Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Thessaloniki. A summer view from a monastery
north of the city, surrounded by Byzantine walls.
This exquisite description of the fabulous Byzantine city was sent to me by a friend, a short story novelist from my hometown in Greece. Her name is Mary Toloudi - Sidiropoulou. In the current financial and social tsunami the Greek ruling class has forced the entire country into, words like Mary's feel like a fresh breath of hope... they sound like soft music in your ears. This short description of pictures of the Greek co-capital was recently published in the September edition of the 'Soul' magazine. Mary's word is extremely compact and it's got much hidden in it. Read it, and then read it again. Each time you'll discover new sights and sounds. There's far more to it than meets the eye. This is so typical of her. Typical of short story tellers. They have this rare ability to ignore irrelevant details, and only focus on the essential. I wish our politicians learned to talk like this too, instead of showering us with pretentious statements that usually mean very little, if anything at all.

Θεσσαλονίκη  Ιούλιος 2011

Είναι πόλεις παλιές με μυρωδιές και σημάδια. Αυτές που τα πρόσωπα των ανθρώπων κουβαλούν μνήμη και ιστορία. Πόλεις που η πίσσα της ασφάλτου ακυρώνεται από τον μισογκρεμισμένο πέτρινο τοίχο, την συκιά που ξεφυτρώνει πίσω από βυζαντινά τούβλα, σαν να είναι ο ιδρώτας και ο μόχθος του εργάτη που τα στοίβαξε.

Η ζέστη εκτός από σιωπές έχει και χρώμα. Όπως η σκόνη πατινάρει τα υφιστάμενα και τα κάνει κουρασμένα αλλά σεμνά, ενάντια στις προκλήσεις των καιρών. Έτσι και η ιουλιανή ζέστη.

Πόλη σαν κι αυτές, η Θεσσαλονίκη επιτρέπει το διαφορετικό, το διαχρονικό, το αέναο, το αμφίσημο να υπάρξουν. Είναι που μπερδεύτηκαν οι κανόνες με το πέρασμα του χρόνου και ακυρώθηκε η εφαρμογή τους. Νέοι παλιοί θεσμοί, νόμοι, ήθη και έθιμα καθορίζουν με αναδρομική ισχύ το παρόν. Επιτρέπουν το κομψό και το χυδαίο, το πληθωρικό και το λιτό, το αρχέγονο και το νέο, το αργό και το ταχύ, το φωτισμένο και το σκοτεινό, το γνωστό και το άγνωστο, το ορισμένο και αόριστο, το υπαρκτό και ανύπαρκτο, τη λάβα και το νερό, την μάχη  και την εκεχειρία, τον έρωτα και το μίσος να συνυπάρχουν και να κατρακυλούν τα λιθόστρωτα πασπαλισμένα κανέλα παλιού μάστορα για να ξεπλυθούν και να αλλάξουν ρόλους στον Θερμαϊκό.

Εκεί δίπλα κοιτάζοντας τον επιβλητικό πέτρινο όγκο του Λευκού Πύργου κινούνται νωχελικά ανέμελοι και ξέγνοιαστοι περιπατητές, ξαφνιασμένοι περιηγητές, ανικανοποίητοι θλιμμένοι εραστές, συντροφιά με τα κλάξον των ανυπόμονων οχημάτων, υπό το βλέμμα των θαμώνων των παρά θιν΄ αλός καφενείων. Παρατηρούν τους πεινασμένους γλάρους να ανασύρουν τους νέους ρόλους έχοντας την ψευδαίσθηση ότι πρόκειται περί τροφής. Παρατηρήτρια κι εγώ με ψευδαισθήσεις γλάρου. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The age of arrogance...

Would you trust the man pictured here to run your Ministry of Economic Affairs if your country was about to go chapter 11? Maybe yes... maybe not. I mean, ever seen Mugabe? Or Kadhafi? It's not the looks that show the quality of the content, folks. Hawking, poor sod, looks like dribbling shit, but he's got one of the best brainware God ever made, right? He could even father a few children... poor sod!

Yep, I know... I opened up this blogpost rather fiercely and with a lot of cynicism. There's a reason for that though. I went ballistic at the reading of this posting. You don't need to speak Greek to understand... I'll explain. The man in the picture is Evangellos Venizelos, the current minister of Finance in the Greek Cabinet; the one and only, who's been recently talking to the troika  to secure payment of €8B that the Greek State desperately needs by mid October. Yep, that's the man!

Well, the news goes that since Venizelos has recently assumed a second role, that of Vice PM (or was it Vice President of the Republic? Either way, it's a useless function), he took advantage of the 'system' and created a cabinet for that position too, on top of his own Economic Affairs ministerial cabinet. The structure will cost the Greek State the best part of a cool million euros. Say what?!?!? Yes sir, if the news is right, the man needs a budget of close to a million to feed about 20 more civil servant souls (his personal friends, I guess, or other PASOK party Nepos nieces and nephews; see in Greece for top paying Public Service jobs like that it's not what you know, it's who you know!). These folks are supposed to work at his new VP role office. Doing what? I mean, such ceremonial (Biden style) roles can only be lame duck stuff, right? 'Show-up' tasks. Talk to Ambassadors, going to receptions and events that add no value, pretending life is good! Doing what the top guy finds really boring and waste of time, right? Is Venizelos going to fulfill this Vice something role in practice? You better doubt it. With the stuff he's got on his plate to salvage Greece from the financial clusterfuck they found themselves entangled for so long, I doubt he'll even find the time to learn how to spell 'vice whatever' (or what the Greek equivalent is). So, why spend a million on something he doesn't really need?  In the meantime, he's busy barking (teaching) to the rest of the country about how 'we all have a duty to save Greece...bla...bla...bla...' How about you first, you shameless moron?

Like my ol' boss Geno T. used to say... (I paraphrase): '...open up a dictionary on the entry "arrogance" and you'll find E.Venizelos picture'. Sad, but so true...

With similar incidents by members of the ruling PASOK party hitting the press and the blogosphere every hour (or is it minute?), how do we ever expect anyone on this planet to trust anybody in Greece at all, ever? Like another friend of mine, the CEO of a Greek and very successful commercial company put it today : 'Only thing that could salvage Greece right now is a full blown dictatorship, until things get back in shape'. And I would add to that... 'Chinese style, where they actually execute by firing squad those ministers who abuse their positions'. Such a God sent regime would kick-off its mission by providing lethal injections to most members of the current cabinet of PM Papandreou. That would be a really good start, wouldn't it?

UPDATE: More news surfaced yesterday about our 'incorrigible' Evangelos Venizelos. This big shot of the ruling Papandreou cabinet, who's 'engineered' to become Greece's savior from the current mess, decided to use no less than a huge 'company' (taxpayer funded) leasing vehicle , 7 series BMW, at the price of a cool 750K euros. His fat belly needs protection from terrorist bullets, you see. Whereas his peer cabinet ministers speed around the streets of the capital inside less than 1600 cc vehicles, like it was recently decided, his Excellency EV treats himself to a lavish four wheeler that even Frau Merkel gets wet dreams thinking about. As in all 'good' democracies, we are all 'equal', you see, but some of us are more 'equal' than the rest. Like I said, the age of arrogance... Hang 'em bastards high, kids! If you know what's good for you.

Actually, I could get a full time assignment whistle-blowing the wrongdoings in this country. What am I saying'? I would probably need to do overtime too, to even scratch the surface...

...to be continued

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The name of the game...

Another panic attack in the markets due to the Greek debt crisis, triggered again by populist politicians and tabloid self serving media, another roller-coaster for the Euro and the Bourses worldwide. The downtrend has somehow subsided the last so many hours, as European 'leaders' Sarkozy and Merkel (where are puppets Van Rompuy and Baroso, by the way?) pledged support to the impoverished 'cradle of civilization' in the South East. How long is the windfall going to last this time? A few days? Weeks? Hours? Until another populist sneaky devil comes out with same old arguments we heard over and over. Been there done that - now what?

See, the problem is this. We've been flash-flooded for far too long by doomsday news about the troubled PIGS countries, and since recently about Italy too. The rest of us, the soit-disant Eurozone Europeans, yes, us 'prosperous' buggers in the Center and the North of the Continent, often hear that the wrongdoers should be expelled indeed from our 'prosperous' political, economic and monetary unions. We should rid them out of Eurozone, and maybe the EU too. 'They're good for nothing, anyways' we hear numerous populists claim. The media in Germany and the rest of Europe come out daily with insanities like these, and poor ignorant civilian masses (dump herds) consume their shameless barking with unseen appetite for sensation. In many of our Central European countries, nationals of the impoverished PIGS countries, who live as immigrants here, face frequent racist bullying in their daily lives more often that we'd like to admit. Comments are sometimes dressed in a pretentious blanket of political correctness, but more and more often they are quite explicit indeed. Calling myself a Greek nowadays in the company of Central Europeans will typically raise eyebrows as if I was a lazy and corrupt sonovabitch, living as a paria, at their cost. Despite the fact I paid my taxes in this country far above any other average Belgian family, and never took advantage of their unemployment benefits, because I happened to work every single day for 35 years and the weekends too. But, being Greek, 'I should burn in hell to pay for my sins', to paraphrase a Belgian populist MP as he put it 'politely' in a parliamentary debate about Belgium's position on the Greek sovereign debt just a few days ago.

However, regardless what populists and Media claim, there are some unquestionable facts:

Departure from the Eurozone. Theoretically plausible (impossible is nothing) but practically unrealistic. No explicit EU legislation was ever foreseen to deal with departing members. This was done in order to avoid the political, fiscal, economic and social fallout such an event would lead to. Considering such implications, the 'wise' founders of the European Monetary Union have therefore never provided any departure clauses for union members in their legislation. To make things even harder, to amend existing laws for making it possible fo members to quit the Union, would require national referenda in some countries, and all members would then be required to agree unanimously on the separation, even those 'condemned to expulsion'. Kinda ridiculous in terms of necessary burden on each and every member of the Union in order to reach expulsion legally...

But even if one theoretically assumed that departure from the Eurozone became legally plausible, the economic fall-out for the departing country in question and the rest of the Eurozone would be disastrous. It has been recently modeled by UBS investment strategists that if Germany departed from the Eurozone would cost them between 6 and 8 thousand euros per person resident in Germany during the first year alone. And between 3.5 and 4.5 thousand euros for quite a few years after that. A weak country departing would have to bear the cost of up to 11.5 thousand euro the first year per resident. One could certainly expect quite a bit of social unrest as result of this, even in member countries that seem fine otherwise, far and away from where the tsunami's came ashore. Should Greece be led to bankruptcy or return to, say, the drachma, a large number of European banks owning directly or indirectly Greek sovereign debt would tremble in their foundations and quite a few of them would collapse. Recapitalization in huge amounts would be necessary. Governments would intervene again with their taxpayer billions, and guarantee the risk of default in order to prevent banks from being ran by their panicing customers. If banks defaulted then many of their lenders would fall equally into bankruptcy in the process... House of cards, sort of thing. It doesn't take long that the whole banking system collapses to its knees. Bank-runs by panicking herds of civilians trying to salvage what they could, accompanied by opportunistic riots, like we saw them in London recently, are certain events of this doomsday scenario. By the way, I am not describing Greece in here. Most Greeks have seen so much of this Armageddon landscape in the last couple years, with lives lost and huge property damages that they eventually got used to it. In fact they'll be taking 'sweet revenge' on the rest of us Europeans who will suddenly find out what it meant to experience factual national bankruptcy like them Greeks. Believe me. I shit you not! This scenario is a cancerous aggressive tumor that is hugely metastatic. Unfortunately the Media shamelessly and irresponsibly continue to steer national masses, and choose to ignore these facts, or simply are too thick to understand them. Either way, they behave as criminally stupid and immensely shortsighted. Same is true for all those populist politicians who only care for their ego and re-election.

I don't know much about the situation in Portugal, Spain, and Ireland, but I think I understand a bit better the Greek issues. I am one of them you see. Immigrant in Belgium but still a Greek. I don't pretend to know the solution, any solution whatsoever. I feel quite strongly about who I think causes the problems though. Here's my opinion.

National and EU International Political Leaders. In fact, this is a serious European problem for many years. We lack descent leadership in this Continent. All what politicians care about is their re-election for as long as it goes, and to make sure that their offsprings continue the trick as well. And they ring-fence their turf with barbed wire, for sure. Allowing no outsiders inside their terrains. Just like the few blue-blooded families who provided kings and royals to the continent the last few hundred years. And created a whole generation of degenerate hemophiliacs by marrying inside the family, in order to protect their assets. In Belgium far too many of the current  'leading' politicians had their parents in similar leadership positions as well, in the previous generation obviously. Michel, Tobback, De Croo, Vandenbossche, De Clerck, Anciaux... Any different from other countries? Hell no! How about the Bushes and the Kennedy's in the US? They call them 'dynasties', like in the times of the Roman and Chinese empires. In any case, we must bitterly admit: The EU is a union without leaders. Neither cojones nor guts anywhere in sight. Pretentious political correctness, bending the rules to their benefit, all shades of gray in corruption, spineless compromises, and making as if the strip naked king dresses in his most beautiful clothes.

The Media. These are the dearly paid whores of our society, the scum of the earth. Reporters of any sort. TV, Radio or printed/online content providers. Recent revelations about few tabloids in the UK and their criminal and deeply unethical ways are a small sample of what rules their intents and work. How far would they go and how much filth would they not write just to fill another page, and make a day's miserable wages. Especially Editors-in-Chief are the worst. Most carry innocent blood in their hands. And they are either too stupid or too evil to care! Shameless sobs!

Market speculators. It takes blood sweat and tears for the financial markets to climb at all. It takes the economy and GDPs to blossom and industrial activity to demo profitable growth for success. It takes a hell lotta work. Going up the mountain needs hard labor. Gravity pulls you down. You sweat and stop to breath. You curse and continue to crawl uphill like a turtle. One step at the time. Once in the top, lose your balance and there you go in the blink of an eye downhill to bounce like a dead cat deep down the abysmal ravine. Yes sir, going downhill is easy. Requires no effort. Gravity takes care of it. Believe it or not, it's the same in the financial markets for sure. Risk taking speculators make shedloads of cash on the way down. Short-selling pays well. Especially naked short-sells. Become a millionaire by selling things you don't own. And use your friends in the rumor mills, the media, to spread the panic. Like predators with herds in the savannas. Humans seem to lose their logic when panic spreads. Run for the lives. Their survival instinct makes them ignore everybody but themselves. Fear of death turns a parent against his/her own sibling. Better believe it. That's what speculators are looking for. And today, using quant strategies and computer trading in the millions of transactions in micro-secs, they manage to push the markets even deeper, even faster. Just to make another ten million that they couldn't possibly consume in their lifetime anyway. Just for kicks. Often leading to annual comps of several billion dollars for quite a few among them Wall Street hedge fund managers.

There's a well known US joke that goes like this. Q: What do you call a hundred lawyers chained at the bottom of the ocean? A: A good start. Well, MNSHO is that if you replaced 'hundred lawyers' with 'ten thousand Politicians, Media reps and Market Speculators' you got the EU version of the joke. Who knows, maybe the joke turns into a real solution eventually. If we could only morph herds into predators... Dream on baby! Dream on!

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Merits of uniqueness

For a long time many industries supplied market solutions adapted to customers’s particular needs. The automobile industry is one of the most widespread examples. Personal computers is another. This product re-featuring to end-user specifications is known as mass customization. It is based on a number of discrete product functions and features required by buyers during the sales process. Manufacturing production lines and their respective automated planning and control systems have been designed to provide such solutions in many product offerings around the world. The times of Ford’s T-model for which you could “choose any color for your car as long as it was black”, are gone for good. 
However, product personalization goes one significant step beyond mass customization. Here, subsequent production lines will need to support the manufacturing of products personalized to end user specifications in all their aspects. That is to say, products only made for and uniquely usable by their individual buyers. Such are exclusively ‘personal’ items. In the ophthalmics industry this type of personalization is still very rare. Until recently, similar products were only feasible in small production volumes, and were (are) mainly manufactured by craftsmen using tools and manual labor.  There are a few known initiatives, where spectacle frames are ‘manually’ personalized to the bearer’s face morphology. However, no production lines are yet known, whereby fully personalized spectacles (frames, lens geometry and treatments) are created with minimal human intervention, and in larger, economically viable, and commercially attractive output production volumes. Notwithstanding, automated production of personalized spectacles in potentially more significant volumes appears quite feasible today, following the work done in the EC funded project Made4U, in which we developed the necessary technologies and systems in support of this objective. 
But one should still raise the question: Why should personalization of spectacles be of any interest to end users, and what are the selling arguments about the added value these new niche and probably pricey products might offer? In the following we shall answer these questions based on our own project experiences to-date.
Download my remaining article here

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Class of '71

I graduated high school in June 1971. 40 years later my class assembled back again in a reunion for two days. Same school same classroom but loads of snow on most people's hair. Some looked stunning, some great and some quite pleased with their lives. Even our teachers looked one of a kind, despite the many years resting on their shoulders. Unfortunately I missed the event (such an ass I am), but I had the pleasure to use photographs one of us shot during the two days, and I thus created a YouTube slideshow. I also posted all the photographs in my Flicker account. Those of you who have known these people enjoy their current looks and feels.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Impossible is nothing

When you are that close to give up for good, and become unequivocally and utterly hopeless in the search of a plausible solution to the abysmal problems facing Greece these days, there comes something like this and turns your world upside down. You suddenly feel that you see a trace of light, just a few promising rays of hope, at the end of the tunnel. A great friend of mine with deep knowledge of the Greek situation from within, one I actually respect most among my compatriots for her judgement, character and work ethics, told me this story; I initially thought she was kidding, but then I found out for myself by surfing to the sites she pointed me to.

Google Earth view of Anavra
The man on the YT clip is Dimitris Tsoukalas, and he is a living proof that there is indeed one (at least) exception to the universally accepted axiom that in Modern Greece there is a severe lack of political leadership, and an abundance in corruption and incompetence. Tsoukalas is the 'koinotarxis', the elected community chief of a little mountain village, Anavra, in the Greek prefecture of Magnesia a few hundred km north of Athens. Located in a mountainous area at 1000 meters elevation above sea level, Anavra was a place falling apart only twenty years ago. Inhabited by a few hundred people, most of them animal farmers with their houses built next to their stables, animals and people chaotically intermingled all over the village. They had mostly sheep and goats, with only a small cattle. Stats talk of 20 thousand sheep and only a thousand cows back in 1980. Thirty years later that relationship reversed; sheep and goats halved, where cattle grew fivefold. There were hardly any paved streets in the village, common facilities or med care, and the elementary school was one class for all pupil ages. Young people were leaving in flocks to find their 'fortune' elsewhere. Winters were cold and snow would cut off the community from the rest of the civilized world for many days. This was the last place on earth you'd expect people to come to and build their life of prosperity. The village was on a course to extinction. A few more generations and the entire community would simply cease to exist, like so many hundreds of other communities of similar fortunes in mountainous and rural Greece. (Less than a year ago I visited such a place, Koila, in the Prefecture of Evros in the North-East of the country, where the only useful activity you could find today are a few young German delinquents, who are being 'reformed' before sent back home, to their communities, after serving time in that remote and abandoned North Greek forrest. Oh, yes, there were two retired couples there too, resting and counting their days to heavens, enjoying the merits of a simple and stressless life.)

In a TEDxAcademy hosted presentation shown in the clip above, Mr. Tsoukalas himself explains the story of his work. Needless to say, he was singlehandedly able to transform his community in less than 20 years in something that this achievement alone would make him a highly probable Nobel Peace Prize laureate, very much like Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi banker who, years ago, came up with that hugely successful micro-loan concept.

In a nutshell, Mr. Tsoukalas moved the animals out of the village in the neighboring mountains and built with the support of different development programs, funded nationally and/or by the EU, a series of modernly equipped stables, where animals grow by means of bio-farming methods and techniques (hormones free, etc). He eventually managed to create a community, where in terms of household income they've reached an astonishing average of 70K euros annually (close to 100K USD). With a financially prosperous community, a visibly happy population and continuous funding from different sources, who obviously saw the effectiveness of their funding, Mr. Tsoukalas actually further managed to transform the village to unimaginable extent, by adding all sorts of facilities and buildings, streets, common community areas for sports and cultural activities, large theater facilities with modern projection equipment, and even a two stories parking building. He invited doctors and teachers to work in the village, paid them almost twice they earned elsewhere, and offered them free accommodation. He solved all the community's energy problems by creating a windmill renewable energy park (with more parks under construction) that provide electrical power to every village citizen for free. For heating, he created a central processing oven that burns biomass (in abundance because of the cattle available) and that is enough to provide hot water to all households for heating purposes. It's a common sight these days seeing animal farmers carrying, instead of their traditional glitsa and comboloi, a laptop for surfing the net at high speed broadband connections. And there's much more. Needless to say, the village's population has doubled ever since. In itself, 'village growth in Greece' universally being accepted as an oxymoron. Unbelievable feat and achievement even by First World standards. And, yes, all this is done in... Greece! True story.

The things that shook me though in his story is his personal philosophy about tackling community problems and delivering results. Mind you, his approach is not just good enough for civil servants managing smaller or larger communities, rural or urban, but for every commercial company I have known, and every government in the four corners of the planet. The man is plain and simple an extraordinary role model to clone, inside and outside of Greece.

His thoughts: There is no secret to my success, he claims. Just hard work and integrity.

On the question of integrity he said that three things are really important:

a. Don't accept kickbacks; make the best decision for the community and not for your personal income.
b. Don't act only thinking about your personal progress in your next career steps. It's not about you, but it's about the community.
c. Do NOT affiliate yourself to any one single political fraction, left or right. Anywhere political parties put their tails in, effectiveness suffers.

In fact, Mr. Tsoukalas admits that the only way to rebuild successfully rural communities, and not just them, but the entire country as well, is through hard work, great character, integrity and absence of selfishness and of seeking personal gains. You got to work for the community and not for yourself. Eventually you will be successful too, because you'll stand on the shoulders of giants and "look further than the rest", like Isaac Newton admitted.

If you come to think of it, Tsoukalas applies in practice what Plato wrote about the ruling class in his Utopia imaginary state. Problem is, the Ancients knew all that, and described it for us, modern Greeks, to read and abide by in order to achieve and enjoy a prosperous life. And they did that 2.5 thousand years ago. However, the national culture, educational systems and political leadership that dominated the stage in Modern Greece for many years has led to a situation where people like Tsoukalas are practically impossible to find. Therefore, the country has currently found itself under severe financial, social and political strain, and it will unfortunately take much more time of further aggravation before it gets better. If there's any hope at all, it should be found among the desperate and apolitical youth. Political parties have shown very little competence in sorting out the country's problems, and have been severely discredited by scandals of corruption and lack of character among their 'leaders'. In the meantime, the party and its PM managing the country today should better engage Tsoukalas himself in its cabinet. In a leading position. He could then start doing something useful for everyone, instead of just trying hopelessly to please Toika's irresponsible and unreasonable requirements that could achieve nothing really other than push the entire country even faster down the drain.

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Thursday, September 1, 2011


If you Googled ‘Face shape spectacles’ or similar search terms, you’d get plenty of URL references pointing to a variety of optician homepages that provide free advice for best aesthetic effects upon their customers wearing designs of their frames. To classify human face morphology most (beauty) experts gravitate towards seven dominant face shapes: oval, square, round, oblong (aka rectangle), diamond, heart (aka inverted triangle), and triangle. Tipheret proposed objective criteria to efficiently perform this classification. However, the face shapes of many real persons often fall between discreet classes, and it is quite a challenge for a computerized system to accurately predict without human intervention which shape class a given face belongs to. Nevertheless, IBV has researched the possibility to automatically identify face shapes from end-user portrait images, based on the automatic positioning of critical reference points, by measuring relevant distances among those points, and finally applying purpose-made prediction algorithms (Discriminant Analysis and Fuzzy inference - associative matrices-  techniques were used to this end). Results of this work and conclusions thus far are also presented in this article. The effort was guided by the goal to create a sales environment for the selection and purchase of pairs of spectacles, personalized to end-users’s head and face characteristics for optimum comfort and aesthetic result (persona).

This is an extract of an article I wrote about automatic frame selection. Link to the original post and download the remaining article, in support of our project.