2012 – A year of progress for me

With the end of the year came the happy holidays and time to share with the loved ones. These silent days allow to catch some breath and give some thoughts before new year’s eve demands some attention and a new year wants to be lived. During the last days I looked back on the parting year 2012 and what I have experienced in the last ~365 days, with my honey, family, friends, and colleagues. 2012 has been a year of progress and mostly keeping me busy. I made progress in many aspects, be it in my job and professional goals or my life with my sweetheart and family.

Family
Fortunately, 2012 (and even more 2011) allowed me to spend quality time with my family quite frequently, albeit being very productive at my job. I determined family to be an important part for my personal balance. Therefore, I tried to meet my family regularly this year and planned activities to share with them. With my sweetheart Anna I took off 2 weeks and discovered beautiful Italy. One priceless trip and presumably the best I ever had (read more). The golf course was one spot my family used as a reason to join now and then. Plus, classy restaurants is a common love in my family :)

Professional Work
My Ph.D. is now set to a defined target and the number of lines in my dissertation is growing. Also, I solved some computer science problems, in particular, in the field of Compute Service Selection in Cloud Computing, and showed good results that have been published at reputable conferences (see my publications). One notable conference I visited last year is the WWW’12 conference, one of the biggest in the field of computer science (read more). 2012 was also the year I gave lectures for the first time and I got involved with the Open Data Center Alliance in a joint research project (sure will announce publicly available results on my blog or twitter). Also, this year I had the chance to work closely with researchers from UNSW Sydney (again), NICTA and CSIRO Canberra.
Aside from my research work I started to develop software tools from my research results that are easily usable and publicly available. The goals is, in contrast to research prototypes that serve for an evaluation of approaches, to promote research results to the public, the software developers out there. We, colleagues and me, plan to go officially public with our tools and a Web site Spring 2013. Have a first look at our Website (currently under development): http://myownthemepark.com.

Travelling
2012 has been a year filled with quite some trips and I spent more days travelling than ever before. It was exhausting and interesting to see foreign countries and make new friends. In 2012 my job and personal trips allowed me to experience Budapest, Castellon, Mallorca, Antalya, Lyon, Tokyo, Canberra, Lago di Como, Liguria and Sydney among other places. Besides, I had the chance to visit friends in Berlin, Munich and Stuttgart, and we had two Bay Area intern reunions this year (in Budapest and North Germany). The most important trip to me was a 2 weeks North Italy visit I spent with my sweetheart.
However, travelling means wasting too much time on transportation vehicles and fewer time at home. Still, the statement holds, that I still was able to spent time with my family frequently (but less in terms of duration compared to 2011). A great tool called TripLine tells me I travelled more than 53,000km (32,000 miles) on the biggest trips alone this year (view Tripline stats). For me, that is quite a number and, from my perspective, an immoderate CO2 footprint. One new year resolution can clearly be postulated: travelling is one thing that has to decrease next year.

TripLine Year 2012

2013 – goals & resolutions for next year
The upcoming year 2013 has some clear objectives I will try to pursue. First of all, I decided that 2013 is the year to put my focus on my doctoral degree. For that I am going to invest any open time slot and pause some obligations, e.g., I will have to skip golfing for one year, avoid publishing new research results and reduce travelling time for non-mandatory trips to a minimum. Against the first objective stand family and personal goals that are important to me. I already planned an important trip with my family and friends to Uhuru Peak at the Kilimanjaro, Tansania plus few days to relax on Zanzibar. Additionally, Anna wants me to spend some days off with her on another trip. Looking forward to it :)
2013 means a tough task with balancing professional goals, meaning, in particular, obtaining a doctoral degree, with personal goals. And the scale must clearly tend towards professional goals.

Life’s not easy at the bottom! And next year’s gonna be a tough. Few time and a lot of work to do. Happy new year 2013 and 2014, I am off working like a dog. See you all in 2014! ;)

2013 Happy New Year

Recreational Days in remarkably beautiful Italy

This year, Anna and me took two recreational weeks in Italy. After we headed down the pass through Switzerland we had a stop in Lugano and climbed Monte Generoso which generously offered us a marvelous panoramic view over the Alps, Lombardy region, and Northern Italian lakes. From there we made our way to Liguria where we had the chance to see some of the most magical places on earth. There are beautiful places such as Portofino or the national park of Cinque Terre (meaning five soils). It is impressive how in this region, and probably in many more places along the Mediterranean sea, people traded short distance to sea and thereby to fish grounds and sea routes for a gargantuan effort to build houses on edgy and skewed cliffs tenth of meters above the sea. And, not only did they build houses on cliffs in a inhospitable environment permanently under attack by the sea (namely, waves and salt water), but painted their homes in all sorts of colors creating a surreal scenery.
We weren’t able to keep our fingers from hitting our camera’s button and capture the beauty forever (on our harddrive). During our daily hikes along the coast line at Portofino and Cinque Terre we had the best opportunity discover the surroundings of the small fishing villages and, of course, the villages themselves. We also didn’t spare a swim or two in the Mediterranean sea whilst our hikes :)

Liguria 2012 Album Cinque Terre 2012 Album

Before we went to Lago di Como (=Lake Como) there was one more visit we had to tick off: Pisa. Holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa and continue to Larius Lacus (= Lake Como). Lake Como with its pearl Bellagio was another inexplicable experience. There a are wonderful old mansions by the lake, again in all colors, and palm trees in the middle of an Alps scenic view. Driving a boat (or pursuing any other occupation on or in the lake) is an impression impassable via a blog that must be experienced at first hand.

Pisa 2012 Lago di Como 2012

For me that trip had a perfect mixture of components I love in vacations: recreation, experiences, and adventure. My next trip will have a good portion of adventure and sure a lot of experiences. However, recreation might come short on our ascent to Uhuru Peak at Mount Kilimanjaro. Surely can cope with it ;)

WWW Conference 2012 in Lyon

I have just returned from one of the biggest international conferences in computer science. One of my papers about Cloud migration and decision support has been accepted in the Web engineering (technical) track of the conference.

The experience was overwhelming: almost 2000 researchers from around the globe were participating in this conference, Sir Tim Berners-Lee (the inventor of the Web) held a keynote on the future of the Web, and Neelie Kroes (boss of von Guttenberg, former German minister of defense) talked about her view on the internet, Web and privacy. Technical tracks and papers were interesting, presentations  well prepared/papers extremely well written and very diverse as the conference covers a huge area of topics. In total: amazing experience at a A+ conference!

Tim Berners-Lee Keynote

Lyon is stunningly beautiful, with an old city and 2 rivers dividing Lyon in 3 parts, one being a peninsula. The heard of French food was incredible and I really had a life time experience of a unique cuisine and wine.

The whole conference is a big step in my progress as a researcher and pushes my efforts towards receiving a PhD. Not only will the publication reach many researchers and promote my work, but also the conference itself was an unforgettable experience I see as a must for every researcher: visit a huge high-quality conference once.

You can find the paper I published on my CV page and the album of photos I shot in Lyon and during the conference on my picasa Web albums page.

Future of Mobility

Electric cars are booming, yet they are still very costly and rarely seen on the street. But who doesn’t want to drive one of the Tesla Roadster that kick Porsche’s end.They win over fueled sports car in regards of acceleration easily (video).

Distance, however, is still a remaining issue, making pure electric cars a non-viable option even when they drop to affordable prices. From a long-term perspective, I expect battery manufactures to make electric cars win the battle or at least reach a level which is adequate for most people. When we actually run out of gas there well be a point when everything significantly cheaper than gas is adequate :)

Project “better place” of former SAP chair man Shai Agassi brought a revolutionary notion into the game of mobility. While today everyone spends money on gas not distance, “better place” offers a pay-per-use model similar to that of mobile phones (buy a phone, pay what you talk). Invest in a car that allows for battery switching and switch the battery at battery switch stations no matter how low your battery is. Payments are charged according to the distance on the car’s mileage with no limitations in the number of battery switches. With a fine grained network of battery switch stations distance of electric cars is not an issue anymore.

With ideas such as that and further improvements in battery charging technologies we might navigate towards a future were loud otto motor cars are only classics owned by enthusiasts. Cities might become more quiet places and maybe car sharing reaches a new level. With the need to charge and the trend of young people avoiding or showing less car affinity than generations before (1, 2) car sharing will advance to new levels. BMW already shows a neat approach with “drive now”, a car sharing project which is available in multiple German cities. Participants can locate cars near their location with an iPhone app and use what ever car is available, paying per mileage. Access to a car is granted with a chip that also recognizes who accesses the car. Since the cars (Minis and BMW 1) are equipped with GPS devices for navigation and a 3G connection, BMW is able to track where the cars are located and update data for the iPhone app in real time. Currently, only parked and available cars are published via the app, but I can imagine future versions that are integrated with the cars’ nav allowing to also display arriving cars worth waiting for. Who doesn’t want to wait another 5 minutes about a chic Mini convertible on a hot summer day opening up?

But, what if batteries never reach a comfortable level of quality and a network of switch stations is never created? There is still the alternative of pushing fuel cell technology faster forward and establish a chain of hydrogen supply. And hydrogen technologies sound promising!

Near future will probably see a transition to more electric vehicles with an increasing number of hybrid cars and fuell cell technology might or may not play a role. And we will see a lot of car sharing and other transportation related business models (e.g., with new transportation vehicles or non-car related) pop up in the near future. What interesting times we are allowed to observe in our life time due to gas scarcity. Keep your classics and invest in the right future technology stocks ;)

Faster News vs. Correct News

During the North-African/Arabian revolutions I noticed how information and news arrived from multiple sources over communication channels at different times. News arrived first via internet and moved on to 24h news channels that include social media and finally appeared on the evening news (e.g. German “Tagesschau“). A colleague of mine mentioned he noticed an evident delay between Arabian news broadcasts that consider twitter and online news websites and German evening news when he worked in Arabian countries at that time. News on Arabian TV were days ahead German news.

I wondered what might be the reason and tried to figure why this delay is noticeable. Obviously, news broadcaster pursue the goal of timeliness differently. The reason is the possibility of incorrectness of a news report the smaller the delay after the happening. Sometimes sources are not very reliable and trustful, and do need verification. Sometimes events and the implications are very obvious but sometimes it is only a small detail which is only a small part of the big picture.

In the following figures I tried to capture these trade-offs for four different types of news/communication channels: Twitter, Social Media-based News, Press Agencies and (conservative) News Broadcasts. The chance for incorrect reports versus an expected delay to further verify and aggregate news is one of the trade-offs made by news channels. The settings resp. chosen trade-off of the four channes is depicted in the first figure.

The same statement is true for the level of details of a channel. While fast channels provide small details and are not able to aggregate yet, the slower channels can sketch a brighter picture. The second figure draws a trade-off map for the level of details and timeliness.

So, what is the right trade-off and which is the channel to follow? The answer is pretty simple when you understand how information and the big picture matures over time. Follow fast channels according to your interest in the topic but be aware that there is a certain chance for incorrectness and misinterpretations. Then over time the information and reports will get aggregated and validated, and finally be distributed by press agencies and broadcasted on TV by your favorite news anchor. If you are aware of this process you are able to handle early information, knowing it requires validation and an evaluation of the source, and that aggregators are reasonable news aggregators to leverage. Slow news channels such as evening news on TV should be respected as the “quasi” final confirmation of a news report (notice: mistakes and incorrect reports still possible but low chance!).

Be happy to possibly be informed shortly by fast channels such as Twitter but do handle information careful as the maturity process still proceeds.

To end reading this post with a smile, the following xkcd comic shows you the power of Twitter, the possibly fastest channel you get ;)

xkcd seismic waves (source: xkcd.com)

Dutch Love to Go Camping

I was wondering why Dutch caravans crowd our Autobahn every summer. So, I googled the Web to find out what makes them go on vacation with a caravan.

First thing I checked was how popular camping is in the Netherlands. According to google trends it is pretty popular :) People from the Netherlands are #1 in the world when it comes to googling for “camping”. My research went on to discover the reasons.

Unfortunately, there was no definite reason or centuries old Dutch tradition that explains the yearly habit. But several points came up that draw a picture. Dutch obviously do have some specific preferences regarding their vacations. In particular, regarding food, children and the accommodation.

bring own food

According to a blog I found camping is so popular for Dutch people because they want to bring their own food. It is cheaper on the one hand and you are safe the food tastes good on the other. The blog, however, guesses its due to the Dutch’s cheapness :D

I also discovered that there is such a thing as a Dutch oven. Most likely everyone has seen one of these in a Western movie. The Dutch call it potje.

bring children

The Dutch must love children! One of the reasons that Dutch prefer camping is their children. Camping is definitely a family thing and children love camping. That is probably also the reason why this becomes a sort of tradition. Every Dutch remembers the great time he had on camping vacations in his childhood.

freedom and unusual accommodations

A major reason is a weakness for unusual accommodations, but also the freedom a caravan gives. A caravan allows a comfortable road trip with a motel on board. Nonetheless, prefering a caravan over a hotel room must be a Dutch thing ;) But Dutch do love unusual accommodations as stated by Ben Thijsen a Dutch entrepreneur who bought an old Eastern German airplane and turned it into a hotel.

Dutch must love camping so much they even drove down to the world championships in south africa 2010 in caravans.

Here’s a fun video about how much Germans like the Dutch caravans on our Autobahn:

StartUp and Merge

There appears to be a clear inability of big companies to foster new and, in particular, disruptive technologies. Organizational inertia with companies that have grown big already seems to keep them from succeeding in new but small markets. Employees see their jobs in danger when new technologies arrive or fear the loss of an expert status. Moreover, new smaller markets are less attractive to big companies. For more details on this topic I recommend the book innovator’s dilemma.

The niche for using the new (disruptive) technologies is filled by new start ups. And, apparently, the number of startups appears to be growing (remember, there was a recession!) and the number of old companies (30+ years) appears to be shrinking.

Source: US Census Bureau, Business Dynamics Statistics (http://www.ces.census.gov/index.php/bds/sector_line_charts)

In return venture capitalists become more powerful, more business angels and accelerators rise and more seed funding organizations are found. There is already a quite big scene for IT companies and finding the right one is quite a task. Some provide support for IT startups of a certain market only (e.g. PeopleBrowser for social media startups). One they all have in common is the support for founding a company and the share they take. Some want money for office space, some offer everything for free. Some give courses and training, some only an ecosystem of people to talk to.

What is also interesting is the number of acquisitions of startups. Google made 102 acquisitions since 2001. The common lifecycle of newly founded companies is more often ending with being acquired by a big player.

The cycle helps big companies to stay at the top. They fail to switch to new technologies or conquer new, small markets and instead acquire a player in a certain field. Important here is to make the acquisition smooth.

What I am shocked about is that this way existing companies can stay atop by acquiring new startups that conquer small markets for them. Assumed the big company has enough intelligence to discover new markets and understand future developments. I wonder if this might get lost with not conquering new markets on your own. The intense IT market with a wide range of new technologies and some time in the future a striking, disruptive technology will show. Microsoft who is and was always selling software already suffered heavily from the disruptive Cloud technology and transition to software services.

This whole development leaves me less afraid of founding a new company if there would be the opportunity one day. The support becomes better and the whole market expects new startups to be created all the time.

So, there are two popular options for a startup: become big or being acquired. But, there are other options as startups might fail or become less successful. When a company starts it should also always think about its possible ending, the exit strategies.

After all, I feel people become more flexible, more independent and freelance and starting a company is an option for more people. The age of finishing school, joining and living in a company a whole life appears to be over.

One last interesting piece of information: founders become younger according to an article of Spiegel Online.