Sunday, March 30, 2008

A day in London

Since I returned from Cyprus on Saturday evening, I had decided to spend one day in London, to explore the city a bit more than it was possible during my short earlier visits. At night, Tower Bridge and the City Hall look quite spectacular.

Next day, a gorgeous weather allows a stroll through the city. Walking from Victoria Embankment to the London Eye. I take a ride on the big wheel, with an excellent view over the city. Walking further along Westminster, passing Buckingham Palace, through Hyde Park and ending up at the lively Speakers Corner. Time to go back to the subway to catch the evening train to Leeds.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Departure - and Return to UK

I sleep long in the morning, to get a rest. Have breakfast at 9:30. Then a brief walk along the Ledra, to see if the crossing from the Greek south into the Turkish north has already opened. No, it has not. Behind the fence screen there are workers busy with demining and fixing the crumbling house walls. Activity, but no opening yet. In the newspaper I read that the crossing will open in the next week. I also read that this crossing has been closed since 1963... that is strange. I thought the war was in 1974, when Turkey annexed the northern part of Cyprus. What was in 1963? Nobody in the newspaper mentions that... seems that everyone here knows it anyway, and does not really want to bring it up. I will have to do some search on this. It seems that the island had some divisions already before the invasion, and that the tensions are really within Cyprus and not necessarily a consequence of the external invasion by Turkey (some info on this is on Wikipedia. But this seems not really a politically correct attitude – all the officials from the Greek side (tour guides, representatives) stress how bad and savage the Ottomans were, and how much Cyprus is Greek orientated. Well, it is not me to judge – but there seems to be something artificially inflated in those assertions... I had noticed this already during my last visit here 18 months ago, when one of the speakers constantly mentioned how important human rights were, but only in the narrow context of the Cypriote conflict.

There is a severe water shortage in Cyprus, due to draught and mismanagement. Starting yesterday (Friday), water was rationed: In Larnaca and Limassol water is supplied only during a few times of the day. This includes hotels too, only the airport and hospitals are excluded. Paphos and Nicosia are currently spared, but the rationing is looming in the next few weeks. I asked at the hotel info desk, and they assured me that they have their own tank and could bridge those outage times. Would be quite annoying if one could not take a shower, or not flush the toilets for a whole day... I am beginning to reconsider my plan to come to Cyprus again this summer...

The taxi for my pickup arrives at the hotel 10 minutes before the scheduled time, at 11:30. This time there is a lot of space – I am alone in the Mercedes. Arrive at the Airport at 12:00. Long line at the check-in for Monarch Airlines, 1/2 hour waiting. Long gone are the good times of "Platinum Elite Priority check-in" at Northwest airlines... I still have the labels dangling from my luggage. The plane takes off in time, back on the way to London Gatwick.

Friday, March 28, 2008

CIRCLE Conference - 2nd day

My talk is at 9:00. There are about 9 attendees, the rest must be in the other two parallel sessions. I meet another colleague from Leeds Met: she is working on technology-enhanced learning and is glad that a few more technology-oriented people attend this conference. We agree to have a meeting next week at Leeds Met, to discuss some joint projects. My talk goes well, the introduction to Web 2.0 is positively received. There are a few more talks this morning which deal with the application of technology in various areas of eGovernment, Market Research, Marketing, etc.

A few participants have to leave already, but I stay for the whole duration into the afternoon. It is a great opportunity to learn about another field and to make contacts across disciplines.

At this conference, there were overall 70 papers, and 120 participants, as we learn at the concluding session. Next year, CIRCLE will be in Dornbirn, Vorarlberg. It seems that the topics of this conference are quite relevant to some of the PhD students from the Danube-University Krems – I will inform them about this event; maybe a few could publish papers then.

In the evening, there is another joint event: the bus drives to the coastal city of Larnaca. We stop at the beach promenade with its palm trees and walk to the St. Lazarus Church, where the grave of St. Lazarus (died 90 A.D.) had been found in the 9th century. I did not ask how they were so sure it was really Lazarus – afterall, the Carbon-dating method had not yet been fully developed in the 9th century.

There is a prayer service in this Creek-Orthodox church, as our group slowly intrudes there, to step down into the crypt with the empty sacrophaguses.

We continue to the art cafe "1900" for a drink.

Then further on with the bus a short distance to the fish restaurant "Monte Carlo" where a generous fish meze is being served. Back at the hotel around midnight.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

CIRCLE Conference - 1st day

The conference location is at the University of Nicosia, the former "Intercollege". The campus is about 5 km away from the city centre, and a bus transfer has been provided by the conference organisation. Unfortunately, only one bus goes in the morning to the conference and back in the evening. Since the public transportation in Nicosia appears to consist only of taxis (I have not seen a bus with line numbers on it yet), we would have to share a ride from the hotel to the conference location. At this first morning, the bus has been scheduled to depart before the breakfast is served – so most of us in the Centrum Hotel decided to skip the bus and leave after breakfast, sharing taxis – still enough time to arrive there before the first session starts.

The topic of the CIRCLE conference is "Consumer Behavior and Retailing Research". This is a bit off my own research interest, but I can contribute with a technology perspective: my talk on Friday will be about "Marketing in Web 2.0". The conference is organised in 3 parallel tracks, so it is not possible to attend all talks. The quality of the presentations varies from interesting student proposals to complete research studies.

In the evening, a tour is given through Nicosia. Well, we cover only a small part of the town: an area where "buildings have been reconstructed in the style of the 19th century". Unfortunately we no not see any of the really remarkable buildings, but we get a detailed explanation of the parking lots and the soccer/football places around the old city wall. We enter a bistro for a drink, then the bus continues to a village south of Nicosia, for an evening Meze with lots of meat and wine. A "show" is performed: dancers pretending to be part of the customers, begin to dance to the music and invite the guest to join in. It is possible that somewhere on Flickr/YouTube some pictures of me might appear...

After returning to the hotel around midnight, it is time to think about my presentation the next day: well, I just have to add to my existing set of slides (two: title page with my name, and an empty conclusions slide) a few more. Am done after midnight at 1:30.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Conference Inauguration

At the University of Nicosia, the former Intercollege, the conference is opened by the conference chair Prof. Ruediger Kaufmann from U. Nicosia. The Cyprus Finance Minister gives a speech, followed by a very inspiring keynote given by Prof. Leo Paul Dana (New Zealand). The official program concludes with a Cypriot dance group performance. The evening concludes with a wine tasting and a few finger food snack items. Unfortunately there is no Wifi at the conference site, so I can access my email only later in the evening back in the hotel.

PhD Seminar

The main reason why Claudio has invited me to this conference was the participation in the newly launched European PhD supervision program. In the afternoon a seminar is held for those PhD students. I learn that this collaboration with Austrian Universities actually pre-dates the collaboration with Krems DUK!

In Nicosia

There were no conference events scheduled for the morning, but due to the time difference of 2 hours between UK and Cyprus, I only had a relatively short sleep. After the breakfast I decided to use the time to walk around a bit. Since the hotel is nicely located in the centre, I walked along the streets, taking a few pictures in the bright sunshine. The centre seems not to have many preserved buildings; there are many shops, a few derelict buildings with scars from the war (1974). Then a few freshly renovated sites, proudly displaying plaques about the European Funding which made the renovation possible. Several stores with handy-work shops: a chair maker, shoe repair, classic car repair.

At the north end of Ledra, one of the main streets in the centre, one soldier guards the closed crossing into the Turkish occupied part. In one of the houses here, in each window journalists with picture and film cameras point across the border, filming something of relevance. As I learn later from the newspaper, the UN has now got permission to clear the area there, removing mines and unexploded ammunition, for opening this crossing. Last time I had been here 1 1/2 years ago, it looked different: there had been a bridge with stairs, leading along the street towards north, and a sign had told about the crossing to be opened soon. Now the bridge is gone, and just a mobile non-transparent fence closes the street. In a few days the crossing will be opened – maybe I can witness it.

MMS to email?

Stupid problem: Yesterday I sent an MMS to this blog. I had hoped that this would be treated like a normal email, with a picture as an attachment - then it would appear as a regular blog entry. But what happened instead: the MMS is converted by O2 into a message stored on their own web server - and accessible only through their own web interface. This meant that also my own entry here just links to that web site, instead of appearing "normally". And right now, the "service is not available".

This really sucks. I will have to complain with O2. This is not the right way to deal with MMS. I also noticed that when I send a MMS to another phone, the same thing happens: the recepient only gets a link to their web page. This is not how MMS were intended to work...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Arrival on Cyprus

The tour operator Tamasos was supposed to pick me up and drive me to the hotel in Nicosia, about 45 km away from the airport. Yes, there was a guy waving a sign CIRCLE, I went to him, and he told me there would be 4 more. Ok, I would wait outside. Went through the door into the warm evening air. What a contrast to icy Leeds! In the morning there was still almost frost in Leeds, and now here in Larnaca it was around 17 C. I decided to go back into the building, to get something to drink for later. Who knows if I would be able to find something at that late hour in Nicosia. When I came out again, I kept waiting for the guy from Tamassos. But he did not come... so I got worried. Called the agency, they gave me his mobile number, then I called him. Yes, he was still here, had not yet left. As we were talking and giving each other our position where we were, I saw him walking with his mobile... good, I had not missed him.

5 more people arrived: my colleague Claudio from Leeds Met plus two other Leeds Met academics, plus two acquaintances of Claudio. Together, with the luggage, we were supposed to fit into one car. No, not a van: a regular Mercedes taxi. Ok, it was one of those Limosine taxis, with stretched body. A Mercedes 220D or something, but from the 70s (the old /8). The 6 of us were squeezed onto the 2 back benches, the trunk with the suitcases almost did not close. But it worked out ok, and we arrived well in Nicosia.

I decided to walk a bit outside near the hotel. Local time 23:30. There were still a few kiosks open, so I had worried for nothing. One stand in the street offered warm olive bread – a good midnight snack.

The Wifi in the room was weak, I was not able to connect to the internet.

Travel to Nicosia

Leeds Train Station

I had tried to book a flight departing from Manchester, but it seemed to me relatively expensive with Cyprus Airways. So I had decided to take the inconvenience and travel by train to London, leaving from there with Monarch Airlines. In order to get there I had to take a train. Leaving from Leeds at 8:28, I took an East Midlands Line train with destination "St. Pancras", the train station just next to Kings Cross. The usual connection from Leeds to London would be to go to Kings Cross. The train line goes more towards the East, and is shorter: the ride can be 2:10 hours, and the line is electrified. But it does not seem to have a suitable connection to Luton airport, which is north of London. And so I ended up travelling with a train on the longer route, through Sheffield and Derby to Bedford, then changing into a commuter train which stops near Luton airport.

The East Midlands train made a more run-down impression than the National Express East Coast train which I had just taken last week to London. That one even had free Wifi for everyone – and the 2 1/2 hours went by quite fast. But the East Midlands train had a more conventional approach. Diesel-driven, the line is not electrified. Sometimes 4 parallel tracks, remnants of past UK railway glory. It took almost 3 hours to arrive in Bedford. Then another 20 min, a shuttle bus, and then I was ready to check in at Luton airport.

I had not done an internet check-in – I had already my seat assignment and did not want to bother. But that was a mistake: the line for checking in took more than 30 minutes, while the line for internet check-in was almost empty.

Monarch Airways has a low base price, but charges for everything: checking in a suitcase costs 4 pound, and a seat reservation for a seat with more leg room costs again 4 pound. But it was worth: at least my knees did not bump into the front seat. Unfortunately, the increased leg room did nothing to increase the arm room as well – still 3 seats close to each other, and the usual elbow fight with the neighbor for the arm rest could not be avoided.

How I miss those free first class upgrades I enjoyed in the past years in the US when flying Northwest Airlines! Seat 1A, nice location right behind the cockpit. The free gourmet meal, beer, wine, champagne. And having the seat leaning back, the legs wide stretched, the neighbor far away. It was always nice to look out of the window during the late-evening descend into the LA basin, with its sea of lights. Yeah, that was great. Now I have to shall out a few pounds for those sandwiches, and there is no more any free beverage!

But the flight was without any incidents, we landed ahead of time in Larnaca airport around 21:00.


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Thursday, March 20, 2008

First impressions: GPS on mobile phone

In the past days I experimented a bit with the XDA Stellar and its built-in GPS.

First I installed Free 3DTracking. This software runs on the PDA, then sends GPS data in pre-defined intervals to a server. It seems to work fine - simple interface on the PDA. Only disadvantage: after each start it searches for a GPS, and hereby switches on BlueTooth, even if the GPS sits on a fixed port which is entered into the configuration.

I then installed GpsGate on the PDA. This is a more complex solution, providing a multiplexer for the GPS data and sending them to a series of outputs. Not sure if this is very efficient, as the PDA already has a kind of "virtual COM port" and can manage sharing the GPS through the Windows Mobile 6 OS. But it works fine. One can add as an output the upload to the GpsGate web server. The output looks good, using Google Maps as a background. Advantage over 3dTracking: the latter one has a fixed smaller window for the map, whereas GpsGate shows a resizable map area, which can cover a larger area. The interesting thing is that GpsGate also can send the data locally to a port into a Javascript browser. This allows that a local web site can be used to obtain GPS data. Somehow I did not get this to work yet; it works with simulator data, but I was not able to show the GPS coordinates from the live tracking.

Finally I installed Google Maps for Mobile. This is phantastic: the app just uses the GPS data and displays a Google map in the background, with a small icon for the own position. But naturally, one would need a unlimited internet plan for this, as the continous download of maps requires significant bandwidth.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

GCCR08 Conference Dinner

The GCCR08 dinner was very nice!

In London at conference/workshop: GCCR 2008

A while ago, my colleague Prof. Colin Pattinson had alerted me to a workshop in London: about a workshop about a "Grand Challenge for Computing Research" with the topic Bringing the history to life for the citizen, organised by Prof. David Arnold from U. Brighton.

So today I got up early in the morning (4:45), then took the 6:05 train to London Kings Cross. Arrived at 8:30 on time. In the train there was free WiFi - for everyone, not just for 1st class! Great - I immediately tried out the GPS on my new mobile phone and used GpsGate to upload the data to a server. Worked excellent: satellites to mobile, mobile to WiFi, WiFi to server, server, back to WiFi, to my laptop computer where my position was then shown on a map. Works really great! I will setup our own CT server soon to have this functionality.

At the workshop there were only 7 participants. I gave a 15 min overview about Colin's and my view of this challenge. Very interesting - I enjoyed this topic and look forward to contribute something to it!

From 17:45-19:30 the main GCCR08 began with a series of short intros about 8 of the Grand Challenges. Very interesting - but I had been up since very early in the morning, and had to fight my head from falling to the sides.

Afterwards there was a posh dinner. The venue for this event was the Royal Society a few blocks away from the venue of the workshop at the British Computing Society (BCS).

Friday, March 14, 2008

At Rugby Game

On Friday evening, Leeds Met Pro-Vice-Chancellor Sally Brown had invited me to attend a Rugby game with the Leeds Rhinos. She had reserved a table at the Headingley Stadium for a nice dinner, for a few of Leeds Met staff and invited guests. This evening the guests were from Leeds Met cultural partnerships.

A very nice dinner, interesting conversations. And then the first ever rugby game that I attended: the unbeatable Leeds Rhinos against the Harlequins. Naturally, Leeds Rhinos won 48:0. Is an interesting game. Appears to be quite complex, with some degree of violence. But the audience is very family-oriented: there are parents with their kids, and the fans behave very orderly - no beating.

Google Problems?

Since yesterday, I experience the following problem with Google searches: almost every 2nd search leads to a page where Google displays something like this: "your search looks like spam"... and I have to enter a word that appears in a graphic. Not sure what is so spammy about my Google search requests... they are just standard searches as usual.

Anyone else had experienced this recently?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A new toy: XDA Stellar

Yesterday, Wednesday, I got a new toy: a mobile phone with built-in GPS - the XDA Stellar. It replaces the XDA Exec which I had now for more than 2 years.

Here is the story (well, not really a story...): After my move to the UK, I had tried for several weeks to get a mobile phone contract, but one has to live here for at least 3 years, to get banking references etc. What a nightmare that was, until I finally was able to convince the store clerk that I would be able to pay for a monthly contract. I could write a long story about the O2 phone hotline, when first my order had been accepted, then had been cancelled after a credit check... and nobody was there to take any responsibility... but that story os long over, and I had gotten my XDA Exec in January 2006. Very nice device, phone with a keyboard. I could not write SMS on those "normal" number-only keyboards - takes me way too long. But the Exec had a few flaws: a tiny memory of 128 MB. That was really not sufficient, and I had constantly to delete files and to close applications, as the memory was getting full, and then the memory would actually overflow. I noticed that when the "free memory" indicated a negative number! A sure sign of this was when the display suddenly became fully bright, even when on battery. And then I always knew that it was time to reset the Windows Mobile 5 device.

But overall the phone was great, and I kept it after the 18 month contract ran out (switched then of course to a cheaper contract).

A few days ago I saw the XDA Stellar: same capability, with keyboard, slightly more memory - and a built-in GPS! So I went, ordered it, and yesterday I got it.

Here a few first impressions:
- the device is smaller and lighter than the Exec - very nice. Has fast network - so I upgraded to unlimited internet. I would recommend this, because one can quickly exceed the standard allowance of 1MB per month.
- the keyboard is a bit smaller, keys are standard QUERTY, but there are no numbers on top. Still is fine with me.
- there is no software for the GPS included. This is a pity - the Copilot 7 is only included in the XDA Orbit 2, but not with the Stellar. So initially I did not have any opportunity to test if the GPS is actually there... I downloaded and installed the 3dTracking software, and when I tried it out today, it actually worked ok. But the documentation gives no clue what settings should be used, and how to interface the GPS.
- the built-in camera is quite good. BUT: it does no automatic Geo-tagging!!!! what is the point of having GPS and camera in one device, when they do not even talk to each other????

It seems that there is still some work to do for the developers at HTC. This is a nice device, but it surely needs development and integration to be really useful.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Domain Problems

A few years ago, I had bought two domain names: for my music, and for myself. While living in the US, I had taken care of renewing the domain registration regularly, and I also did it once I had moved to the UK. But I did no maintenance of those sites, they just kept there remaining stale on the web, without new info... and I was not really interested in keeping them up to date, as this blog became my "main web site".

Last summer I checked just for fun the domain, just to notice that there was an announcement that this domain is no longer available. I checked with the domain registrar, and indeed it had expired a few months earlier. My email address had been not valid anymore, that is why I did not get the notice about the expiry. I updated the email address, and when I checked a few days later, the domain seemed to work again - guiding to my own site, but with advertisement around it. When I wanted to renew the domain, I realised that someone new owned it: I assumed that they would want to sell it, because a hotel busines could have no use for the domain There was mention of making an offer for the domain name, but I did not bother... so I buried the domain name without further ado.

The other domain worked at that time. Again, I was too lazy to check when it would expire...

As a few days ago I was curious what my old website was doing, I found that the domain too had been gone: instead there was now advertisement for various Behringer equipment, with a top line stating "this domain is for sale". I requested an offer: $380 was the response email which I received a day later. A regular .com domain registration costs just $14 per year... so this is definitely a rip-off.

Ok, I will not pursue this any further. But just a warning to anyone who has domain names and wants to keep them: check your renewal dates! There are crooks out there who are actually paying for those domains, even if they do not have an immediate use for them - just ro resell them at a higher price.

Well, these two buyers of my former domain names may keep them and spend the money on them, if they feel that someone wants to buy those names. I guess the virtualphilharmonic name has actually some value, and the first buyer was actually nice enough to link back to my site, as (s)he must have realised that my site would actually bring some traffic to their ads.

another blog: on O2

Another experiment with blogging: on the weekend I heard about the new O2 blogging system: "Blueblog". Well, it did not look so new anymore, as I noticed that it must have been around since November 2007. But the interesting thing: one can blog here, just by sending SMS, but they are "free". At least from within the UK. So these txts are just sent to an internal O2 mobile number, they do not count towards the monthly txt allocation, and they do not cost anything.

The only thing: this blog does not very professional...
Here is my "Blueblog", just with some entries to demonstrate. Some entries have been sent via the web interface, a few have been sent as SMS. No editing is possible once the blog entry has been published. One can add a picture, but only through the web interface.

I tried several times to send a MMS with a picture to this blog, but did not work... although it states that MMS are accepted. I have to try a bit more.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Micro-Blogging from Mobile: Twitter

As I did a bit of searching re. blogging, I came across Twitter. This is a site which supports a kind of miniature blogging. I had known about it before, as some of my friends on Facebook use this to update their status line, and I was always wondering what it meant: "xxx is twitterint: ...". Now I tried it myself - works excellent. The best thing is: I can just send a txt from my mobile phone to it. I will try it out in the future when I am going to be on travel.

Paper submitted to CIRCLE Conference

This weekend the major activity was in preparing a paper for the CIRCLE conference. I had submitted an abstract earlier, which had been accepted ("Marketing in Web 2.0"), and the due date for the camera-ready paper was this Saturday - so I thought. When I checked again the website, I realised that the due date had been already Wednesday, 5.3. - so I was already late. Well, I finished the paper yesterday night and sent it off, despite some distractions from the tech front which I came across while preparing the final paper version and checking some references.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Steven Fuller about "Intelligent Design"

The Cafe Scientifique is a series of talks given by people who are experts in their field. This Tuesday the guest speaker was Steven Fuller who talked about the concept of "Intelligent Design". He pointed out that most scientists in the 17th and 18thy century came from the approach of "Intelligent Design" (ID).

The talk was very interesting but caused a lot of controversy afterwards, when the audience could ask questions. Many members in the audience did not agree with the viewpoint of Steven, who implied that ID has still a lot of validity in the current scientific efforts, as it would give a meaning to the goal of scientific pursuits. This was heavily contested by the audience who expressed the viewpoint that the patterns occuring in nature, which are to be uncovered by science, would not have to be based on any intelligence behind it. The most prevalent argument was the one of evolution: there are many "dumb" paths of evolution which counter the idea of having a smart design behind it. This is the reason why evolution and intelligent design are so much in competition with each other, especially in the US: it is more a fundamental discurs about ideology and belief rather than on scientific evidence.

Monday, March 03, 2008

At Harrogate College

The Faculty Board meeting of INN took this time place at Harrogate College. Since in a few months Harrogate College will be joining with Hull College, this was the last time that the board meeting would take place in Harrogate.