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…)

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 ManagementAs 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.

The Double from toy to tool

There is a lot of writing about how computers (in this case, referred to as “robots”) will take over the role of the teacher (as well as many other jobs) these days. I have my own robot, from Double Robotics, and it is gradually becoming a tool rather than a toy – and it allows me to extend my reach, rather than automate my job. Granted, so far it has mainly been used for experiments and demonstrations (below, a picture from a meeting of an ICT industry organisation in Norway) but better access and a few technology upgrades have made it much more reliable and gradually into something that is useful rather than just fun.

The practical issues with the Double have been numerous, but have largely been solved. Here they are:

  • The Double required a lot of manual intervention before I could use it – specifically, it was in my office, and the department administrator would have to unlock my office and unplug it to let it out. This was solved by acquiring a docking station and positioning the Double out in the public area of my department (next to the mailboxes, as it happens.) I was worried that someone would make away with it (or steal the iPad) but both are password protected and besides, the department requires an ID card to get in. This has also meant that other department members can use the Double – one colleague has severe allergies and has to go to his mountain cabin for several weeks in the spring every year, he used the Double to attend seminars.
  • The speaker and microphone did not work well. Out of the box, the Double uses the speaker and mike from the iPad. The speaker was too weak, and the iPad microphone picks up too much noise as well as conversations all around rather than what is in front of you. Initially, I solved the speaker problem by using a Bluetooth speaker, but it was on a separate charger and did not work very well. Double Robotics came up with an Audio Kit upgrade which largely has solved the problem – I can now generate enough clear sound that I can use the Double for lecturing, and the directional mike filters out some of the noise and ambient conversations to make communication much more natural.
  • Thirdly, the iPad will sometimes go offline because of interruptions, chiefly because of software updates. This means it will not be able to set up a connection, and needs a manual restart. This was fixed by running the Double app in a Guided Access mode (found under Settings>General>Accessibility>Guided Access), a way of setting the iPad to only run one app only, uninterrupted by software upgrades, messages and other distractions.
  • Fourth, the sound sometimes disappears on the iPad altogether. This may actually be a physical problem (it has been banged about a bit, and the metal part behind the sound buttons is a weak spot), but was fixed by allowing the physical sound controls to be run in Guided Access mode, and then asking whoever I was talking to to turn up the sound if necessary.
  • Fifth and last, the wi-fi connection drops for about 30 seconds every time I go from one wireless router to the next, which happens all the time in our large office building. I solved this by using the cell connection instead. It still has dead spots some places in the building (despite our telecom vendor, NetCom, being headquartered very close to us) but I am beginning to know where they are. It is also solvable by setting up a VLAN, something that requires cooperation from the IT department and which I haven’t gotten around to quite yet.

All in all, I am beginning to find the Double a useful tool. Next time I am invited to speak on TV, I’ll consider sending it down to the studio in a taxi, just to see the reaction. Like many digital solutions, true productivity does not come until everything is digital – for instance, i wanted to use the Double for an early meeting with students last week, but found I couldn’t do it because the door to the department would be locked and there was no way I could unlock it remotely. So I ended up going in for the FTF meeting anyway, even if it was the only thing I needed to be in the office for that day.

A second observation is that the Double elicits all kinds of thoughtful (and less thoughtful) comments from grown-ups, mainly along the lines of how surprisingly natural this is but how traditional face to face is better, alienation etc. etc. The younger element takes to it naturally – my cousin’s eight year old daughter, seeing her Dad in the Double, responded with a “Hi Dad” as the most natural thing in the world.

And thirdly – one obvious use of the Double would be to ship it to wherever I am supposed to be, so I can give a talk remotely. I gave a talk in Bordeaux two days ago. Bordeaux is complicated to get to from Oslo, and the trip ended up taking three days. I could have sent the Double, but a) I think my physical presence helped the talk, and b) the Double has a large lithium-ion battery, and you can’t ship those on airplanes. Consequently, the Double is a tool for making me stay in place while moving about, rather than the other way around.

A BI degree for expats!

The Executive Master of Management degree is now offered in English at BI Norwegian Business School – just the thing for the ambitious expat!

BI Norwegian Business School has a very popular executive education degree called the Executive Master of Management. The school offers a range of EMM courses, each lasting about a year and consisting of 5-6 modules of 3-4 days each. Put together three of these courses (with some exceptions) and you have a degree. (Well,there are a few other requirements, such as one of the courses taken with a slightly more substantial thesis, You can take more than one course concurrently, though I think taking more than two would be pushing it, at least if you have a job as well).

I like teaching in these courses (especially one called Strategisk Forretningsutvikling og Innovasjon), but they have, so far, required you to be able to speak Norwegian (with the exception of International Management.) From this fall, however, we have created two more courses taught in English, so that you now can qualify for the degree without having to learn Norwegian.

The courses are

I hope this troika will be an attractive package to foreigners in Norway (as a matter of fact, I have been arguing for this for some time, and am very pleased that it is now available) – so if you know someone living and/or working in Norway who are in the market for a relevant and interesting executive business degree, please alert them to this opportunity!

Trapping the wily professor

(This was published in European Business Forum, BCG’s attempt to create their own version of the Harvard Business Review, in 2004. Issue 19, to be exact. Reproduced here, lightly edited, because, well, it is very hard to find and I would like to make it available.)

Trapping the wily professor
A hunting guide for the enterprising executive

Espen Andersen, 2004

Recently, I attended a meeting of senior HR executives – primarily CLOs (Chief Learning Officers) – from large European companies. The participants were all engaged in designing and/or running various forms of management training and education in their companies, and a discussion about how to deal with outside suppliers – particularly business schools – came up. A key problem, it transpired, was getting the good professors to engage in company programs. While the schools were more than willing to sell their branded and packaged programs, most corporations wanted something tailor-made, designed to achieve a specific corporate learning goal. Furthermore, they wanted it tailor-made by the big names – that is, the professors the students were likely to know. This had proved very difficult. These were big, prestigious companies – why couldn’t they get the big, prestigious professors?

Coming from the supply side of this relationship, can see the difficulties these managers have – so I herewith offer a little guide to hunting down and keeping that rarest of animals, the business-savvy and interesting professor. A warning, though: This is not a task to be approached lightly. Hunting requires knowledge of the prey itself, its living environment, and its reward structures. It requires patience and a keen sense of observation, as well as an ability to communicate with the natives – or at least not to offend them too much.

First: Hunt professors on your turf, not theirs. The best place to hunt for professors is not through the business school sales channels. Instead, invite the professor to come into your company to give a short talk on some very specific point of interest – half an hour is fine – at some small executive meeting, with lunch and informal discussions thereafter. Pay the professor for the presentation. If there is no chemistry, you have listened to a (hopefully) interesting presentation and the professor has made a little money and is likely to think of your company with benevolence. Incidentally, the best referrers of professors are other professors – so use the occasion to extend your network. Carefully cultivated, most professors will come when you call and leave you alone when you want them to.

Second: Avoid the obvious blunders. This should go without saying, so the experienced professor-hunter may want to disregard this paragraph. However, any high-powered and dynamic business executive can unknowingly scare away the wily professor without meaning to – the equivalent of putting on aftershave before the hunt and then wondering why you never see any prey. Professors are academics, and you hunt them because they are. Consequently, never use the word “academic” to mean “irrelevant”, “hypothetical” or “impractical”. Never refer to them as “educators” (in academic cynical parlance, an “educator” is someone forced to live by teaching and writing readable articles because he or she can’t do research and write unreadable articles.) And never – never ever – ask them to include that interesting best-seller (“Who drank my café latte?”) you saw in the airport bookshop to their syllabus. Professors are extremely jealous of outside intellectual competition, and anyone preferring the Heathrow School of Management to them is treated with extreme suspicion, if not outright hostility.

Third: Don’t devolve problems to intermediaries. Typically, the CLO seeking a management education program interacts with a relationship manager from the business school. This person is pleasant, nicely attired and means well, will sell you the standard programs and tell you what you want to hear, but is incapable of trapping the wily professor on your behalf. If you want a program out of the ordinary, talk to the person most critical for its success – and that better be the professor, because if program responsibility lies with the salesperson, you are in trouble. That being said, the school’s relationship manager is very useful as a support person – so let your own support person deal with him or her, and make sure that the minute any content issues spring up, the problem is escalated to you – and the professor. (And, by corollary, don’t fall into the trap of becoming an intermediary yourself, as when a business colleague needs a program and asks you to set it up.)

Fourth: Ask not what the professor can do for you, but what you can do for the professor. Professors are not motivated by money. Actually, that is a whopping big lie – they certainly are, but it needs to come in a form palatable to the world they inhabit. Doing executive education does not help a professor in his or her career – at best, it earns him or her non-tradable brownie points for helping the school. What counts in the academic hierarchy – at least officially – is publishing what to the layman appears as unreadable articles in obscure journals read by few and remembered by even fewer. These articles are created through back-breaking work and qualified through an evaluation process that makes Purgatory feel like a day at the beach. To do the work, the professor needs money, in the form of research grants. To get through the evaluation, he or she needs data, obtained by getting access to corporations. If you can give the professors research money and access to data (i.e., your company,) they will happily create executive education programs as part of the research process. They will even teach them. (It is possible to bag a few professors through money alone, primarily the younger ones, but on a repeated basis this will yield a lower quality of prey).

Fifth: It is not what you say, it is what you do. The above will attract and retain professors, but will not earn their undying love. To achieve that, you need to follow through and do what they say. Professors seeing their theories listened to and applied will do anything you ask of them – sit on your Board, talk to your executives, co-write career-enhancing articles with you in trade magazines and even listen to your suggestions for making their theories better. The danger herein lies in that you may go native yourself – and what a tragedy that would be.

So there you are – to bag a professor, start by wining and dining them, paying them for a small presentation, then lure them with money and access to provide you with tailor-made and interesting executive programs. It is easy. You can start now. My email is here.