New University of Cyprus library

Cyprus Mail reports that the construction of the new University of Cyprus library has begun.  It will take a while, so the doors are expected to open some time in September, 2014.  While reading through the article, one particular paragraph took me a while to understand.

The library’s collection, which will be housed in an impressive dome-shaped building holding  around 600,000 books, more than 30,000 magazines and 40,000 books all in digital format plus 10,000 audio books and 150 databases. Its contents will be accessible to all Cypriots.

My first thought was that the library will hold 600,000 books in digital format and that the new building is being constructed to accommodate that storage.  I thought that was a bit excessive.  After all, I used to have an e-book library of more than a 1,000 titles and they were living nicely on a single hard disk.  Digital storage is cheap these days and the size of drives keep growing.  How much space does one need to store 600,000 books in digital form? – I thought.

The size of books in my collection are somewhere between 500 kilobytes to a couple of megabytes.  Let’s assume 1 megabyte for an average book.  How much space is there on a modern hard drive?  I’ll assume 2 TB (terabytes).  How many average books can we store on such a disk? 2 TB / 1 MB = 2,000,000,000,000 / 1,000,000 = 2,000,000.  I know, I’m approximating things a lot with terabytes, megabytes, and average book sizes.  But with a single 2 TB disk holding 2,000,000 books, give or take, I don’t think a new building is in order.  3 TB and 4 TB hard disks exist already.  By September 2014 we’ll probably have way more than that.  Even a few of those connected together for backups, “150 databases” and such will provide a lot of storage, while being the size of a device that is easy to hide at home.  New building? Really?

Of course, once I re-read the paragraph a few times, I realized that I’m on a totally wrong foot here.  It read more like:

  • 600,000 books (print)
  • 30,000 magazines and 40,000 books (digital)
  • 10,000 audio books (digital)
  • 150 databases (digital?)

While the digital part of that library will easily fit on one or two hard drives, the 600,000 printed books collection does indeed need some storage space.

I am all for knowledge and education, and I’m glad that this effort is being taken and that all these books will be available to all Cypriots.  But if I was to express a wish, I’d say : please push for digitizing all those books and make them available on-line.  Cyprus is good, but why not share with the rest of the world?  Especially now that we do have the technology.

On the future of jobs

GigaOm covers the release of the new book by Seth Godin, which, this time instead of marketing talks more about the future of work.  And jobs.

Why do we believe that jobs where we are paid really good money to do work that can be systemized, written in a manual and/or exported are going to come back ever? The internet has squeezed inefficiencies out of many systems, and the ability to move work around, coordinate activity and digitize data all combine to eliminate a wide swath of the jobs the industrial age created….

The industrial age, the one that started with the industrial revolution, is fading away. It is no longer the growth engine of the economy and it seems absurd to imagine that great pay for replaceable work is on the horizon.

Seth Godin is a visionary.  And whether you agree with him or not, his thoughts are worth knowing about and considering.  I only started thinking in the same direction, spending more of my focus on education.  But I see where he goes and why.  The change is coming. And it’s coming fast.

Unix learning tips from Miguel de Icaza

Miguel de Icaza – a very well known programmer in Linux circles – shares a few tips to having a better experience in Unix environments.  Here is a summary of what he recommends:

  • Read, learn, and memorize the “Unix Programming Environment” book by Kernighan and Pike.
  • Read and learn the “Unix for the impatient” book by Abrahams and Larson.
  • Learn Emacs.
  • Use Midnight Commander, which Miguel is the author of.  Here is a handy manual.
  • Keep a copy of the “Unix Power Tools” book nearby.
  • Learn touch typing.

These are all solid recommendations.  I’d suggest to use Vim instead of Emacs, but that’s more of a personal preference – learn one or the other.  And I can’t agree more on the touch typing.  That is indeed the most important skill that you will ever learn.  Right next to the camp fire starting.

At this point you might be thinking “I am awesome”, “the world is my oyster” and “Avatar 3D was not such a bad movie”.

But unless you touch-type, you are neither awesome, nor you are in a position to judge the qualities of the world as an oyster or any James Cameron movies.

You have to face the fact that not only you are a slow typist, you do look a little bit ridiculous. You are typing with two maybe three fingers on each hand and you move your head like a chicken as you look at you alternate looking at your keyboard and looking at your screen.

Do humanity a favor and learn to touch type.

Amazon Bloopers : The end of printed media

Disclaimer: before you read any further, I want to you know that’s it nothing more than an obvious bug in a very large and complex system called Amazon.  A friend just pointed it out to me while it was happening.  And not just somewhere, but in my own Amazon Wishlist!

Amazon is one of the largest online shops, if not the largest.  And while they do sell a large variety of products, they started as and they will always be a book shop.  Back when they started, digital books, even though existed, were more of a distant future dream.  These days they are a reality.  But given that printed and digital books co-exist in the same world, how do they affect each other?  One way to look at that would be to compare prices for the same books in printed versus digital formats.  Here is an example: A Practical Guide to Designing for the Web | Five Simple Steps.

You can buy this book in several digital formats for as low as 12 British Pounds (GBP).  How much money would you have to part with if you insisted on the version with nostalgic smell of printed pages and no search functionality?  According to the Amazon itself, you’d have to pay up  815.74 GBP!

With prices like that, I think we can safely assume that the era of printed media is over.  All hail digital!

How cheap e-readers can go?

The Wall Street Journal asks the question – “How low will e-readers prices go?

The $99 e-reader announcement comes after Amazon’s announcement of a $139 Kindle, and after Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Sony all lowered prices on their gadgets in the wake of Apple’s iPad release. As Amazon prepares to release a $139 Kindle e-reader next month, could even cheaper e-readers be close behind?

I think they are.  They should eventually get much cheaper.   One thing that makes e-readers different from the rest of the computer technology is that they are often produced and sold not by hardware companies, but by book selling companies.  While it’s nice to get some extra cash from the hardware, the main goal of the book selling business is to sell books.  The more books they sell, the better they are.  E-reader is the device that helps them sell more books.   So if that is going to drive their business up, book selling companies can cover the big chunk of e-reader costs by extra profits.

Also, unlike the rest of the computing world, I think e-readers will remain rather simplistic.  They are domain-specific devices, with very specific needs – readable display, long lasting battery and simplicity. The more bells and whistles you put in, the complicated it becomes and the more battery it drains.  Plus, I think by now everyone already has either a laptop or a mobile device that has all the bells and whistles.  E-reader is good for disconnecting, even if shortly, from the rest of the world.

Looking back, we’ve seen a number of simple domain-specific electronics.  Such as calculators and electronic translators.  While they are mostly replaced by modern mobile phones, you can still buy them.  And the prices are very low, not anywhere near to how they used to be. Electronic translators come as cheap as $16 and calculators are from $4, via a quick Google search.  I’m sure if you look deeper, you’ll find them cheaper.

If e-readers will get any more complicated or expensive, one of the things that might happen with them is subscription business.  Similar to how it is now with mobile phones and telecom companies.  You pay subscription fees or membership or something, and you get a device with your contract.  And then you pay for some books (new editions or bestsellers) like for international calls and you get some free (public domain works, blogs, news via RSS, etc).

That’s all, of course, assuming reading books won’t just die over.  Like so many other beautiful things.

Whiteboard wins

The other day we ordered a large whiteboard for our office.  The board arrived some time later, complete with a bunch of whiteboard markers and whiteboard eraser.  Gladly we put it up and started writing our plan for the world domination.

A few moments later, when we tried to do some corrections, we realized that we can’t really eraze much from the whiteboard. Hmmm.

Marker theory check.  Are all of them marked as “whiteboard markers”?  Yes.

Marker practice check.  We tried to write something with each one of them and then tried to delete it.  Only greek could have been erased easily.  Turned out that four markers (black, blue, red, and green) were from a total of three different brands.  Red and blue were from the same maker.

Because we were rather pressed on time, we covered the whole whiteboard with green text and diagrams.  Then we called the bookshop and asked to bring us more markers of the same brand with green.  People in the bookshop were rather puzzled by the request, but confirmed that we will receive more markers the next day.

The guy that brought the markers tested them on the board and saw that they could have been easily erased.  Then he tried the other ones and saw that it was almost impossible to eraze them.  Then he asked for a knife.

It was our turn to feel puzzled and confused, but we found a knife for him.

… five seconds later, it was our turn to feel really stupid.  Apparently, the whiteboard was covered with transparent plastic film to protect its surface.  It was absolutely invisible and looked and felt exactly like the whiteboard surface itself.  Once the film was peeled off, the new shiny surface of the whiteboard was revealed.   And, of course, all whiteboard markers – old and new – could be used normally.  We tested them all and we could eraze everything easily.  The magic moment!

I would like to take this opportunity and thank the guy from the bookshop, who solved a big problem of ours, and … didn’t laugh in our face, like many would do in a similar situation (tech support stories anyone?).  As a matter of fact, he didn’t even smile.  I bet he had a blast once he left our offices, but that doesn’t matter, because it was, indeed, funny.

How to become a programmer

In the last couple of days I repeated this more than four times, so let me post it here for any future references.

Two points for those who want to become a programmer.  First, there is no lack of information these days. There are numerous tutorials online and books in print.  There are magazines, classes, mailing lists, search engines, and everything and anything you need.  But all that information won’t make you into a programmer.  In order to become one, you have to program.  There is no way around it.  You have to design your programs, write the code, debug it, test it, document it, and maintain it.  And you should also read good code that other people wrote.  There is no lack of open source projects these days – take the most popular ones and you’ll learn a lot.

Secondly, among all those available resources, I can suggest two books and two books only.  If you read and study both of them, you won’t need to read another book about programming your life time.  The first book is “The C programming language” by Kernighan and Ritchie.  This is an all time classic.  The second book is “Programming Perl” by Larry Wall.  This is a piece of modern literature.

Blogging as it used to be

When she brought the tray and put it on the bed table I thanked her and ate a little of the supper. Afterward it was dark outside and I could see the beams of the search-lights moving in the sky. I watched for a while and then went to sleep. I slept heavily except once I woke sweating and scared and then went back to sleep trying to stay outside of my dream. I woke for good long before it was light and heard roosters crowing and stayed on awake until it began to light. I was tired and once it was really light I went back to sleep again.

Can you guess the author?  Here is hint : these lines were written in 1929.  Yes, you got it right.  It’s Ernest Hemingway, “A Farewell to Arms“, last paragraph of Chapter 13.

While reading the book, I caught myself a few times thinking that it feels a lot like a blog – first person story telling, simple sentences, a few “what I ate for breakfast” paragraphs.  But then again, somehow it feels better than a blog – connectivity, metaphors, a tiny hint of old times.

They say that one can improve his own writing by reading great writers.  Having this book in mind, I do agree with that.  And, it seems, I’m not the only one thinking of what and how to learn from Hemingway for my blogging – Copyblogger published Ernest Hemingway’s Top 5 Tips for Writing Well some time ago.

WordPress for Dummies

Matt links to the announcement about “WordPress for Dummies” book coming out.  It’s been a while since I read any “for Dummies” books myself – they are usually written for beginners, a stage which I don’t stay at for long enough to buy and read a book.  But I feel like “WordPress for Dummies” book could use some publicity.  There are a lot of people without technical background using WordPress and trying to figure things out.  I think that a book like that could save them a lot of time and effort, as well as show a few things they might not have thought about.

It’s not the only book about WordPress out there, but it’s not in the crowd by any means.  Here are the Amazon search results for “wordpress”.

The World Is Flat

The World Is FlatI have just finished reading the book by Thomas Friedman “The World Is Flat“.

As you’ve probably noticed I am not a big book freak. I rarely read anything outside of very technical literature. But I felt that I absolutely had to read this one.

I ordered immediately after I saw this video, which is Thomas Friedman’s speech in MIT, in which he talks about the globalization and the flat world. Basically, what he did in MIT, was a very quick and brief overviwe of the first three chapters of the book. His speech was amazing. He was talking in very simple language about really complex things. He made a lot of stuff so much easier to understand. And he made some really interesting connections.

I have to say though, that many of the things he was talking about weren’t new to me. I was thinking about them myself. I just couldn’t possibly form them into any shape or express them in any understandable form.

Friedman did very clearly. And he introduced a lot of examples. And he added a lot of credebility to what he was saying by interviewing a whole lot of smart people.

While the book is written in a very simple language and with a lot of examples, it was difficult to read for me. It was so thought-provoking that I had to stop about every two or three pages for an hour or a day to re-think everything I read. It took me alsmot two month to read 470 pages. And I am sure I’ve missed a lot too. I’ll have to re-read it in the near future.

This is the most complete and wide view of globalization that I have come across. Ever. The book doesn’t just talk and talk about some abstract forms. It shows the very specific connections between events that happened throughout the human history, with more focus on the last 30 or so years. All events and connections are looked at from a multitude of angles – political, economical, cultural, technological. Each of those angles is futher down broken into a multitude of options. Examples from American, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, African, and European cultures are given. Interviews were conducted with a whole lot of people from ex-presidents and current ministers to CEOs of international corporations to religious leaders, as well as plenty of common people from a multitude of backgrounds.

Globalization aside, this book is the best piece of journalism that I’ve read in a long long while. A job well done. Truly a bestseller. I would seriously recommend this book to anyone. Yes, to anyone. Not only people who are interested in globalization, but to all people who are interested in their own present and future. There are lots of questions, and there are lots of answers. You’ll surely understand the world better after reading this book.

I do.