Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Respect for the Waste Collectors (on the Road to EU)

This photo is of a shelf with toys from Eindhoven, Netherlands shop. I found it very interesting that two out of three best European toy brands, Playmobil and Lego, choose to include waste collectors in their palette.

Like the third one—Papo—these two also feature toys with other backgrounds, from nature-orinted, to inspired by history or science-fiction. But I'm impressed by the inclusion of everyday professions, and women and children as characters, which enables the kids who play with them much wider educational benefits.

A long time ago (around 1979 – when I was five) you could buy similar toys in Macedonia too: Play-BIG, the vanished competitor of Playmobil. They had similar approach, I remember having a road worker with pike and cone, and fluorescent overall. I consider importing such egalitarian toys for the children of Macedonia a matter of national interest. They have had enough romantic-militaristic indoctrination by the cowboys-Indians-knights-army men toy establishment (mostly Chinese copies of American sets).

Dutch Design Week Highligts

Dutch Design Week is an annual event taking place in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, with a packed activity schedule at various locations in the city (20-28.10.2007), as well as some cars driving around with funny sculptures on top of them.

Judging from several of DDW's deliverables, it seems to me that the message was that design should be considered an integral part of innovation. Such implications included a city re-design competition initiated by the municipality, and Philips' presentations on future buildings equipped with built-in recycling system similar in function to the stillsuits of Dune and e-tattoos.

Stumbling upon the huge exhibition space in former industrial complex called Strijp S was quite lucky coincidence, enabling me to enjoy various design solutions, from a chamber cinema for animations, to quite toys and chairs with style, to new models of cars and cool t-shirts.

Rosalie BakThe designers' collective Groene Honden (Green Dogs) occupied one of the most vibrant and interesting spaces in the exhibition. The group features upstarts who've teamed up to combine their creative forces and youthful optimism. For instance, take Ms. Rosalie Bak (pictured), a designer who uses inspiration from medicine and anatomy to create home-bound items which look and feel great, from dolls made of bandages and cotton, to bottles and vessels resembling human organs.

Taking a sip from a heart-shaped bottle must be a far cry from the heart-shaped box of Nirvana fame, since the bottle is not only anatomically correct - as opposed to overly stylized, and radiates fresh, upbeat vibes associated with the welcoming future of scientific progress.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

New Timeline: Heroes of Plutarch's Lives

The Timeline of Plutarch's Lives presents the lifespans of the characters presented in one of the most influential biographical works in history. Among others, Napoleon Bonaparte used to carry the Lives with him on his campaigns, and the book is also featured at the bottom of J.L. David's painting "Napoleon in his study in the Tuileries Palace."

The Wikipedia entry on the Parallel Lives and the appropriate articles on individual characters provided the basis for the timeline.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Chàchipe: Photo Competition Deadline Extended Till August 15

The organizers of Chàchipe - the Decade of Roma Inclusion Photo Contest, Open Society Institute and OSA Archivum, announce extension of the deadline till August 15, 2007.

read more | digg story

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Interviews with authors of Macedonia graphic novel

A graphic novel by Harvey Pekar, Heather Robinson and Ed Piskor about Macedonia has been published. It describes Ms. Robinson's jurney into the country, investigating why peace, and not war, broke few years ago.

My review of the book will hopefully be done soon, in the meantime check out these interviews with the authors
This book is hugelly important, as one of the few really dealing with the country available in the West. This problem is mentioned in the book itself, and by the authors in the interviews.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Two interviews with Joi Ito in the Macedonian Press

At the Creative Commons Macedonia launch last week, Joichi Ito gave two interviews for two Macedonian daily newspapers:
  • the first (pictured) on the spot, for Nedelno Vreme published this Sunday,
The first interview was supplemented by adaptation of the How it Works comics.

The Quest for Perfect Strategy Game

Can real-time strategy (RTS) games be used as a tool to learn strategy? Can the politicians and other leaders use them to learn how to better manage resources, envision moves, plan activities to the benefit of real states? Yes, but only if they use games which apply the accumulated wisdom in this field.

Filip Stojanovski

The basic challenge facing the authors of computer games is balancing the degrees of simulation and playability. The game should tend to reflect the real circumstances, but it also needs to condense and abstract the boredom inherent to war. A game becomes uninteresting failure both if it's too hard and if it's too easy.

The basic factor whether a game is good for learning strategy is whether it uses the knowledge accumulated by the classics in this discipline through history. Games that provide conditions for forcing gamers to apply these lessons are best learning tools.

All the ingredients

Sun TzuAncient Chinese general Sun Tzu teaches that "All warfare is based on deception." In his book The Art of War, he states a general should be familiar with five factors.
These are: (1) The Moral Law; (2) Heaven; (3) Earth; (4) The Commander; (5) Method and discipline.

• The Moral Law causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger.
• Heaven signifies night and day, cold and heat, times and seasons.
• Earth comprises distances, great and small; danger and security; open ground and narrow passes; the chances of life and death.
• The Commander stands for the virtues of wisdom, sincerely, benevolence, courage and strictness.
• By method and discipline are to be understood the marshaling of the army in its proper subdivisions, the graduations of rank among the officers, the maintenance of roads by which supplies may reach the army, and the control of military expenditure.
Basil Henry Liddell HartBritish military theoretician Basil Henry Liddell Hart, whose students included legendary generals such as Rommel and Patton synthesized the historic experiences from the last 2500 years in his book Strategy (1967). He reveals that:
...throughout the ages, effective results in war have rarely been attained unless the approach has had such indirectness as to ensure the opponent's unreadiness to meet it. The indirectness has usually been physical, and always psychological. In strategy, the longest way round is often the shortest way home.

More and more clearly has the lesson emerged that a direct approach to one's mental object, or physical objective, along the 'line of natural expectation' for the opponent, tends to produce negative results. The reason has been expressed vividly in Napoleon's dictum that 'the moral is to the physical as tree to one'. It may be expressed scientifically by saying that, while the strength of the opposing force or country lies outwardly in its numbers and resources, these are fundamentally dependant upon stability of control, morale and supply.
The concept of Four Generations of Modern War, developed by the American strategist and former marine William S. Lind provides another intellectual framework:

The First Generation (1648-1860) - the state established a monopoly on war, with a military culture of order, with imposed discipline and strict hierarchy, reflected in the way armies act on battlefield, using line and column tactics.

The Second Generation (1860-1939) brought reaction to the suicidal insistence of order against industrialized weapons such as machine guns, using mass firepower, most of which was indirect artillery fire, as a solution. According to Lind:
The goal was attrition, and the doctrine was summed up by the French as, "The artillery conquers, the infantry occupies." Centrally-controlled firepower was carefully synchronized, using detailed, specific plans and orders, for the infantry, tanks, and artillery, in a "conducted battle" where the commander was in effect the conductor of an orchestra.
The Third Generation resulted from the German reaction to the former two, developed during World War I and applied during World War II. Its basis is "speed, surprise, and mental as well as physical dislocation" of the opponent, focused on solving actual problems in the field, not blindly following orders. This resulted in development of the "first non-linear tactics. On the defense, the objective became sucking the enemy in, then cutting him off, rather than holding a line. On the offensive, the attack flowed like water through the enemy's defenses, always seeking the weakest point to penetrate, then rolling him up from his own rear forward. Operationally as well as tactically the goal was usually encirclement."

Besides states, main actors in the Contemporary Fourth Generation wars include irregular, guerrilla, terrorist and/or mafia networks, with additional complication of clashing cultures on tribal, ethnic, ideological, and/or religious grounds. Such wars represent "mix of ancient and modern," with obvious primacy of the indirectness and the morale, especially regarding developing loyalty of the population as opposed to accumulation of resources, numbers, and firepower.

Games of note, not of use

Popularity of a game does not imply its usefulness as a tool for learning strategy. When the gaming industry overcomes some set of technical limitations, it mainly improves the visual elements and scope of activities - for instance, moving from isometric 2D to 3D, adding more kinds of troops, etc. Unfortunately, most of the contemporary games have not moved from the concept of Second Generation War – their main goal remains solving the equation of inflicting/avoiding physical loses.

In these games, the winner accumulates more resources, increasing the size and firepower of his or her army. The soldiers act as machines, without fatigue or fear even in dead end situations, toiling while they have enough "fuel" or until they suffer enough damage. This concept is partially due to the historical success of games with robot-like units, such as Dune II (1992). They have absolute hierarchy of control, the information and resources travel instantaneously from point to point, and the player's role resembles an omnipresent and omniscient deity, not a flesh-and-blood field commander.

Classic examples of this kind include the serials Age of Empires, Rise of Nations, Cossacks, Warcraft, and Starcraft. These games limit their users to partial control of but two out of the five Sun Tzu's factors (distances, roads, and expenditures), and only the external factors pointed by Liddell-Hart (numbers and resources). Even in games that perfected these elements, such as Sudden Strike, gamers have minuscule or no control over morale or indirectness, and get an impression that they can take them for granted, or completely disregard them.

The key reason for this approach is that the mainstream of American culture remains stuck in the Lind's Second Generation of warfare. Air force has replaced artillery as deliverer of superior firepower, followed by invasion supported by superb logistics. Since the USA's resources remain far larger than any of its opponents, the losses get replenished until total economic collapse of the enemy, or until those who resist are exterminated, disregarding the high cost of lost human lives and overall destruction of the targeted lands.

Niccolò MachiavelliWinning Fourth Generation Wars require minimizing the losses on both sides, and also avoiding humiliation and destruction of the institutions of the opponent, because they will be needed in the post-conflict period to provide law and order against the chaos incited by the anarchic and criminal groups. Renaissance thinker Niccolo Machiavelli recommends similar approach in The Prince (1513).

In reality, striving to physically destroy all enemy personnel remains unfeasible due to decreasing of differences between warriors and civilians, and their usual intermingling. Civilian losses increases the will to resist of the targets, and it also increases the negative public opinion world over, and in some cases can lead to legal repercussions. The first two years of the current occupation of Iraq vividly displayed the consequences of such errors.

Regrettably, very few strategic games takes morale as a success factor, with most of them representing the soldiers as blindly obedient executors of players' orders; displaying constant high level of courage, regardless of consequences. Genocide over the "enemy" also remains one of the basic assumptions of games like these. This approach can dramatically mislead the future strategists, leading them to disregard of emotions and empathy, to forgetting that they deal with human beings, and resulting in catastrophic mistakes in interpersonal relations with the subordinates or the opponents.

Such elements remain more present in the city/state running simulations, such as SimCity, Caesar, and Sid Meier's Civilization; or strategy/adventures such as Dune I (1992), where economic factors and satisfying various needs of the population dominate. Still, these games most often concentrate on global (or grand) strategy, with minimum real-time tactical elements – out of focus of this essay.

Another especially unrealistic element of the games such as Age of Empires is building wonder – usually huge buildings such as pyramids or the tower of Babel, leading to swift victory. In fact, such projects prove too expensive and with too minuscule effect in contrast to capacity building of the whole economic and societal system: agriculture, industry, science, education, and defense.

Doing it right

Pioneer of taking morale as element of strategy is Centurion: Defender of Rome (1990), which divides the action in concord with Liddell-Hart's concept of strategy—high politics, diplomacy, propaganda, choosing allies, choosing enemies, decisions to move—lead on a map similar to Risk board, and tactics—positioning the army, maneuvering, and actual fighting. In this case, for instance, attacking from the back brings enormous advantage, while killing a leader can result in a rout of his troops.

In this sense, Centurion had no real competition until the appearance of Shogun, the first Total War sequel in 2000. This game followed the same principles, supplemented with lessons by Sun Tzu and the Book of Five Rings (1645) by samurai Miyamoto Musashi.

Total War introduced limit to player's omniscience, creating the need of intelligence gathering through espionage. It also replaced the isometric display of battles with full three-dimensional environment. Unlike most other RPG serials, which focus on improving the design, this franchise also adds more simulation elements with each new issue, retaining the interest both of more experienced players and history buffs. Such elements include soldier fatigue and terrain type, present in earlier sequels, and role of nepotism in choosing field commanders, introduced in the later. Total War is not (yet) perfect, as it still retains some elements of god-like perception for the player, such as instant transport of resources (money) from and to any point on the map. Adding the element of logistics, such as tax collection caravans and dealing with corruption of governors, and info lag - the time messages need to travel from distant provinces, can add more flavour and realism. At various levels of the game these features can be automated or left to the players to control them hands-on.

Most Fourth Generation War elements remain present in Total War, but not all, such as role of propaganda, victimization, and social engineering, partly due to its historical setting. One game which explicitly refers to them is September 12th. This is a simulation intended to show the futility of tactics of killing "terrorists" with disproportional force – rocket attacks which also harm civilians. In the game, the relatives of civilians who perish become "terrorists" too, so the only result gain is continuing the cycle of violence.

In the past, gamers eager to acquire strategic skills faced a choice: either popular, but not very educational titles such as products by Microsoft and Blizzard, or games requiring high investment in equipment and steep learning curve. Total War solves this dilemma by enlarging the repertoire of activities for solving strategic problems, using both direct and indirect means.

Like all other human skill, strategic thinking can be learned. In the past, the main tools for this included study of history and critical thinking, because they enabled learning from other people's mistakes. Computer games present a welcome enhancement, because they also provide painless learning from one's own mistakes.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Imagine all the countries…

Can you imagine UN and EU to be persuaded by…
  • Mexico - to use the reference the Former British Colonies of United States of America for the USA, because the "America" part of the regular name implies territorial pretensions to the whole geographical area of America?
  • DR Congo - to use the reference the Former French Colony of Central Africa for the Central African Republic, because the "Africa" part of the regular name implies territorial pretensions to the whole geographical area of Africa?
  • USA - to use the reference the Former Spanish Colony of Mexico for the United Mexican States, because the "Mexico" part of the regular name implies territorial pretensions to south-western state of New Mexico?
  • USA - to use the reference the Former Soviet Republic of Georgia for the Republic of Georgia, because the "Georgia" part of the regular name implies territorial pretensions to their southern state of Georgia?
  • Azerbaijan - to use the reference the Former Ottoman Possession of Albania for the Republic of Albania, because the "Albania" part of the regular name implies territorial pretensions to the geographical region with that name in the Caucasus?
  • Macedonia - to use the reference the Former Yugoslav Republic of Montenegro for the Republic of Montenegro, because the "Montenegro" (in original: Crna Gora) part of the regular name implies territorial pretensions to the Macedonian region of Crna Gora Mountain?
  • Sweden - to use the reference the Former Russian Province of Finland for the Republic of Finland, because of the claim that Santa Claus is the "most famous Finn," while Sweden considers this cultural figure as its own?
  • France – to use the reference the Former Norman Possession of Great Britain for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, because the "Britain" part of the regular name implies territorial pretensions to the geographical area of Bretagne?
  • Russia – to use the reference the Former Ottoman Possession of Bulgaria for the Republic of Bulgaria, because the "Bulgaria" part of the regular name implies territorial pretensions to the geographical area covered by the historical country with the same name along Volga River?
  • Macedonia – to use the reference the Former Yugoslav Republic of for Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Serbia, because all of them were indeed republics in former Yugoslav federation, and it's unfair only one of them to carry this identity burden.

Then please raise your voice against the continuous discriminatory use of the "temporary" reference the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia by both UN and EU when they refer to Republic of Macedonia. Help putting and end to the surreally ridiculous, but very damaging "name dispute" instigated by Greece.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

UN and EU to Impose New Name on Finland

STOCKHOLM (Rewters) - Using the precedent set by Greece, which persuaded the international community to punish Macedonia for daring to claim the heritage of Alexander the Great by forcing a provisional name, Sweden decided to use the same remedy on obstinate Finland.

At the Eurovision Song Contest 2007, Finland raised the stakes in an age-old dispute by promoting Santa Claus as "the most famous Finn," which Sweden labeled a grave provocation. This Finish neighbor—claiming that the world-famous figure has their citizenship—retaliated by starting an economic embargo and requiring the EU from now and to all eternity use the provisional reference "former Russian province of Finland" or the short form "FRP Finland" in all international bodies and Europe-wide TV broadcasts.

All over Sweden, angry crowds took to the streets, chanting "Santa Claus is Ours!" and "Nokia, stop collecting people!" proudly waving their Sony Ericsson mobile phones in their clenched fists.

Using the Greek argument that only a part of the territory of Ancient Macedonia now belongs to Republic of Macedonia, Norway, Canada and Russia entered the fray, claiming that they possess far more acreage of the Arctic Circle than Finland, which invalidates its claim. They support the idea of UN arbitration, and require that the matter should be put forward to the Security Council.

An unlikely alliance of diplomatic representatives of Turkey and Serbia also condemned the Finnish "hostile" act. Turkey put forward historical evidence that the historical Santa Claus, who at the time was known as Saint Nicolas, in fact lived in Demre, in the Antalya province. Serbia based its objection on the fact that many Serbs celebrate Saint Nicolas as their family patron saint, and expressed fears that Finnish copyright on the day might lead to increased costs for the members of the Orthodox Christian community aggravating their already grave economic situation.

Coca Cola corporation spokesperson was unavailable for comment on this issue of outstanding international importance.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Emperor's Daughter and the Healer (Macedonian folk story)

A bad thought is a full-fledged disease - Macedonian proverb

Byzantine PrincessOnce upon a time, an emperor's daughter suffered from a bad thought she had. All imperial healers and physicians attempted to heal her, but nobody could find a cure. From day to day she grew worse, and her face was dying out.

An old healer heard about her plight. He was forgotten by the world forgot a long time ago due to his old age, and nobody ever sent for him any more.

"Ah, wait," the healer told himself, "I should go to the emperor's daughter, and see what kind of illness she has, so I can heal her."

He went to the castle and presented himself in front of the emperor's daughter. After he questioned her from all sides on what ails her, he found her cure.

"Many healers," the old healer said, "attempted to cure you by way of herbs, but they failed to make you well, daughter. I will cure you without herbs, so you will remember me and always mention me in your prayers 'may God have mercy on the old healer who cured me without herbs.'"

"Oh, gradpa," the emperor's daughter said sadly "If you can cure me, I will tell my father to make you the first healer of the capitol, and give you great riches."

After the healer heard this words, he went to the goldsmith and had made a golden ring, with a stamp on top. In the stamp, he wrote these words: "All that was – has come to pass, and all that will be – will pass also." He brought the ring to the princess and put it on her finger.

"Here's you cure, o imperial girl," said the healer. "Every hour of every day, when the bad thought comes to torment your heart, read the inscription and think about it a little bit. This way, if you read and think, in forty days you will be healed. Do this, I beseech you, and I guarantee with my own head: cut it off if you don't get well."

And in truth, the emperor's daughter recovered from the illness in her thought, in even less than forty days. She was cured, and the healer got great honors.

Written by Marko Cepenkov (1829-1920), translated into English by Filip Stojanovski.
Source: Царската ќерка и екимо.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

How to Get Over 10000 Visits to a Webpage in a Day (Case Study)

In the night between December 4 and 5, 2006, in the twelve hours between 7 pm and 7 am, one article of the Science Fiction Observer blog received over ten thousand visits. The lessons of this success are useful to all interested in online marketing and promotion.

This blog was opened for the reasons of testing the new Blogger software, learning about social networking as promotion tool through practice, and--of course--to present news and opinions about science fiction and related subjects, by the blog members.

1. The website should be appropriate for the purpose

Blogs are good tool for web marketing and e-publishing experiments because the initial financial expenses are minimal, while the very nature of the medium enables quick linking among the sites, which are already optimized for search engines (if they use Latin alphabets). Large portion of their audience consists of other bloggers, who by default surf more than the usual internet users, so the results are obtained quicker, in comparison to the overall internet-space.

2. Present Relevant Information

During the previous weekend I came across a news item that I found fitting into the concept of the blog, and could be tied in to some previous posts. In the presented form it did not provide complete information. The topic was updating the legal framework on copyright in the U.S.A. in some special cases, enabling access to abandonware, including some old DOS games mentioned on the blog. Besides a link to the news, I also found the original text of the new regulation and posted a link to it, alongside with a quote of the most important article. By this I provided a complete information, enabling further research for the readers who would like to pursue it.

3. Invest in Promotion over the Internet

Few days before that I already promoted the basic website of the blog over the StumbleUpon, generating over 1000 visits. I decided to use Digg's Gaming News channel for this article, because its readers would be most interested. The platforms both social networking services, but Digg's advantage is that it's completely web-based, while StumbleUpon requires users to install toolbar. (StumbleUpon's advantage is the ability to initiate direct communication among users, which is somewhat complicated on Digg). Digg articles receiving enough votes appear on the extremely popular front page.

This happened with the article in question. After getting initial support by dozens of voters, the visits skyrocketed to a few hundred. It ended its stay on the front page with over 1440 diggs, leading to over 14.000 visits from all over the world in the next couple of days. Links on other websites and blogs continued to supplement the Digg effect. Most of the visitors came from locations where potential foreign investors reside (North America, Western Europe, East Asia, Australia).

4. Follow the Situation Closely and React Accordingly

During the evening, I stayed on the particular Digg page used for voting, responding to comments by other users. This also helped the promotion, because their friends can see if they are active and post comments to certain topics, and get curious about it. Also, I invited my friends who were online at the time to join the party via IM.

In this case, the financial investment was minimal, and most of the investment consisted in applying experience and knowledge of operation of systems used.

5. Analyze and Make Room for Further Development

According to the results by the blog aggregator Digimak, which uses the data from the public counters of around 88 Macedonian blogs, an average Macedonian blog has about 40 unique visits per day. The most popular Macedonian blogs seldom top 200 visits per day, with the exception of porn blogs, which remain a separate world anyway. Judging by the available public counters and some insider data, Macedonian business-oriented websites probably do not stray much from this pattern.

This case remains important not only because it contributed to world promotion of the product in question (the article and the blog), but it contributed to raising the average visits level of the whole Macedonian blogosphere. If the Macedonian firms and institutions require business promotion over the internet, they must necessarily take into consideration the need for proactive web-marketing, and hire relevant experts.

Source: Како до над 10.000 посети на ваша веб-страница во еден ден (студија на случај). Filip Stojanovski for Razvigor in Macedonian blog, Jan 15, 2007.

If you like it, please digg this article ;-).

SEO for Blogs – Harder for Other Alphabets and Scripts

Blogger.com, Joomla and other popular contemporary content management systems (CMS) provide a feature that creates URLs for each article based on the words in the title, but this works only with Latin alphabets.

So for instance, if you have an article titled "10 Top Things", and instead of an URL based on its ID in the CMS database, such as
  • http://www.yoursite.org/show_article.php=23
you will get an URL such as
  • http://www.yoursite.org/2007/Jan/10-top-things.html

The article's URL is one of the most important elements to the search engines and the more keywords it contains, the higher the rank of the actual article. Unfortunately, this HTML dump technique is currently non-applicable to websites using scripts other than basic Latin, because the domain names are allowed to use only English Latin characters.

For instance, for an article written in Macedonian Cyrillic, with a title „Граѓаните имаат право на избор“ (Citizens have the right of choice) you would get a generic link such as
  • http://razvigormk.blogspot.com/2007/01/blog-post_16.html
because Blogger.com has no ability to include the words from the title into the URL.

One temporary solution would be to include a feature for transliteration, or converting the text written in other script into English Latin alphabet, and then using it in for the URL. For instance, the title of the above article would be "Gragjanite imaat pravo na izbor".

This SEO technique would at least help surfers who would search for Macedonian content but have no ability to write in Cyrillic at the moment, and would be especially helpful with search engines who do automatic conversion and cover both original Macedonian Cyrillic and English transliteration, such as Pogodok.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Timeline of Macedonian Blogosphere

The interactive Timeline of Macedonian Blogosphere depicts the most significant events and developments about Macedonia-related blogs.

Available in Macedonian and English languages.