A story of a red piglet and Slovenian endings

I wanted to see if there’s any Slovenian language content available for Kindle. I am happy to buy and read a few such books just to support the authors in their transition to the digital world.

The first item I’ve found was children’s book “Story of a red piglet“. The marketing was right – the piggy longs for freedom and runs away into the woods, there adventure happens. Maybe a book about growing up? Illustrated story for 6.49$ sounded like a good deal.

pig

A Berkshire Pig by William Shiels

Story nicely builds up the tension. After running away from the farm, the situation for the piglet is more and more dire - he is hurt and starving. When it looks like all has been lost, he discovers the power within and he uses tools he got during all the hardship to defeat the wolf-villain. The piglet becomes a hero that all animals admire.

Now the author faces a problem. What does the piggy do after he becomes the hero of the woods? Does he go to fight injustice in different woods? Takes off into sunset? Meets miss piggy and starts a family? Or maybe leisurely lives ever after as the protector of the woods?

No. Unfortunately the author takes a page out of Martin Krpan.

At the top of the world our hero piggy decides he is home sick and that he needs his old master. He returns to his old pig stables and doesn’t even tell his heroic story to his brothers. Because they wouldn’t believe him anyway.

 

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Books were a business!

I went for an engineering degree, so my education in humanities and liberal arts stopped at the end of high school – and I managed to skip many mandatory readings even then.

1lastjuy

Last Judgment Triptych (detail) by Hieronymus Bosch

Still getting older brings new perspectives on things. After recently reading Crime and punishment I realized that I’ve been deceived in my education.

When we’ve studied novels in high school we did lots of analysis of what the author was saying, how, how it has fit into time and place of writing, etc.

But I hadn’t been told at the time that novels were also a business. That they were not (only) read as works of high art, but as cultural works made for (mass) consumption. That (most) novels didn’t only seek to put author’s ideas forward, but also to please the audience and find a market.

Looking back, I think that my understanding of the literary works studied could have been better if we have also looked at the number of copies sold compared to their contemporaries, studied initial critical reception and discussed their marketing campaigns.

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AppEngine and Django

I did my first Google AppEngine app this past weekend.

I wanted to see if AppEngine is something we could use at Zemanta. We’re developing primarily in Python and Django, so I am interested in running those on SaaS and PaaS platforms. I succeeded, but it was an underwhelming experience.

The largest problem is stale documentation. Over time there have been at least three different ways of running Django. Disparate parts of documentation are not clear about which approach they are referring to. Some docs haven’t been updated since 2010.

DACS; (c) DACS; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

La guitare by Marie Laurencin

You can have Django-without-ORM, Django-nonrel or Django-with-CloudSQL. I first wanted to use Django-nonrel, but I couldn’t get it working. I couldn’t even figure out if it is still maintained as the docs point to a dead blog from 2011. With a lot of help from StackOverflow I got Django-with-CloudSQL working.

The second problem was local vs. cloud environment. While Google provides SDK with all the libraries, it is just an emulation and often it happens that SDK doesn’t match the real thing. Again documentation isn’t always accurate either.

The third problem is that Google is trying to prevent certain types of usage. AppEngine mangles User Agent strings of all outgoing requests – maybe they are trying to prevent people from writing proper crawlers? Kind of ironic considering Google’s roots.

There are also some things done extremely well – for example request log is very helpful for debugging. Naturally scalability should be one of the strongest points, but I didn’t have time to test that.

All in all, I think Django isn’t getting much love from AppEngine’s engineers. Even just putting some technical writers on the task would be a big step forward.

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What’s in a name? Silicon Gardens

When we announced Silicon Gardens Fund journalists asked many clever questions.  But no one asked about the name.

Slovenians have a pastime of “small-scale gardening” (vrtičkanje). As far as I know it developed as a practice of partial self-subsistence in communistic times.

Miss Jekyll's Gardening Boots by Sir William Nicholson

Miss Jekyll’s Gardening Boots by Sir William Nicholson

One of the senses of the word “vrtičkanje” is also pejorative. It means people inside an already small piece of land put up fences between themselves and each one cultivates their garden independently. Everyone is left alone by others and grows their own thing in peace and isolation. So the result is that no one joins forces together and big things can’t get accomplished.

Pattern of such behavior is unfortunately too frequent. Organizations and people who should be cooperating are fighting each other over minute differences. Or they don’t even know about the existence of each other. In a country of two million people I am not sure which is worse.

So how do we get rid of this behavior? I believe words are important. They shape our thoughts. So it can’t hurt if along with helping start-ups we also subvert a word or two. Hopefully we can fill the word ‘vrtičkanje’ with a new meaning.

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Editing is everything, editing is hell

A list of facts and thoughts that got edited out of the yesterday’s post about Martin Krpan:

Black and White Scissors with Green

Black and White Scissors with Green

  • that Slovenia was part of the Habsburg empire and that is why Krpan defended it
  • that Martin Krpan was a smuggler of a specific type of salt – English salt
  • that there existed a theory that “English salt” could have meant saltpeter, but it got refuted
  • that martin Krpan’s “bat-mobile” is a seemingly weak mare which is in reality extremely strong
  • that post-heroic withdrawal is also a trait of another Slovenian superhero Peter Klepec
  • that Martin Krpan was probably modeled on Peter Klepec
  • that Miha Mazzini wrote about Krpan, Klepec and Kralj Matjaž, pointing out their preference for inaction. And that he also finds the same pattern in Slovenian script writers
  • that full Slovenian version of Martin Krpan text is available at WikiSource
  • that I couldn’t find a translated English version
  • that you can read more about Martin Krpan here and here

The flow of the final post would be much worse if all of the above stayed in. During my time working for television I got drilled in removing everything that isn’t the core of the message. But it is still always painful to cut things. Similar attitude is needed with software products, but that’s a story for some other post.

 

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Martin Krpan as a tragic superhero

Martin Krpan is probably the most frequently read folk story for children in Slovenia.  It talks about an extraordinarily strong Slovene man who defends the Habsburg Empire against an intruder.

I didn’t pay much attention to the story until a writer Miha Mazzini pointed out a disturbing pattern among heroes of Slovenian folk stories.

After Martin Krpan saves the empire he is offered any prize he wants. King himself offers his daughter into marriage. After some negotiation Krpan refuses. He takes a bit of money and asks for a permit to legalize his old job – he is a smuggler of salt. Then he goes home.

Martin Krpan lomi meče

Martin Krpan breaking swords

By his powers Martin Krpan is a proper superhero. He even has self-crafted weaponry and his version of a bat-mobile! So, after saving an empire, does he use his powers to fight injustice? Saves another empire? Searches for another adventure? No, he withdraws to his ancestral home.

Martin Krpan is a tragic superhero. He has talents that could give so much to the world. He just isn’t interested in using them. He doesn’t fulfill his full potential and that is tragic.

However superhero stories can get sequels. And Miha Mazzini is a versatile writer…

 

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Silicon Gardens Fund, First Lesson

After more than two years of efforts by many, many people Silicon Gardens Fund was born today.

It’s a micro fund that local entrepreneurs have put together to accelerate teams coming from Slovenia and the region to the international stage. We’ve been joined by US investors who support our mission. The media has covered the story well enough, so I won’t repeat it here.

I believe there’s an enormous amount of talent in the region that can under the right circumstances create many global stories. There are already a few examples, and I am sure more are to come. We’ll try to help.

The Gardener by Jurij Šubic

The Gardener by Jurij Šubic

Since Jugoslav came up with the idea, the obstacles kept coming. There were logistical, legal, financial, personal, tax, bureaucratic, geographical, business and other issues. After hearing the same story repeated for two years, some of the initial supporters lost hope that we’ll ever cross the finish line. I can’t blame them – it indeed looked futile. Luckily many persisted. Thanks to heroic efforts of Peter and Boštjan the project kept moving forward and finally came to today’s milestone.

On a personal level this fund is a learning opportunity for me. From Peter and Boštjan I’ve already learned the first valuable lesson - the importance of a relentless pursuit of a goal.

I am excited for what’s coming up next!

 

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