The Facebook method of dealing with complexity

Computer systems used to be weak, so we had to make their world simple and standardized. They now can handle almost endless complexity—but we still need to understand how to make the world simple, so we don’t risk burdening the majority of users with the needless complexity of the few. One way of doing this is to adopt Facebook’s approach of “Yes, No and It’s Complicated.”

Read the rest of the essay at ACM Ubiquity’s blog.

An oratory masterclass

“We no longer think the world will be saved by politics and rock’n roll. We now believe it will be saved by the life of mind.” “…playing gracefully with ideas.”

Watch this. If nothing else, study Stephen Fry’s technique.

Unfortunately, I own a lawnmover. Oh well.

(There is a Q&A session as well, available as separate videos.)

The future of Norwegian education, if we only dared

If Norway marketed itself more effectively, they could suck the brightest and best students from the UK and America, improve their universities reputation and force the UK and US to rethink their education policies for the benefit of the people in all the countries concerned.

This from the excellent blog post “What caused you to move to Norway, Sir?” by Paul Beaumont.

I certainly think Norwegian universities could do just that. When it doesn’t happen, it is largely because of provincial thinking and lack of marketing acumen. This needs to change.

That is all.

R – the swiss army knife of the data scientist

R LogoThe video below, a talk by John D. Cook (via Flowingdata), is a very nice intro to R for the someone who wants to be a data scientist and have some notion or experience of programming. I have been beginning to look at R, but need a specific project to analyze in order to get into it. When learning a programming language (or any powerful tool, for that matter) it is important to get under the skin of it, to understand it to the point where you don’t look up the function or whatever in the manual because you intuitively know what it would be named, since you think like the developers. (I can’t claim any knowledge like that, except perhaps for IFPS (a defunct financial programming language), REXX (macro language for IBM mainframes), and Minitab (statistical package, rather marginalized now). Learning something to that level requires time and, most importantly, a need. We’ll see.

But it helps to have someone explain things, so I guess watching this video is not a waste of time. It wasn’t for me, anyway. And R certainly is the thing to learn, in this Big Data (whatever that may mean) world. (Though, as is said here, it was never designed for huge data sets. But huge data sets need models to work, and you build those on small data sets…)

Book review: Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

SevenevesSeveneves: A Novel
by Neal Stephenson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I like the premise – that the moon explodes and, inevitably, the debris will destroy the earth. Humanity decides to vastly expand the international space station to create the seeds (literally) for survival of most species. As with all Stephenson books the science part is believable and thoroughly worked out, but as with most Stephenson books, the characters are a bit woody and the descriptions a bit long. Better than Anathem, more fanciful than Reamde, but his best books remain Cryptonomicon and the Baroque Trilogy, in my opinion.

That being said, I gave this four stars because, well, there is an element of suspense, and I like the thoroughness of how he works through an idea.

View all my reviews

Update 30.6.15: Here is a podcast with Neal Stephenson discussing the book.

Strategic management – EMM program

Flyer Strategic Management

Update, July 1 2015: Unfortunately, this program did not get enough applicants, so the first instance of the course will not be until next year. This was partially because Norwegian students who were interested but ultimately chose the Norwegian version, and because the message hasn’t gotten to the expat community (which, I remain certain, is a significant market.) We’ll be back next year, with 1) a changed program, differentiating it from the traditional strategic management course and hence palatable to the Norwegian student, and 2) increase our marketing to the expats, particularly to HR managers trying to recruit foreigners and facing difficulties because, well, spouses need something useful to do. Such as getting a part-time degree.

See you next year!

As previously mentioned, BI has a very successful set of part-time programs that, if you take three of them, will confer the degree Executive Master of Management.

So far, this has been a program for Norwegian-speakers only (with one exception.) I have long been an advocate of more English-language programs at BI – and so I have (with my excellent colleague Alessandra Luzzi) created an EMM program called Strategic ManagementYou can read more about this program at BI’s web pages, but let me highlight a few points which I think sets it apart (aside from the centrality of its topic, of course):

  • The program has a cumulative structure, where the end result (i.e., the term paper) is gradually built in a managed process, borrowed from Ragnvald Sannes‘ and mine (actually, Ragnvald’s as far as the process is concerned) program Strategisk Forretningsutvikling og Innovasjon. This means that you as a student will write your term paper (a detailed strategic analysis and plan of a company you choose yourself) in portions towards each course module (there are five of them) as you add new methods to your quiver.
  • We will make use of some brilliant new teachers; The aforementioned Alessandra Luzzi (good on technology competition, innovation and intellectual property), Paulina Junni (strategic alliances and knowledge strategy) and Chandler Johnson (strategic decision making, decision analysis) as well as some old war horses, such as Øystein Fjeldstad (strategic business models, network strategy) and yours truly (whatever is left). Variety for all and a chance to interact with some really smart people. And me.
  • The program is in English – did I mention that? – which means that not only do you not have to know Norwegian (which we Norwegians for some reason seem to think is an important language), you also get to meet other people of the same ilk. Foreigners in Norway tend to be interesting in themselves…
  • We use the HBS Core Curriculum: Rather than base the course on a textbook (which we find a trifle boring and never can agree with on everything) we will be using the Harvard Business School’s Strategy Core Curriculum, which is very fresh indeed and present strategy with excellent examples and very up-to-date theories (as a matter of fact, about half the literature has not been written yet, but if the existing articles are anything to go by, it will be very interesting reading indeed.)
  • …and finally, we will do five modules instead of the usual six, and instead have some videoconference-based lectures, which means more flexibility for you (and fewer hotel nights if you are living outside of Oslo).

And with that – apply now while supplies last! Feel free to send me an email if you have questions, unless they are difficult and administrative in nature, in which case you should send them to Elisabeth Lund (who can also be reached at +47 464 10 073.

(Incidentally, if you feel inclined to share this post with others (particularly within the English-speaking expat community in Norway, I will not be offended or even demand royalties. Feel free to spam everyone you know…)

WWII deaths in graphics

This video by Neil Halloran shows how many people died in the second world war, and what has happened in the world since (in terms of war deaths.) It really makes an impression, and is well worth the 18 minutes.

The Fallen of World War II from Neil Halloran on Vimeo.

70 million people died during WWII, more or less (since the numbers, particularly on the Eastern front, are in dispute.) The video shows that most losses were suffered by the Soviet Union (the way the column grows and grows is heartbreaking, you just want it to stop) and China, that Poland had the most dead as a percentage of the population, that some individual incidents – massacres, battles, bombings – made for a surprisingly large portion of the dead. Stalingrad alone had more deaths than all wars since WWII combined.

The video has roughly the same message as Steven Pinker: That violence and war is on a downward trend, and that this is to be understood and appreciated. And, given these statistics, that giving the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU in 2012 perhaps wasn’t such a bad idea after all.