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Discontinuing TripTao April 4, 2014

Posted by CK in Internet, Personal.
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It’s almost funny that in between the post where I announced the availability of triptao, and this one where I announce shutting it down 11 months later, there have been only two more posts. I guess this reflects, with fair accuracy, the crazy ride of these 11 months.

So I “dreamt laughably big and took an absurdly huge risk or two” as the advice went — and it didn’t pay off as I expected. It wasn’t bad, but I didn’t have enough excuse to keep pushing it.

To be exact: it didn’t pay off as I expected materially; I feel I’m coming out of this being a much better person, in many respects.

  • I now have a better grasp of my limits — and it appears I can do much more than I thought myself capable of doing. The same, I’m perfectly certain, applies to everyone else. We should be less scared and more receptive to the possibility that we can do anything we think of.
  • I got back in touch with the technical side of things and remembered how much I enjoyed it. These have been very creative days.
  • I’ve learned a great deal of things on multiple levels. Somehow I feel I’m much better equipped for the next tasks, both technical and managerial/business.

I also got some lessons that concern specifically the area of online startups.

  • Unless you are Superman, you can’t do something like this alone. Make sure you have a co-founder.
  • Whatever you do, don’t rely on others for your data. Make sure you have full control on it (even if you don’t explicitly own it).
  • If you’re doing B2C, the added value should be instantly and fully evident to anyone who visits your site. With TripTao, I had to explain. You should not have to explain.
  • Marketing is king. You can’t underestimate its importance, no matter how great a product you have.

Now, coming back to that advice mentioned earlier, it says “take an absurdly huge risk or two“. Who am I to discard such interesting advice?

The journey continues with a new trip. More to follow in the next months.

Scratching one’s itch: A post long due May 11, 2013

Posted by CK in Personal, Travel.
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In December 2011 I read an article by Umair Haque containing the following excerpt:

Create (something dangerous). Mediocrity isn’t a quest to be pursued — but a derelict deathtrap to be detonated into oblivion. Hence, I’m firmly of the belief that your youth should be spent pursuing your passion — not just slightly, tremulously, haltingly, but unrelentingly, with a vengeance, to the max and then beyond. So dream laughably big — and then take an absurdly huge risk or two. Bet the farm before it’s a ranch, a small town, and an overly comfy place to hang your saddle and your hat. Create something: don’t just be an “employee,” a “manager,” or any other kind of mere mechanic of the present. Be a builder, a creator, an architect of the future. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a sonata, a book, a startup, a financial instrument, or a new genre of hairstyles — bring into being something not just fundamentally new, but irrepressibly dangerous to the tired, plodding powers that be. Think about it this way: if your quest is mediocrity, then sure, master the skills of shuffling Powerpoint decks, glad-handing beancounters, and making the numbers; but if your quest, on the other hand, is something resembling excellence, then the meta-skills of toppling the status quo — ambition, intention, rebellion, perseverance, humanity, empathy — are going to count for more, and the sooner you get started, the better off you’ll be.

Whether I’m still in my youth is debatable, but two months later I resigned from my great job at the time to pursue a dream: Solving a small but real-world problem I had faced myself. There were many reasons why I didn’t start earlier, but at that point I just couldn’t ignore this sentence anymore: “So dream laughably big — and then take an absurdly huge risk or two’‘. It sounded like the right thing to do.

A few words about the motivation: It’s Spring of 2010 and soon I will travel to Madrid for a business meeting. It’s my first time there, and the meeting venue is on the city’s border in some business area with nothing to do but meetings. So I want to stay not too far from the meeting, but also not too far from the city center so that I can do some sightseeing if I get the time, or simply have a nice dinner. I will be using public transport, so I need to stay close to a subway stop. The hotel needs to be reasonably good and inexpensive (hey, I was working for a university at the time). And all that is before I start thinking about typical filters such as non-smoking rooms, wifi, breakfasts, etc. You get the drill: Madrid has hundreds of hotels, and even after applying all easy filters, I was left with more than 100 to check. It took the better part of a Sunday. Not pleasant.

The solution took longer than expected, but eventually the foundation is here: triptao.com promises to solve this problem, applying fancy math to hotel availability and geographical data. This is done using the excellent content of Booking.com, of whom TripTao is now an affiliate. Are you visiting London with its 800+ hotels? TripTao will filter them for you and show you a list in the range of 100 hotels. This is not fixed and depends on many factors, but that’s a typical reduction. I argue that if you would go through all 800+ hotels, eventually you would choose, anyway, one of those that TripTao will show you. Not only that: The ranking algorithm is also fairly sophisticated, and doesn’t take commission into account. The first result(s) to show is really those it considers to be the best. Usually, people will find their ideal hotel within the first 10 properties shown.

Now, this is not quite finished yet. Scaling down ambition was necessary to kick-off but the vision is still grand. Now that the first step is done, little by little it will get there. There are a lot of improvements in the pipeline, lots of new features planned, lots of ideas to research and implement. Hopefully triptao.com will eventually become the default go-to hotel search platform for plenty of people, and save a few Sundays for them too.

A new start February 14, 2012

Posted by CK in Personal.
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On early October 2010 I started working with Exodus S.A. in Athens, Greece, following my return from Germany. I was appointed as the coordinator of NEPHRON+, a multi-million, high-risk, ambitious EU research project aiming to help End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) patients with a wearable device for 24×7 haemodialysis. This period was challenging (moving in a completely new domain) and rewarding every time we achieved some next step towards this great vision. I feel grateful that I was given the chance to be part of this amazing consortium and I wish them the best of luck in the remaining two years of the project.

Tomorrow I’m stepping down from that position, ready to start chasing one more dream. I have an itch on my back that I need to scratch, it’s been there for a couple of years now and it just won’t go away. The time is far from ideal to start a company, but hey — no pain, no gain.

So wish me luck, and stay tuned for more information in the near future!

The linux-on-laptop experiment October 13, 2010

Posted by CK in IT, Mobility, Personal, Productivity.
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Eight months ago, I made a pledge: My next laptop would be running on some Linux distribution. Exclusively. At the time, I received various comments, incl. a user satisfaction curve that foresaw disaster. Yesterday evening the pledge became a reality, and it remains to be seen if the curve will also become one.

After also advising with Ubuntu’s “certified hardware” list, I went for a Dell Latitude E6410. The laptop itself is quite fine, but of course from a design point of view there’s nothing to compare with the Macbook; the latter wins hands-down. Having said that, who cares.

Installing Kubuntu 10.10 from a CD was pain, to some extent. The problem apparently has to do with the graphics card, and it took me some time before I find the respective bug report. Thankfully, there was also a seemingly simple solution which worked perfectly well. Eventually Kubuntu installed and (almost) everything worked fine out of the box. I’m quite impressed with how polished it is, and I am mostly impressed with the new default browser, Reconq. It’s dead-simple and, being webkit-based, it renders fast and without problems.

The only problems I currently have are a non-fully-functional trackpad (smart scrolling doesn’t work), and lack of thermal sensor information — which I understand is a problem with Dell and Linux across the board. I can live with both. All of wifi, bluetooth, camera, graphics*, audio, power management (suspend to RAM/disk), etc, work fine. I haven’t tried the fingerprint sensor.

Overall, I’m very happy with my choice, although it’s certainly too early for safe conclusions (and I still regret that I paid for all that MacOSX software which I now put aside). I’ll keep you posted how it goes.

Update (already): Rekonq doesn’t like WordPress. My post was sent in half. Time for the fox.

New job: Joining Exodus S.A. September 15, 2010

Posted by CK in Personal.
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Following my return to Athens, I’m very excited to join the R&D department of Exodus S.A., starting in October. Exodus has received multiple awards and distinctions in the past years, naturally making it an attractive workplace. Looking forward to great collaborations and excellent research results!

Vodafone Germany wrap-up May 14, 2010

Posted by CK in Networking, Personal.
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Update: Today I found out that they charged me ~112 euros for early contract cancellation. I don’t know how to react and remain politically correct.

First things first: AVOID THIS COMPANY AT ALL COSTS. I received notoriously bad service, and eventually a disconnection that wasn’t my fault, at the most critical time for me — when I’m writing my doctoral thesis.

First, it was their incompetence providing me with a working phone, until I solved the problem for them.

Then, I asked them in writing to cancel my contract on August, and they replied they will cancel it in November, although their salesmen had told me I can quit whenever I wanted.

Then I wrote them that I am a university student leaving the country, and therefore I want them to cancel it in August, not November. They replied they will cancel it in May, in a week’s time after their notification.

I spoke to their customer care this last Monday, the guy said he’d try to roll it back because it was clearly a Vodafone mistake, and we should check back on Wednesday about the status of the rollback request. These requests go to Deutsche Telekom and once in, you never know if you can do something about it.

On Wednesday, the lady I (well, my German-speaking colleague) spoke to said she couldn’t see anything about such a request, and I should send a fax to describe the problem. I did, then someone called me (which is really a rare thing), said again he would try to roll back the cancellation request and call me back to notify me what is the status of things. Needless to say, he never called me back.

An hour ago, my connection disappeared. I have no ADSL anymore, it’s not my fault, and according to the latest Vodafone representative I spoke to today, there is nothing I can do about it. Her advice was to buy a 3G USB stick.

If anyone knows what I can do to kick them, please tell me. This is disaster. I was disconnected 3 months before the time I asked, and they pretend it’s my fault.

Should I laugh or should I cry? May 10, 2010

Posted by CK in Networking, Personal.
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Readers of this blog are already familiar with my bitter experience with Vodafone Germany (details here and here). Long story short, in the latest episode of this series I asked for my connection to be interrupted at the end of the summer, giving them a good lead time for that (typically, contracts require a 3-month notice). On Friday, I got a letter from Vodafone stating that my phone/internet connection will be cancelled at the end of this week. At this point in time, this would be pure disaster, my thesis’ Titanic. Calling them on the phone, they recognized their mistake, apologized, and said they don’t know if they can do something because they have already asked Deutsche Telecom to disconnect me on Friday.

Seriously, Vodafone, how difficult is it to get your act together and be professional? Are you really amateurs? I really wish I had never made that contract.

My vodafone.de bitter saga April 14, 2010

Posted by CK in Miscellaneous, Personal.
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On August 19, 2008, I wrote an article under the title “Vodafone service in Germany“. In there I was complaining about not having a phone for months after my contract started. I also wrote very explicitly, that I chose Vodafone on the grounds that they offer real landline service (not VoIP), and that I could cancel anytime without penalties. This was information I received from two different Vodafone representatives, in two different stores. As I was surprised back then by this information, I asked them both repeatedly about these two points, and they both insisted that this is the case. As a matter of fact, I went to the second store only because I got this surprising information at the first one.

As it turned out, the phone was VoIP. Although I wasn’t too excited to find out, I could live with that. At one next visit to one of the Vodafone stores, I told the salesman about it, and he insisted that no, it’s not VoIP, because you don’t need a computer to use the phone. Sigh.

Today, I found out the bitter way that if I cancel before the two years end, THERE ARE PENALTIES. So the second reason I chose Vodafone over a cheaper provider, was also a blunt LIE. I can accept that a salesman is clueless and technically incompetent (see VoIP), but I can’t accept that they are unaware of the contract’s terms. I can only assume they lied on purpose, to sign me up. Unfortunately, I didn’t get this on writing back then, and I could not read any German at all (not that I can now, but anyways) so I didn’t know what exactly I was signing. I guess my blog post is not proof enough.

It’s fortunate that, as I am enrolled here for the PhD, I can declare a student and avoid penalties due to leaving the country. Yet, if I did not have this special status I’d have to pay 3 months for nothing, only because some representatives lied to me. I am frustrated, disappointed, and angry. And I hope many prospective customers of Vodafone Germany read this.

An update March 22, 2010

Posted by CK in Miscellaneous, Personal.
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I re-arranged slightly my blogs and domains. In short:

  • Logos of Crafts “moves” to https://tech.costas.gr/. Quotes around “moves”, as the blog is still hosted on WordPress (but do update your bookmarks, as it may change at some point; the same applies for the other two).
  • The blog for music & art moves to http://art.costas.gr/.
  • There’s a new blog. It can be found at http://blog.sla.gr/. It is, unsurprisingly enough, about service level agreements. Mostly automated ones, with a slight bias towards Cloud computing.

For emphasis: Update your bookmarks!

Photos February 27, 2010

Posted by CK in Miscellaneous, Personal.
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The more I’m diving into photography, the less I like the photos I’m taking. Nevertheless, I found these two decent enough; thought I’d share also here, in addition to Flickr.