Explosion at Cyprus naval base

I woke up earlier than usual today.  It was hot and my air condition wasn’t working for some reason.  It turns, the power was gone.   Not just my apartment or building.  Driving through the city to work, I saw a number of traffic lights not working.  People at work from all over Limassol confirmed that they experienced a power cut as well.  What happened?  Apparently, there was a huge explosion at Cyprus naval base.  People say there was an ammunition stock that exploded.  Rumor has it that 10 to 12 people are presumed dead.  There is extensive damage to the area, including the power station, where the fire broke down.

The news are scarce at the moment.  Here is a link I found that confirms some of the rumors I’ve heard around the office.

NICOSIA, Cyprus — A Cyprus Defense Ministry spokeswoman says around 10 people are feared dead following a massive explosion at a naval base.

Aliki Stylianou could not immediately confirm the cause of the explosion which occured at the Evangelos Florakis Naval Base on the Mediterranean island’s southern coast on Monday at around 6:00am (0300GMT).

State television CyBC is reporting that the explosion also caused numerous injuries and extensive damage to homes in villages near the naval base.

Police spokesman Michalis Katsounotos said that a fire at a nearby power station has been contained.


Update: Here is an article from Cyprus News.

Morning news and Cyprus technology

While having my morning cup of coffee and going through the Cyprus Mail articles, I caught myself pausing and thinking a few times.  That doesn’t happen that often (thinking, not pausing), so I thought I’d share the bits that halted me.

The first articles was titled “TEPAK goes Wi-Fi“.  WTF is TEPAK?  Not everyone knows, especially in the morning, with the full cup of coffee.  TEPAK is of course Cyprus Unviersity of Technology.  Once again, with proper use of capitals: cyprus University of TECHNOLOGY.  So, they have some Wi-Fi there now.  Good.  Welcome to the 21st century!  No, seriously.  Let’s read a bit of the article.

LIMASSOL’S technology university, TEPAK, yesterday went wireless. The Wi-Fi connection was inaugurated by Limassol mayor Andreas Christou, the president of TEPAK’s administrative committee Elipida Keravnou and the Vice President of the Electricity Authority (EAC) Loizos Papacharalambous.

Wow!  That sounds a bit odd.  Why do they need a whole mayor to inaugurate the launch of a commonplace technology?

On behalf of the EAC Papacharalambous said the network had 40 points of access and covered areas of historic importance in Limassol including Heroes Square, Anexartisisas Street and part of the beach front.

Here it gets a bit funny.  I understand that the university is located in the old part of town and things are tight in there.  But when I think of the students who scattered between the beach front, the Heroes Square, which is famous for all the cabarets and prostitution that goes on there, and Anexartisisas Street, which is a shopping center of sorts.  Anyway, that’s not important.  The important comes later and it actually puts the whole article in to perspective, so it makes sense.

Papacharalambous said all Cytanet users would also have free access through the Cytanet Wireless Zone service by using their own access codes while other users would be able to use the service by using access codes acquired through pre-paid cards, credit cards or by sending an SMS message.

So, all of that is just a publicity stunt for Cytanet – one of the island’s Internet Service Providers.  Now it all makes sense.  It wasn’t about the Cyprus Unviersity of Technology at all.  It was about Cytanet covering part of the old town with a Wi-Fi network. Which they will charge you for.

By now I obviously lost all interest in the article, even if it was almost over.  But the next one I came around puzzled me too.  It was about “Two officers injured directing traffic“.  In particular this bit:

One of the officers, who was hit while on his motorbike, escaped serious injuries after the airbag in his uniform deployed and broke his fall.

Say what?  An airbag in the uniform?  That’s the first time I hear about something like this.  Google search for “police uniform airbag” returned 53,000 results only and nothing looked interesting, not even the pictures.  Anyone can shed some light on this?  Cause I am all out of coffee by now.

Finally, custom post types in WordPress 3.0 !

The rumour has it that WordPress 3.0 will have custom post types built-in.  These are excellent news!  This means that 90% of all web development companies will be able to drop their own, complex and ugly in-house built systems and switch to WordPress development.  And while WordPress code isn’t the prettiest thing you can find, it’s still better than most of that code that will be dropped soon.  And it’s small, which is also an improvement.

If you are not familiar with the concept of custom post types, these are basically your average posts + custom fields + theme and plugin support + steroids.  In short, these are beautiful.  It doesn’t really matter what your blog is about – cooking, political news, movies, or technology – you can always think of a way to make posts better than they are in the default installation.  For example, cooking recipes can have a section on ingredients, cooking instructions, and serving instructions.  You can have your theme support those sections and display them in a consistent and beautiful way.  Now you probably wouldn’t even bother.  You’ll do your best with built-in post editor and maybe, if you are half-insane, you’ll play with custom fields.  But that’s too technical, complicated, and not even remotely convenient.  You can try one of those few plugins available, but chances are you’ll either come across a limitation, or a plugin won’t work for you at all.  With WordPress 3.0′ custom post types your chances are better.

And why did I mention web development companies?  Because that is exactly what so many of them do – build web applications that work with custom object types (cars in automotive shops and rentals, real estate items, products with online shops, etc).  A lot of work is put into defining those object types, building searching functionality, promotion bits, nested categories, integrating image galleries and contact forms, and such.  Needless to say, most of this functionality is already available in WordPress, either built-in or via a plugin.  Custom data types though weren’t.  And now that custom posts will make it into WordPress, most of the average small company’s needs will be so much easier to take care of.

This is a much needed and long awaited bit of functionality and I am very excited for it to finally make it.  These will cause a new wave of activity around WordPress, and we’ll see more and more sites built with it.  Awesome!

Cyprus Mail – the new on-line face of the local newspapers

Cyprus Mail

I’ve noticed that @cyprusmail Twitter account became much more active recently.  Today I followed one of the posted links to read the news article, and was surprised by the new newspaper’s web site.  It is still in beta, but it’s already pretty good!

Finally, there is someone who knows what he (she?) is doing.  Based on Drupal CMS, utilizing Amazon S3 service, integrating with Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and Facebook, featuring proper RSS feed, slick feedback form, and even placeholders for stuff blogs – that’s quite an achievement!

I definitely welcome the new face (and body) of the Cyprus Mail and wish them great success and to keep up the good job.  Now their content is finally matched by its presentation and surrounding functionality.

On Barack Obama win

I haven’t been following the US presidential race closely.  I remember watching a few speeches by Ron Paul, and thinking that he is a really nice guy.  But somehow I doubted that he could win.  Barack Obama’s speeches were the next best thing, even though I saw just a few of them.  Here is a quote from Slashdot discussion on the subject, that I particularly enjoyed:

The thing that absolutely amazes me is the international reaction to Obama’s win. I knew that the reputation of America and Americans had been battered over the past few years, but I never suspected that it was as bad as it was. I watched the results last night, said a little “huzzah!” when Obama was declared, listened as McCain gave a warm, dignified, and gentlemanly concession speech, and then went to bed thinking I’d seen it all. I woke up at about 4:45 this morning and I’ve been flipping between news stations ever since. I got a little emotional last night during the speeches, but I’m absolutely devastated by the number of non-Americans who are dancing in the streets over Obama’s win. I never thought I’d see video of a few hundred Chinese people jumping around and chanting “Obama! Obama!” A reporter in France walked up to a woman and simply said “Obama?” Her face lit up and she simply said “C’est formidable!” Kenyans are throwing feasts in his honor. Arab and Persian states are happy. Israel is happy. Pakistan is happy. Australians are losing their damned minds over it. Russia is… well, they’re kinda grumpy, but they’re not having a good year.

(read the rest of the comment)

Well, I guess I am in the happy and joyful crowd.  It feels like something big happened.  But we are yet to see if this feeling has any substance.

4 Mbps with PrimeTel

Here is a quote from the latest PrimeTel newsletter:

PrimeTel upgrades for even faster Internet speeds and provides 4Mbps / 512Kbps as an upgrade option for the PrimeHome and PrimeADSL2+ subscribers. The additional monthly fee for the PrimeHome subscribers is EUR65,92 while for the PrimeADSL2+ subscribers is EUR53,33. Read more

Anybody tried that already?

Note to PrimeTel : By the way, I’d much prefer an RSS feed from your site to those Greek emails that you send me. Thank you.

Flickr videos

Flickr has recently added support for videos.  Many thought (and some still do) that it was an April Fool’s joke, because the information broke out on the 1st of April, but it seems that it was no joke after all.

Screenshot of Flickr upload page

When I heard about it, I was a bit surprised, and had a slight negative feeling about it.  Flickr seemed to do just fine as they were.  The photo site community is very different from the video site community. And don’t we already have YouTube, Google Video, Metacafe, and a tonne of other video sites?  Why Flickr should be spoiled by videos?

But after I spent some time reading about and checking the implementation, I have to say that I like it.  There is a FAQ about this new feature which does a good job explaining the idea behind it.  There are many ways to define what a video is and how it should be handled.  Flickr went for a very nice definition – “a long photo“.  They have imposed a 90 second time limit on all videos, as well as allowed uploads to Pro accounts only for now.  That’s about as right as it could have been done.

Indeed there is a need for short video support on Flickr.  I do have a YouTube account, but it’s not what I need right now.  I am not doing a lot of videos, and the ones I do usually complement the photos nicely.  Most of my videos are very short and rather personal.  For these needs, YouTube is a bit too much with its noisy community, channels, and subscribers.  But Flickr videos seems to be spot on! I suspect there going to be a few changes and adjustments to the current functionality in the near future, but even as it is now, it’s pretty handy.

Have you tried Flickr videos?  What do you think?

Feeding on friends with FriendFeed.com

One of the things that people on the web do is follow each other.  Reading blog posts, watching favorite video clips, stare at shared photos, reply to comments, get status updates, and so on and so forth.

In the previous years, the number of people who were online was much smaller.  And they weren’t publishing as much as they do now.  Everyone and their dog has a blog.  Pictures and videos are flying around.  Playlists and favorite songs are shared.  Micro-blogging is blossoming.  How can anyone follow all that?  Well, RSS, of course, is one of the common answers.

But, RSS has its share of problems.  It is still too technical to be used by many people.  Good tools are a few.  And grouping things around people isn’t much fun yet.  Also, feed discovery is still an issue (from a person’s point of view, not the aggregator point of view).

FriendFeed.com web service recently went public and solved a few problems.  It starts off with feed discovery.  When you register and login, you can easily specify all the places that you publish at – blog, Flickr photostream, del.icio.us bookmarks, LinkedIn profile, Twitter, and so on and so forth.  This way, when somebody is interested in following you up, he or she will just need to subscribe to you once and get all the stuff from everywhere where you publish.  This is cool.

FriendFeed screenshot

Another problem that FriendFeed solves is the problem of virtual people.  In social networks, it is often that you can’t follow a person who hasn’t registered yet.  You can invite them in, wait for them to join, and then be notified when they joined.  But it is often impossible to follow people who decided not to join the network.  In FriendFeed, you can create “imaginary friends”.  This way, you can group people and sources in any way you like best.   This is priceless.

For example, you can create an imaginary friend for a person who hasn’t registered, and you can assign a blog and a Flickr photostream to him.  Or, you can create an imaginary friend for a real person, who even registered, but who publishes so much that you can’t take it.  Instead of following of their stuff, you just pick things that you are interested in (say Twitter messages and blog, but not Flickr and YouTube) and link those to your imaginary friend.

With this functionality, following topics or events becomes extremely easy.  If you are interested in kebab cooking ,or in Cyprus switching to Euro, or  anything else for that matter, you can create an imaginary friend for the topic and assign it blogs, Google Reader shared items, Picasa photos, or whatever else is supported.  There is a lot of potential in here.

Another thing that FriendFeed does right is presentation of data.  There are links to original sources whenever possible, and there are thumbnails for whatever possible.  Also, people have avatars, which makes it very easy to distinguish who is who and who published what.

And if all that wasn’t enough, you can subscribe to updates via email.  Which means that you can really improve your productivity while still following a whole lot of sources.  No need to run around the web looking for updates.  No need to interrupt your work flow to see if there is a reply to your comment.  You just get used to getting back at all the updates once a day in a brief, but nicely looking digest form, and that’s it!

FriendFeed is a really nice services which a lot of people were waiting for and which they will appreciate now that it is finally here.  Oh, and just in case, here is the link to my FriendFeed profile.

Yahoo + Microsoft vs. Google et al

The big news of last week were of yet another attempt by Microsoft to buy Yahoo.  If you missed all the buzz, Web Worker Daily has a really nice round-up with separate links to facts (read: press releases) and opinions (read: speculations).  If that’s not enough for you, you can always find more with Google, Slashdot, and Digg.

Many online news sources continue to be completely dominated by discussion of Microsoft’s hostile bid to acquire Yahoo! And no wonder: a deal of this magnitude has the potential to touch the lives of pretty much everyone living and working online. It’s a rare web worker indeed who doesn’t use something from one or another of those two companies in their daily lives.

So, first, can it affect me personally?  Yes.  I don’t use any Microsoft/MSN/Live services, but I can’t live without Flickr and del.icio.us, both of which belong to Yahoo now.  Also, I do occasionally use Upcoming.

Now, what do I think about this whole thing?  Well, I think it shows how desperate Microsoft is.  The general trend is towards the web, not the desktop, where they still rule.  Most of their own web services turned out to be pretty lousy.  They want to get online, and they are willing to pay a lot of money to get their fast.  Mostly, of course, this is a war for a place under the advertising sun.

From the Microsoft view point (I think), Yahoo looks to be online.  More than so.  Yahoo is the second most important company online after Google.  And Google is giving Yahoo some rough time.  And Microsoft realizes it clearly, that Google is partially to blame for this whole trend towards the web.  And it also realizes that if it is serious about moving online, it’ll have to compete with Google in one area or another.  So it makes even more sense to acquire Yahoo.  From the Microsoft point of view (again, I think), Yahoo appears to know what they are doing.

And that’s where I see their biggest mistake.  Yahoo is indeed the second most important company on the web after Google.  But it struggles to be there, and it struggles even more to keep Google in sight.  Because it is falling pretty far behind.

A little side note: I think there is a war of concepts between Google and Yahoo. It’s bigger than just advertising space or anything else.

  • Yahoo started off with a directory of links, which was better than many at a time because it was moderated by humans.  Google started off with bringing huge improvements to machine based indexing and searching.  Yahoo:Google – 0:1.
  • Google brought this whole concept of clean user interfaces and simplicity for the end user.  Yahoo stayed and expanded on the old idea of portals, which bring all possible and impossible to the front page of the site.  Yahoo:Google – 0:2.
  • Google made a stake on the brilliance of its people – if the service is properly done, it’ll grow by itself and bring in more users.  Yahoo played it safe, trying to purchase web services that already have momentum.  Yahoo:Google – 1:2.

End of side note.

Overall, I think that this is a bad move on Microsoft part.  If the acquisition will happen, I think, it’ll damage both companies, and, maybe even, drive at least one of them into the ground (eventually, not immediately).  Yahoo, being at the position it is now, needs more flexibility.  The online space is getting more and more competitive.  That’s where you need to move fast.  Yahoo made some really good acquisitions before, and I’d say that they have some sense in this area, but they need more speed with integration of their acquisitions into their backbone.  With Microsoft on board, I’m afraid, everything will get a lot slower.

Also, I think that Yahoo won’t win much from this acquisition.  Surely, some money will come their way, but it’s not always a good thing.  And I don’t think that it’s good in this particular case and at this particular time.   I believe it would do much more good for Yahoo to get smaller, faster, and “hungrier”.  Hunger (think: limited resources) makes one’s mind sharper.  That’s exactly what they need now.  Not more “fat”.

As for Microsoft, I think there strategy should be more directed towards entertainment.  If they really want to buy something, they should buy some entertainment companies.  Those that produce content.  Disney studios maybe? Or some sort of a deal with AOL/Time Warner (they had a few frictions in the past, but they seem to managed to work out a solution together).  With more and easily accessible content they can reinforce end users interest in their Windows desktop, as well as their gaming platform (Xbox thing), and their mobile platform (Windows Mobile).  And, entertainment content by itself is a rather popular thing among the end users, which makes advertising much easier.  And rich advertising too – not just text-based relevant web ads, but audio and video media.

What do you think about all this?