My evening with Dream Theater (14/02/2014 – Wembley Arena)

meeting Dream Theater

With Dream Theater

When my friend Panos called me in August I was on a summer holiday in Mani – Peloponnese. He sounded very excited on the phone and got straight to the point. Dream Theater had just announced the European tour dates and on Valentine’s day 2014 would be London’s turn. Wembley Arena was the venue, and having been on the new Wembley Stadium just two months before that phone call, I could not turn down the proposal.

When I came back to London and my normal life, Panos and I were visiting the website everyday, waiting for the tickets to be released. This is when it occurred to us. Shall we go for VIP? VIP included a meeting with the band right before the show. It was so exciting just to think about it. It didn’t take long to decide. We went for it. The fact that I could speak just for a few minutes with the keyboards player that I just admire as well as those massive musicians was more than just another factor.

One week before the show, Panos and I started getting organized. What would we listen to? What would be the set list? What shall we bring for the band to sign? There was a massive build up of feelings. One very significant detail, is that Mr Bob Katsionis, one of the greatest Greek keyboardists would also be joining us.

Next thing I can remember is waiting in line to meet the band. Then they come out. Jordan Rudess is carrying his iPhone recording a video walking towards us. At some point, his phone comes so close and all I can say is “Hey, Jordan” on camera! I couldn’t feel my legs. During my photo with the band I just couldn’t believe that I was standing next to Jordan Rudess and John Petrucci. I said “Greece salutes you” – John Petrucci responds: “For those about to rock”.

Another 15 minutes goes by and then its my turn to chat a little bit with each of the band members. I remember I first asked Mike Mangini about how much time does he spend on warming up before the show. “At the beginning of the tour, almost none but now it can get up to an hour”. Same question for John Myung: “About two hours” was the response! WOW! I then asked Jordan to post some more exercises for keyboards on his youtube, he mentioned his online conservatory and we also talked a little bit about warming up. With John Petrucci and James Labrie all I could say was “Thank you” for the songs you guys have produced. The overall Meet and Greet experience was just great. I guess everyone would want a few more minutes with the band members, but we have to realize that those guys are the best musicians in the world. They are not there to chat, they are there to play. A very nice gift was waiting on our exit – a signed poster of the Enemy Inside and a set of picks, one being John Petrucci’s

Being in the 3rd row had great advantages. First of all we were feeling every sound. Apart from the fact that John Myung playing almost in my face, I was also able to have a clear view on Jordan Rudess and John Petrucci. Big big credits to the sound engineers, although we were almost in front of the PA, sound was very clear.

There are four big moments from the show that I will remember forever. First one is the intro, the False Awakening suite video which was amazing and of course the moment were the screen drops and the Enemy Inside starts. Second moment is Space Dye Vest. This is one of my favorite songs, the first time I watched it live and almost cried. Amazing performance from Dream Theater on that one. Third one, Illumination Theory. You gotta love this masterpiece. Its not just the song, or just the strings session in the middle. Its the overall feeling of the sound and the amazing performance of Dream Theater. Excellent choice to add songs from Awake and Scenes from a memory. This shows great respect to previous work. The fourth moment is the Dance of Eternity. A musical piece that should be part of the material taught in every music school around the world.

Overall the band seemed to be finally free. I can’t speak for them but I have the impression that there is an enormous amount of musical freedom during the Mike Mangini era. Their shows are a level up and it seems to me that their musical explorations are simply expanding further. Whether this will bring better albums we’ll have to wait and see but we have to acknowledge that Dream Theater are always experimenting with new styles and new sounds. I haven’t listened to a “bad” album by this band and this is why I’ll remain a huge fan and follower.

Dream Theater, thank you for this absolutely amazing musical experience

The Enemy Inside poster signed by the band

The Enemy Inside poster signed by the band

My John Petrucci pick
My John Petrucci pick
The Enemy Inside

The Enemy Inside

Space Dye Vest

Space Dye Vest

Jordan Rudess in action

Jordan Rudess in action

Jordan Rudess with the keytar

Jordan Rudess with the keytar

My Budokan DVD Case signed by the band

My Budokan DVD Case signed by the band

The setlist:

False Awakening Suite
The Enemy Inside
The Shattered Fortress
On the Backs of Angels
The Looking Glass
Trial of Tears
Enigma Machine (With drum solo by Mike Mangini)
Along for the Ride
Breaking All Illusions

Act II
The Mirror
Lie
Lifting Shadows Off a Dream
Scarred
Space-Dye Vest
Illumination Theory

Encore:
Overture 1928
Strange Déjà Vu
The Dance of Eternity
Finally Free

Working in a wannabe-agile team

Direction

I decided to write a post about my experience of working in a very demanding banking organization that in my opinion suffers from technical incompetence as well as old-fashioned IT culture. The project we are working on will transform the commercial and corporate banking channel and for that reason it has the gained complete focus of the upper management personnel. The team itself is divided between Edinburgh, Halifax, London and New Delhi which makes communications quite hard. When I joined the project I was warned about the cultural and technical difficulties that exist in the team. Worth noting that it consists of permanent staff as well as contractors and of course our offshore partner in India.

Part of my role in the project, is to break those IT stereotypes that the team is suffering from. My managers have every confidence in me, I believe I have gained their respect and they keep consulting me on a daily basis about how to go forward. It seems to me that they would love the culture of the IT department to be modern and the people to be willing to adapt to new policies, technologies and procedures. I know that they would love an agile team but at the same time they acknowledge that as a team we do not have that capability quite yet.

Having said all that, I came across a very interesting article about ways to perform Agile Transformation in organizations that suffer from lack of adaptability.

The biggest issue in such situations is the people. Especially the permanent staff. In our company we have people that have been programming in the waterfall model for almost 20 years, knowing nothing about object oriented programming for example. People that love to stick to the process of first making the perfect design, and then to develop the product. From my experience this situation almost never happens, and waiting for the perfect design costs time and money. As someone that believes very much in the success of the project both from a technical as well as a financial side, it is my obligation to change that mentality. I believe very much in an Agile world.

BUT:

My enthusiasm is slowly decreasing. In order to get anything done, you need to wait for ages. People simply don’t care about their work enough to carry out some tasks that they may be unfamiliar with. I have met many people criticizing the choice of the language (Java) simply because they had never had any experience with it. Moreover, when you try to convince them to do things a different way, they become as stubborn as a donkey (popular Greek expression). And then, you escalate things to the managers. I would expect to have their full support but what could they do when a person who is with the bank for >20 years stands against me?

I guess that the article mentioned is right:

“Agile adoption is a harsh mirror. If you don’t want to know how ugly you are, don’t look in.”

Question is however and goes to the managers: Where do they see the department going?

Hanon – The most valuable exercise resource

109638_1_hanon_the_virtuoso_pianist

When I was studying classical piano at the music school I always had one nightmare every time I had to attend class.

The exercises.

I could never appreciate how important they were, plus I was so enjoying the melodies and the history of every piece of classical music that I couldn’t wait to play it. Of course, that was about 15 years ago. Studying the exercises at home was never an option for me as I would sit down in front of my piano and I would play all kinds of songs, or just melodies.

15 years later, I found myself enjoying some exercises from the book pictured above.

HANON – by Charles-Louis Hanon

I believe I can easily say that it is invaluable. Tons of exercises for finger independence, scales, power etc. Best recommendation is to play along the metronome from 60bpm to 108bpm and repeat the exercises regularly before continuing to the next one.

At the end of the book there is an amazing comment from the author apparently:

Every pianist that wants to become virtuoso, needs to repeat the whole book everyday for a long period of time

Of course I am not anywhere near that, but it would certainly help me improve my technique.

Hanon2First_BIG

Manos Hadzidakis – A prophete?

I know that this post is for those who speak Greek and I apologize to the rest of you who won’t understand it.

Manos Hadzidakis is on the top 5 of Greek Musicians – Composers of all time. Mostly well known for the music on “Never on a Sunday” which is a shame since he composed some amazing musical pieces. He did have his own style in melodies and harmonies and he managed to find the right balance between vocals and music in a song (something which I admire).

In the video posted, we see some of its personality. We listen to some quotes mentioned 20, 30 or even 40 years ago and they are still applicable today. Especially in the political and economical situation my country is in. For example, back in 1994 when the fascist Golden Dawn party was just a violent gang, he performed a big concert in Athens against fascism. He was in charge of national radio after the dictatorship promoting the culture, new artists etc.

Manos Hadzidakis for me will always be a noble man.

Are big corporations outdated?

retired computer

I have recently changed jobs, working now for a major banking and finance group having moved from a major software player of the betting and gambling industry. In fact, most of my career has been around projects in the banking and finance sector. I will not write about the differences between industries in this post although I should because banks for example can learn a lot about how an IT department should be structured and working from smaller companies that thrive in other business sectors. Instead I am aiming to outline some major IT and business challenges that big corporations face.

Assumptions and arguments

My first assumption is that big companies with over 1000 employees do have processes that take a significant amount of time to complete and vary from standard recruitment to major software installations. The main argument behind all this time spent in these processes is either law restrictions or security. Law restrictions are beyond my understanding and I don’t intend to dismiss anything I do not understand. Security on the other hand, I know much about and I can understand many aspects of security threats that software industry face.

Security

I do not dismiss security at all. It is a very serious argument and of course certain countermeasures must be taken. For example, Internet access should be going through proxy servers that utilize firewalls and certain types of files should be prohibited from download depending on the operating system the company uses. It is also a very good security advice to have a unique operating system within the company’s PCs. Certain file scanning software should be present to verify that the files transmitted within the internal network are not harmful and finally the user’s network id is something that should be used throughout the company’s internal processes (timesheet system, holiday, email, network transfers, instant messaging etc). Once a network id is provided, the user should be able to login to every system without separate effort.

The question is, what should be the extent of those countermeasures? To what extent the software that is used is up to date and truly serving its purpose? Given that now we are very much into 2013, with mobile services being extremely popular, the amount of people that depend on the Internet for their everyday tasks is already massive and growing. So based on my experience here are some of the challenges that companies face regarding IT.

(Some of) The Challenges

  1. IT people are there to provide a service.

It is very important for everyone in the business to realize that. People in IT are very much prohibited from providing the required service because of various obstacles. Examples often include: They are not allowed to install software on their machines. They are not allowed access to certain websites. Their actual computer may be running slowly or their operating system lacks certain benefits. What is the point of all those restrictions who are often imposed by the “rules” if the outcome is people not be able to do their work?

  1. IT people know about computers (presumably)

They do. Or at least companies have to assume that they do. If you hire a programmer, or analyst or whatever, you have to test them against standard computer-related tasks. What is the point of prohibiting them plugin a USB device to their machine for file transfers? What is the point of not allowing them to install software? Of course if Internet access is controlled there is a certain level of security. And to be honest, who will actually jeopardize their position and career by using the company’s network or equipment maliciously? A single error (which can of course be pinpointed if network id is present everywhere) may destroy someone’s career, it would be utterly stupid to make such an error.

  1. Laptops vs Desktops

I am not a big fan of a desktops anymore. In a world where everybody travels and have to work from a variety of locations, having a laptop (with a separate keyboard and a mouse if you want) is ideal. It makes moving desks a lot easier. You can be in a meeting with your whole workstation in front of you and perform at your best. Desktops need a great amount of maintenance, offer no portability and lets face it, the whole desktop retail sector is now just for gamers and maybe not even for them. I’m definitely open to discuss pros for desktops but at the moment as the nature of my job currently is, I don’t consider them as a viable solution.

  1. Internet

The biggest problem. Ok I can understand the limitations on porn sites. Definitely, porn should be out of the question. Even certain forums or websites that offer copyright content illegally to the visitors. But why are the social media prohibited from viewing during work hours? Why are the legitimate download sites like CNET prohibited? Why block all possible sites that may offer downloading options? There is absolutely no excuse for that. An IT person needs tools for their work. They constantly visit blogs and other pages related to their work. They even use social media for work. And it is not that such people are computer illiterate. Companies should seriously reconsider the rules around blocking websites. Last but not least, blocking Google, Hotmail or Yahoo is pure stupidity.

  1. Wifi

This is in connection with the above that have been mentioned around Internet. If you do block Internet access to your employees at least offer them a free and open WiFi. Keep the WiFi separate from Intranet all employees are happy.

Concluding

All that being said, companies have to come to terms with 2013. Technology is progressing and some major decisions about how to run IT must be taken. Computers were invented to make the running of a business faster and smoother, and not to inhibit its progress.

After visiting Madrid…

Image

… i only have great words of appreciation for everyone I ‘ve met. There are many things to say about this trip but one of the most important is the fact that it felt like home. This is totally thanks to Javi and his family, Sandra and her family as well who welcomed me and made me feel as part of them. I really appreciated the family atmosphere which is exactly like my family in Greece. In addition, I need to illustrate the fact that Greeks and Spanish are the same. Exactly the same. Είμαστε ίδιοι, somos iguales.

The next best thing is the food!!! One of the typical spanish breakfasts (other than churros y cafe con leche) you can have this toasted bread with tomato and olive oil (salt is not mandatory). I did appreciate la tortilla de patatas (the spanish omelete) and of course the amazing conchinillo (baby pig).

It was a great holiday, great people, great city and it is definately worth the visit.

Cheers,

Vassilis