartphones and accurate sensors, law enforcement agencies in both traffic and tax should adapt I think.   Depending on the country and the state of technology, this gap between what government says it is doing and what it clamps down on costs honest people time and money.   Transparency please.

 

Categories
Technology

Oscar Pistorious, Olympic cheating, mobile phone processors and the PC upgrade problem

When I first read that an athlete was using “blades” I thought they meant servers.  Blade servers are rack mountable computers.   For anyone involved in computing infrastructure part it is part of the everyday lingo.   You try to find the best combination of CPU power, SSD storage if you can and other nerdy things that will end up making a difference when you crunch or serve data.   So maybe this guy was analyzing his technique with the help of multiple servers like I have seen them do in swimming or other competitive sports at the highest levels.

Turns out he is using prosthetic limbs.   Which possibly give him an unfair advantage.   His lower leg is more than 2kg lighter than his competitors.  Others focus on aspects where he is slower due to these blades.   My question is really quite simple:

What if the company making Oscar Pistorious’ blades give him a new model which shaves a second of his time?

Suddenly he would be scoring olympic gold and possibly breaking records.   The same body, with just a small tweak in the prosthetics, would be able to produce much different results.   What if he and others decided to start at the high jump?   Suddenly we would all be discussing the technology in their blades rather than the athletes.   What if he started to run 1500m instead of 400 and he always started really slow but then steamed ahead in the second part of the race as his competitors (without blades) got tired in the lower part of their legs but his blades continued as always?

Progress in sports results follows a pretty linear path.   (With the exception of certain sports in Mexico due to the altitude.)  As the human body reaches its limits this tails off.   In technology we have Moore’s law but in fact, the perceived benefit to the user of a PC is tailing off.   For more than a decade Intel has been worrying about this, Microsoft has been trying to think of CPU intensive tasks we would really find useful enough to justify constant upgrades.   Mobile phones is where the action is, where you see adverts for “dual core” or “quad core” processors and actually care.   These pocket wonders playback HD video with ease, do voice recognition (with not so much ease) and multitask pretty effectively.   Some of us rely on them to actually get work done, so speed is crucial.   We are willing to pay for it.   When netbooks appeared, people groaned about the puny Atom processors.   Zoom forward, repackage the same thing as a tablet and nobody cares!  It is the job of the user interface to hide the technology.

It is clearly not a good long term strategy for the Olympics to allow athletes like Pistorious in the Olympic Games.   Unlike mobile devices which cross over boundaries, competitive sport is a show, a spectacle, an idea.   If my next mobile phone opens up documents twice as fast I will be happy.  If it responds as fast as a real secretary to my voice commands I will be ecstatic.   But if Pistorious’ next blades get him halving some Olympic record the whole planet will be annoyed.

 

Note:  Just a few weeks after I wrote this post, Oscar Pistorius affirmed my conclusions in the worse possible way.   After losing the 200m race in the Paralympics he complained that his opponent “cheated” by using different blades than he did!  If you see the race, the way the Brazilian caught up with him was indeed rather ridiculous;  which simply highlights the problem I was writing about.

 

Categories
Business Technology

Why I care that you don’t choose Macs

Much has been written about Apple’s amazing ability in marketing.   About Apple fan boys (and girls).   About Steve.   In terms of popular culture it is interesting and in terms of business it is amazing.   (Though not easy to emulate.)   But my question here is slightly different:   Do I have a right or an obligation even to fight Mac lovers anywhere I find them?

Let’s not get caught up in any technical questions.   Obviously many people don’t care if it is stupid or not to insist on a mouse with just one button, or whether Safari crumbles instantly in any security competition.   And millions of people are happy, even ecstatic, about their shiny Macs and happilly play with them for years.  (Well, sort of; they are still not much good if you want to play games.)   They pay a hefty price premium for it but that is no problem in terms of the global economy.

Current figures give the global Mac share at around 7% of annual PC sales worldwide.   It isn’t much and it hasn’t been growing much either.   For someone that has watched this debate for precisely 30 years now it seems almost stagnant.   Which would explain why we don’t do much about it.

You see technology is not about lonely geeks behind their monitors.   Technology is about platforms.   If I really find Skype great, it will be rendered useless if all my friends or associates don’t also install it.   If I like to be able to swipe my smartphone from the top down to see settings on Android I will be put back if nobody else does and Android 6 doesn’t include such a feature.   And if I like the versatility of Windows I will be devastated if we fall into what I consider the dark ages of Apple straight jacket technology.   It is in my interest, in a very simple almost biological analogy, to persuade as many people as possible to use technology like I use it.    I liked netbooks and it is probably the iPad’s success that killed off that whole project.   If enough people sustain Apple’s premium price, fat margin, business model, I lose out.

Conversely it is proof that Apple technology is in fact inferior that only 7% of customers choose it.   A technological product, throughout it’s lifetime is not just about looking cool or doing a few things well.   Customers figure it out and avoid Apple.   In Greece for example we have extremely bad Apple tech support simply because not enough people know the OS and have access to Apple peripherals.   They have a gut feeling that the machine will cost much more over time.

I don’t like iTunes and what it does to my computer’s resources.   I love multitasking and all Apple devices don’t.   I really don’t understand why we should put up with Quicktime anymore.   Flash works fine for a lot of stuff and I am much happier with a mobile device that supports them.   I think machines should have plenty I/O devices and these should be as common as possible.   I don’t like manufacturers that solder things together for no sensible reason other than their warranty policy.   I’m just not built to be an Apple fan boy.

And if Apple was ever to pass the 20% market share mark a lot of these things that I don’t like would become mainstream.   So I will fight you in Europe where you are weaker, I will fight you in the forums, I will fight you on Facebook, I will return your Tweets with links gallore.   I will never surrender.   I shall defend more open architectures whatever the cost may be.   I will fight with growing confidence and try to gather like minded warriors around me.    And if,  which I do not for a moment believe, the world or a large part of it were subjugated and Mac affected, then I will find a further land not yet Mac affected and guarded by the Open Source revolution , will carry on the struggle, until, in good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old…

 

BTW Here is a link to the great Churchill speech I parody at the end of this post – http://audio.theguardian.tv/sys-audio/Guardian/audio/2007/04/20/Churchill.mp3

Categories
Media analysis

Greece vs Greek: a wor(l)d of difference

Looking at the volume of web searches (Google data) for the two words, there a number of interesting things to note:

Global volume of web searches by word

The glaring conclusion is that “Hellas” (the proper name for the region) is hardly used.   Also “Greeks” are seldom requested as people.   There is a seasonality.   Searches drop off in July and August, possibly as many expatriot Greeks return to the homeland and stop searching for it online.  (A smaller, similar drop occurs in December.)   The most interesting thing to note about this (randomized) data from Google is that the two words do not actually always follow each other closely in their trends.   It starts making sense if we see

Cephallonia

what words are associated with each:

1.ancient greece
100
2.greek
95
3.athens
75
4.athens greece
75
5.greece map
65
6.greece weather
40
7.holidays
40
8.greece holidays
35
9.map of greece
30
10.greece travel
25
Meteora

Greece is about travel, Athens and holidays.   Whereas “Greek” is about yoghurt, salad and all things Greek like:

1.the greek
100
2.greek movies
40
3.greek mythology
35
4.mythology
35
5.greek gods
35
6.greek subs
30
7.ancient greek
30
8.greek god
30
9.greece
25
10.greek alphabet
20

“Greek” is used as a common tag for online activities for Greeks all over the world.  This becomes more evident when we see the common searches around “Greek” and focus only on the region of Greece:

“Greek-style” yogurts are similar to Greek strained yogurt, but may be thickened with thickening agents, or if made the traditional way, are based on domestic (rather than Greek) milk.

 

 

1.greek subs
100
2.movies
90
3.greek movies
85
4.greek subtitles
40
5.subtitles
40
6.greek torrent
15
7.greek tv
15
8.youtube
10
9.greek movie
10
10.greek video
10

 

In fact there are great regional variations to the search.   In the US for example “Greek” is closely associated to Greek ancient history and Greek products.  (And thanks to New Yorkers especially – obviously more concerned with the quality of their food!)

Web searches (US only)

Notice the difference in seasonality as the blue line (searches for “Greece”) is relatively stable.   In the UK, the picture is almost the exact opposite!