Sunday, March 5, 2017

Working out of office: My "on-the-go" setup (2016 version)

(Why 2016 version? Just because some new parts have not been extensively tested in 2017 - read below for more info!)

I usually have the opportunity (and I say so, because I consider it to be a great opportunity) to work away from office. Don't get me wrong; I like my working environment - I still love changing setups and have found that new working environments improve my productivity.

My current office setup consists of a desktop Windows 10-powered PC (not the fastest around but does the work) with two screens connected (a habit that I got a couple of years ago, when I was using a 17-inch laptop at work with a screen attached), a Logitech mouse and a Microsoft keyboard, along with piles of printed documents and hand-written notes, newspapers focused in agriculture (stored in a bin behind my desk), a weird smartphone stand and pens/pencils/post-it notes. I also have a diary where I keep my daily notes (To-Do lists, notes taken during meetings - I avoid using notebook sheets for that - etc.).

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My work (especially in the past) included several days/weeks of work outside the office - including trips abroad for project meetings, Conferences and Workshops, meetings with customers and collaborators, field visits, training opportunities etc. Therefore, I had to adapt to a digital nomad approach, where I could have access to all my work (e.g. emails, documents and notes) all the time, even when I was away from office. I therefore tried and tested (under real circumstances) different tools, setups and approaches, in order to ensure that being out of office would not affect my productivity. Some of the key components are the following:

1. Backpack: I cannot imagine a trip abroad without a backpack - and I mean a good one! This is where all important stuff goes, including my laptop (or tablet) and charger, mouse, documents related to the trip including passport and maps, boarding passes, things to read or review during the flight/trip, pens/pencils/markers/notepads, my diary, smartphone and wallet etc. For such kind of trips you need an elegant but still durable backpack (water-resistance is also an essential feature). I currently use a Lufthansa Boeing 747-8 Collection Backpack, which is suitable for laptops up to 17,3' and has plenty of pockets for all stuff I need to have with me.

2. Laptop: One of the most essential companions during a trip. I am not processing video when I am on the go, so I do not need the most powerful laptop available. I have used several significantly different laptops, each one having advantages and drawbacks: my 17-inch Toshiba Satellite provided ample working space but was bulky, heavy and short on battery power, my 11,6-inch Acer netbook was ultra portable but lagging to catch up with basic tasks even with Linux installed, my 15,6-inch basic Acer Aspire laptop providing a balance between portability and performance, with surprising good battery - for a €300 laptop!).

I recently started traveling with my 10,1-inch Windows Tablet (Z3735F @ 1,33GHz, 2 GB RAM and 32GB storage), accompanied by a bluetooth keyboard (Logitech K480), a travel mouse and an external hard disk (where most - if not all - of my work is synced). By using a tablet with a detachable keyboard I have the flexibility to use tablet only (lighter) when reading e.g. at the airport or during a flight and easily convert it to a mini-laptop during the meeting or at the hotel room. Performance of the tablet is adequate for typical usage (e.g. editing slides and documents, web browsing and social media - even for watching movies if there is time for that!) and tiny screen is usually not an issue: sometimes I even have the option to plug it to larger screen (if available) or the hotel room's TV (not as frequently as I would like, I have to admit). Battery life time is usually adequate for a half-day meeting but power sockets are usually available.

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3. Documents (digital): A connection to the internet is not always available (e.g. in airports, hotel rooms and even meeting places), but still I need to have a copy of my work as a reference at all times. My work exists in Dropbox, so I only have to copy my Dropbox folder to an external hard disk before the trip. All changes of documents are then synced with my Dropbox on the cloud - it is a great convenience! On top of that, all photos taken with my Windows Phone (ranging from event photos to scans of receipts) are available on OneDrive and synced with my laptops.

4. Software: I like to travel light (not that I manage to do so in all occasions), so I tend to reduce the amount of printed material I carry with my while travelling. To do so, I have to replace traditional tools of the trade with digital ones. For example, I keep in Google Calendar all important dates (deadlines & milestones for project tasks, dates for events like Conferences etc.). I use Trello for organizing my work/tasks and efficiently allocate my time to each, Google Docs for keeping notes during meetings, working on large documents and allow collaborative work with colleagues, as well as Evernote for check lists and for draft blog posts (I like the formatting better). These eliminate the need to carry around diaries, notepads and even printed versions of documents.

5. Tools of the trade: It is obvious that it is hard to skip all printed versions of documents; for example, I personally still find it more convenient to go through documents in their printed form, take notes with color pens, highlight parts with color pencils - and the fact that you don't have to care about the status of your reader's (e.g. laptop/tablet) status is a bonus! So I always carry blue/black/red pens with me, a couple of markers for highlighting text, post it notes etc., as well as a number of USB sticks (to share files when internet is not an option), a laser pointer (not only it is a handy tool, usually overlooked, but also makes you look more professional), business cards in an neat aluminum case etc.

This is more or less what I use to keep myself productive while being out of office - and it has been successfully tested in numerous occasions. As a gadget-junkie and a curious mind, I tend to find new tools and ways to improve my setup, testing and integrating them in my workflows. Traveling might be challenging, but only if you are not well-prepared for it! 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Presenting NEUROPUBLIC's smart farming project in the si-Cluster meeting

On February 7th, 2017, a special meeting took place at the premises of the Corallia innovation hubsi-Cluster members were invited to join and make a 5- min presentation of their work (always related to space technologies) to the Minister for Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Information Dr. Nikos Pappas and the Secretary General Dr. Lefteris Kretsos, among others. The meeting was organized in the context of the recent announcement about the establishment of the Greek National Center for Space Applications, as a part of a series of meetings between the Minister and Greek organizations (both public and private sector) that are activated in the space technologies ecosystem.
The aim of the specific meeting was to inform the Minister about the si-Cluster ecosystem which are surely of relevance to this announcement and focus on applications based on space technologies which are developed and applied by Greek companies and research / higher education institutes (which are members of the si-Cluster). NEUROPUBLIC, as one of the si-Cluster members was one of the companies that had the opportunity to present their work to the officials of the Ministry. The company was represented by its CEO Mr. Giannis Mavroudis and me, and our presentation focused on its low cost smart farming services that the company designs and implements in the context of its smart farming project that takes place in various locations all over Greece.

The presentation referred to the role of various data and technology types, such as remote sensing, in the smart farming services of the company, the low cost of the services for the farmers as well as on the multiple benefits that they reap through the improvement of their yield both quantitative and qualitative, the reduced production cost and the improvement of their competitiveness in the market through the added value assigned to their products. Another important point of our presentation was the expertise of the company, obtained through its long-time collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA), the technologies of which NEUROPUBLIC adapts and implements in the Greek agricultural sector.

Despite the fact that the time for the presentation of our work was limited, the Minister expressed his interest on our approach and the actual results achieved so far. Since agriculture is one of the key sectors with the potential to support the country's efforts for increased exports, the few agricultural applications of space technologies draw the attention of the special visitors.

All in all, I was really happy to participate in this event and have the opportunity not only to meet the Minister but also be a part of the effort contributing to the space technologies' ecosystem in Greece. Special thanks should go to the organizers of the event, who managed to set everything up in such a short time and cater for the needs of each individual participant of the event. We can only hope that the effort (referring to the presentation of the work of more than 20 Greek organizations) will lead to something substantial, in alignment with the ambitious plan of launching the Greek National Center for Space Applications.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Discussing smart farming in Greece in the KATANA Roadshow Athens

OpenCircle, an equity crowdfunding platform developed by Parnasse S.A. – and a consortium member of the KATANA Horizon 2020 project, organized on February 2nd 2017 a meeting (KATANA Roadshow Athens) at the premises of Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) in Athens, Greece. The event aimed at informing Greek potential stakeholders about the possibilities of applying innovative ideas and the funding opportunities offered by the project.

NEUROPUBLIC was invited by the organizers of the event to talk about the status of Smart Farming in Greece, and present its smart farming project which is currently taking places in various locations all over Greece, in collaboration with GAIA EPICHEIREIN. I had the opportunity to represent NEUROPUBLIC in the event so I compiled a set of slides (reusing existing material and adding my own touch in order to make the slides appealing to the specific audience) that tried to cover as many aspects as possible in the time allocated for this presentation.

Our contribution aimed at highlighting the specificities of the Greek agricultural sector that prevent typical smart farming approaches from being successfully applied in Greece as well as at encouraging participants to participate with related innovative ideas in the open call of the KATANA project.

What I found challenging was to collect sufficient information on the status of smart farming in Greece; despite the fact that there are numerous Greek SMEs providing the necessary hardware and services (though not as a package as NEUROPUBLIC does) and also numerous EU-funded projects that focused on applying smart farming approaches in various Greek cases of crops and locations, only scarce information was available. I found a couple of presentations, descriptions of a couple of related projects (but not their outcomes) and one really useful (and recent) report on precision agriculture in Greece (which provided useful information for some of the slides) co-authored by Prof. Fountas from the Agricultural University of Athens. I know that the Smart AKIS H2020 project will work on a marketplace for smart farming so I hope that all related information will be more easily discoverable and retrievable in the near future. :-)

The event was well organized (big thanks to the organizers - Parnasse S.A.), engaged a diverse audience (including academia, entrepreneurs, students etc.) and my presentation raised some interest among the participants, which was expressed in a high number of questions afterwards as well as after the end of the event. I also had the opportunity to make some really interesting connections meeting people working on smart farming from different perspectives.

ΚΑΤΑΝΑ is a project funded through the Horizon 2020 programme and aims to promote innovative and smart business ideas in the agrifood sector. Through a well-defined process which includes innovative tools such as peer to peer evaluation and Reward Crowd Funding, at the final step 10 innovative consortia will be selected and receive €100.000 each, in order to proceed with the implementation of their ideas.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Internet of Things and Agriculture: AIOTI Working Group 06

The Alliance for Internet of Things Innovation (AIOTI) was initiated by the European Commission in 2015, with the aim to strengthen the dialogue and interaction among Internet of Things (IoT) players in Europe, and to contribute to the creation of a dynamic European IoT ecosystem to speed up the take up of IoT. It involves a high number of organizations from the public and private sector that join forces towards a common goal.

AIOTI is organized in 13 Working Groups that cover different areas of IoT applications; NEUROPUBLIC is a member of AIOTI and one of the contributors to its WG 06: Smart Farming and Food Security. We gladly accepted Gradiant's invitation (the organization leading the specific WG) and so I found myself in Brussels on Sunday afternoon, getting ready to represent NEUROPUBLIC in the meeting which was hosted by the Spanish Office of Science and Technology (or Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas in Spanish).

I was excited to be on the same table with people from organizations such as Bayer Crop ScienceIBMSiemensCEMA (the voice of the EU agricultural machinery producers), COPA-COGECA (the voice of EU farmers and farmers' cooperatives) and Intracom Telecom, to name a few, and have the opportunity to discuss about the current status of implementation of new technologies and the IoT ecosystem in the agricultural context. I was also glad to meet old friend Christopher Brewster from TNO after quite a long time.
During the meeting, GAIA Epicheirein was mentioned as one good use case of application of new technologies in agriculture; I was happy to provide some insights on how GAIA Epicheirein was established and the work done in the context of NEUROPUBLIC's smart farming project that takes place all over Greece. Our new H2020 project DataBio was also mentioned quite a few times during the meeting, as one of the projects that may help push things forward in the specific context (see e.g. the smart farming pilots that NEUROPUBLIC will be responsible for).

The Smart AKIS H2020 project was also presented during the meeting by Ivo Hostens from CEMA, as a project that could be of interest to the scope of the group; more specifically, the marketplace that the project aims to build could be adapted by the WG.

The next steps of the Working Group were discussed during the meeting and there are still points to be addressed but this first face to face meeting of the Working Group gave a boost into the right direction (and also allowed the participants / members of the WG to get to know each other). I have the feeling that NEUROPUBLIC will be one of the important members of the group, due to its unique combination of technology/infrastructure, access to farmers (through GAIA Epicheirein) and application of its smart farming services under real conditions. :-)