A Personal Appreciation of Professor Nicolas Georganas

September 2010

URL: http://www.sigmm.org/Announcement/Nicolas_Georganas

By Larry Rowe

The multimedia research community lost a great friend, educator, mentor, and contributor to our community. I was shocked when I heard about the unexpected passing of Nicolas. In this appreciation, I want to remember important contributions Nicolas made to the ACM SIGMM Community. As you will see below, he was an extremely important member of the organization and personally for me he was a valued advisor.

If he did nothing else, Nicolas will have my unending thanks for helping us during the star-crossed 2001 ACM Multimedia Conference (MM '01). Originally, the conference was going to be held in Vienna Austria but many people in our community argued that we should move the conference out of Austria after a nationalist party won 27% of the legislative seats in late 1999 and was invited to join the governing coalition. We were in a difficult situation because we did not have time to find a new organizer and location for the conference. Still, I believed it was important to move the conference in large part due to letters and email I received from members of the research community. The problem is who would take on the job of organizing the conference and where could it be held. As you remember, Nicolas stepped forward and offered to hold the conference in Ottawa.

At the time, the financial situation of SIGMM was very challenging - ok, I should be honest, ACM was not sure SIGMM was viable. We did not have a good fund balance (i.e., money in the bank) required by ACM since several conferences in the late 1990's had lost substantial amounts of money. Wendy Hall and Ralf Steinmetz ran an outstanding conference both in content quality and net profit in 1999, but I was still worried that we would lose money. Nicolas offered considerable support to the conference by donating people and space for the conference operation. So, Nicolas and I discussed the budget and plan for the conference at MM `00, and I was confident that we would have another excellent conference.

He told me several times that we had a "secret sauce" that would produce a profitable conference. I did not really appreciate what the "secret sauce" was until after attending the conference. At the time, the exchange rate with Canada was excellent for the rest of the world. As I remember, the Canadian dollar was 40% lower than the U.S. dollar. Consequently, costs for putting on the conference had a 40% discount but we were charging our standard rate for conference registration in U.S. dollars.

But the problems with this conference had not ended. The conference was scheduled for the first week of October 2001. Everyone now remembers "9/11" as September 11, 2001 the day two commercial airliners flew into the World Trade Center in New York and shortly thereafter they collapsed. Three weeks before the start of the conference a world-event created more problems. ACM canceled all conferences, and it was left to the organizers of the individual conferences to decide whether to hold or move their event. After talking with many colleagues and members of the research community, we decided to go ahead with the conference. This decision was one of the hardest I have made in my life. People today may not remember the fear of another attack and the uncertainty faced by us all. I was worried that if we went ahead with the conference and another attack occurred, we might be responsible for something bad happening to someone in our community. On the other hand, both Nicolas and I believed it would be good if we could come together as a group to "return our lives to normal" after such a catastrophic event.

And so, MM '01 was the first ACM sponsored conference held after 9/11. We decided to refund the registration fee of anyone who did not want to come to the conference. As it turned out a few people did decide not to attend. But for those of us who did attend the conference, it was a life re-affirming gathering of people in our community. I will never forget the discussions and friendships re-confirmed at this event. Nicolas was an inspirational leader and created what for me is still one of the best ACM Multimedia Conferences ever.

Nicolas was not done yet in making significant contributions to our community. I organized a retreat of senior researchers at MM '03 that Harrick Vin and I chaired. At the time, we had a continuing problem with the ACM/Springer-Verlag Multimedia Systems Journal. ACM had established the Digital Library (DL), but Springer-Verlag would not allow MSJ to be added to it. Many SIGMM members complained that they could not access the articles through the ACM DL. At the same time, I had been talking to the head of ACM publications and the chair of the ACM Pubs Board, Robert Allen who was a strong supporter of our community. They both encouraged us to consider creating an ACM Transaction for the SIGMM community. I was hoping to find someone at the retreat who would volunteer to take on this responsibility. I will never forget as I talked about this issue with the retreat attendees during one session, Nicolas got a dreamy look in his eyes and then cautiously raised his hand to volunteer. Needless to say, I was thrilled. By the next day we had a rough draft for the transaction proposal required by ACM and less than 10 days later our request was approved by the Pubs Board. And so, the ACM Transactions on Multimedia Computing, Communications, and Applications (TOMCCAP) was established with Nicolas as the founding editor. Over the next several years he established the quality and direction for the transaction. Again, we owe him a debt of gratitude for contributing his time and energy. For me, it was fantastic - we found a solution to a difficult problem about which many people in the community were unhappy.

I must confess as I write this appreciation that these events seem small when compared against other elements of Nicolas's life - his family, students, and friends. Many times I have said that the multimedia research community is an important part of our lives. At times like this one, we cannot help but think about what really matters. I hope I speak for all of you when I say, Nicolas was a wonderful friend and great contributor to our community. We will miss him. I am thrilled that we will recognize him by establishing the Nicolas Georganas Best Paper Award in TOMCCAP. It was an honor to know him, and I look forward to future contributions that will be recognized in his name.

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