Author Archives: Espen Andersen

About Espen Andersen

For details, see www.espen.com.

MIT CISR Research Briefing on Enterprise Search

imageLast year I had the pleasure of spending time as a visiting scholar at MIT Center for Information Systems Research, and here is one of the results, now available from CISR’s website (free, but you have to register. Absolutely worth it, lots of great material):

Research Briefing: Making Enterprise Search Work: From Simple Search Box to Big Data Navigation; Andersen; Nov 15, 2012

Most executives believe that their companies would perform better if “we only knew what we knew.” One path to such an objective is enhanced enterprise search. In this month’s briefing, “Making Enterprise Search Work: From Simple Search Box to Big Data Navigation,” Visiting Scholar Espen Andersen highlights findings from his research on enterprise search. He notes that enterprise search plays a different role from general web or site-specific searches and it comes with its own unique set of challenges – most notably privacy. But companies trying to capitalize on their knowledge will invariably find search an essential tool. Espen offers practical advice on how to develop a more powerful search capability in your firm.

Finding Nemo, unsurprisingly, again

(Intially posted as a comment to Dave Weinberger’s blog, but expanded/edited into a bona fide rant here. Update, Feb. 13: Dave continues the discussion in his column at CNN.com.)

New England has just had a snowstorm, predicted to be of historic proportions, but eventually ending up, as always, as nothing much, except a staggeringly incompetent number of people (400,000 or so in Massachusetts alone) losing power. As a Norwegian currently in Oslo (but with nine winters in Boston (Arlington and Brookline)): New England snowstorms, despite their ferocity, are not aberrations of nature but a failure to prepare a systemic level.

It is just snow. Not a lot (well, a lot, but for a short time, as illustrated by the photo.) It shows up fast, and leaves again equally fast. It doesn’t stay the whole winter, from November until March, as it does here in the south (get it – south!) of Norway.

The fact that New England panics every time there is a flurry is due to lack of preparedness at the infrastructure level. In most of Norway power and telephone lines are underground, it is illegal not to have snow tires on your car after December 1st or thereabouts (if you drive in the snow with regular tires and go in the ditch, you are fined quite severely) and during my own and my children’s school days we have never had a snow day or any other interruption due to the weather (and we have plenty of weather). In Norway you cannot get a driver’s license without passing a driving-on-slick-surface course. The Oslo subway (or buses – what kind of drivers to you have?) has never been closed due to snow. I have never been to the store to stock up on batteries and water. (I have been to the gas station to buy gas for the snow blower ahead of a storm, though.) Our airport does not close down for snow, though there can be delays. In New England, there are public service announcements (from Thomas Menino’s office) saying “When clearing motor vehicles, remove snow around the muffler/exhaust system before starting the car”. How stupid can you get?

I just can’t get used to the New England oh-my-God-here-it-comes-again-flip-to-channel-5 attitude. I attribute this to lack of far-sightedness in planning – rather than taking the cost of modernizing the power grid and change the telephone lines to fiber all around, incrementalism wins. (Then again, I have found myself being the only driver (in a VW Vanagon with worn tires) on the 128, and the only person coming in  to work (in a Chevy Caprice).) Instead of driving responsibly you salt the roads until they are white and dogs can’t go out due to the pain the salt inflicts on their paws. Instead of having a public works division outfitted to fix things with proper equipment you resort to an army of contractors with F-250s barging out to power-plow 2 inches of wet snow that will disappear at 9am the next day anyway, just to get paid.

imageI drove (with wife and three kids) from Florida to MA during the blizzard of 96, which closed down NY and NJ. In Georgia, we saw 200 cars in the ditch, including an 18-wheeler cab-up in a tree. It looked like an 8-year old had emptied out his toy car crate. On an Interstate in North Carolina I saw a police cruiser (who had tried to cross from one direction to the other via those little police-only paths) nosed into and completely buried a six-foot pile, the blue lights forlornly spinning through the snow. Driving around Richmond, I saw people pass me doing 75 in their Cherokees on the highway, only to see them buried in a drift two miles later. In Washington (Metro population 5.6m, number of snowplows: 1) I drove around (in a Dodge Caravan with a not very advanced AWD system) a Chevy Suburban spinning on all four wheels as the owner moronically pumped the gas pedal. (Incidentally, the only institution open was the Norwegian embassy, whose employees arrived on cross-country skis.) When we got to the NJ border, we were stopped, as the turnpike was closed. I stupidly tried to argue with the cop that I was Norwegian, had 4WD, and was a former instructor in 4WD driving in the Norwegian army, that driving in the snow was easy if you went slowly and gently. He was, needless to say, not swayed. We spent the night in a motel.

Why doesn’t New England harden the grid and communications systems, put winter tires on school buses, mandate winter tires in snowy conditions, and just get rid of this stupid idea of snow days? It is winter, it happens almost every year. It is just something to get used to, minimize the consequences of and then get on with a productive life.

On the other hand, most Americans work way too much, so perhaps it is just nature’s way of giving you a much-needed break. In the meantime, you are providing quite the entertainment at Norwegian TV, for which I suppose I should be thankful.

(Images from TriStateWeather)

Update Feb. 13: Somewhat related, here is an infographic (from Curtis Whaley via Boingboing) on how to walk on ice. Put on your tailcoats and waddle away…:

The political process of getting innovation done

Innovation is often about politics. Together with my excellent colleague Ragnvald Sannes I run a course called Strategic Business Development and Innovation (it is done in Norwegian, but if you are interested, we would be glad to export the concept, in English), where we take groups of students through an innovation process (with their own, very real, projects) over two semesters. The course is done in cooperation with Accenture’s Technology Lab in Sophia Antipolis and is one of the most enjoyable things I do as a teacher.

Anyway. This note is to discuss something which came up in a web conference today – the political side of doing innovation. Many of the students we have come from public organizations, from the health care industry, or from educational or research-based institutions. In all of them (well, actually, in all organizations, but more so in those where profit is not the yardstick that trumps everything) politics are important, to the point where a project’s success depends on it. Since a number of our students also are engineers and/or IT people, with a very straightforward and rationalistic view of how things should be done (if the solution is better than the current one, well, then why don’t we adopt it?), I need to explain the nature of political processes in organizations.

I am not an expert in that particular field, but I have been involved in a few projects where politics have been important – and have found the work of March, Cohen and Olsen very useful – not just as theory, but also as a very practical checklist. These three professors are famous for the Garbage Can Model, explained in the classic article Cohen, M. D., J. G. March and J. P. Olsen (1972). “A Garbage Can Model of Organizational Choice.” Administrative Science Quarterly 17(1). This article (which can be found here) is cited more than 6000 times and makes a lot of sense to me, but the it is not easy to understand (and that is not just because the specification of the model is in Fortran source code.) It posits that politically oriented organizations (they studied universities in particular, which for most purposes are anarchies) makes decisions by constructing “garbage cans” (one for each decision) and that the garbage can is a meeting point for choices, problems, solutions, and decision makers (participants), heavily dependent on energy. Decisions seek decision makers, solutions seek problems, and vice versa. Getting things done in such an environment means constructing these garbage cans and filling them with the right combination of problems, solutions, choices and participants.

This sounds rather theoretical, and is. Fortunately, March and Olsen wrote an (in my opinion) excellent book (Cohen, M. D. and J. G. March (1986). Leadership and Ambiguity: The American College President. Boston, MA, Harvard Business School Press.) a few years later, with less theory and more application. They interviewed a number of university presidents, discuss the nature of getting things done in a university environment (where there is ambiguity of purpose, power, experience and success), and come up with a list of eight basic tactics for getting things done (probably, methinks, because the book is published by Harvard Business School Press, which caters to business people and want applicability, not just description.)

I have found this list tremendously useful when trying to get decisions made – and have observed others doing this both very well and very badly. Here it is, with their points in boldface and my (probably imperfect, it is a few years since I read this) appended:

  1. Spend time. Getting things done will take time – you need to talk to people, create language, make people see your point. If you are not willing to spend that time, you might make some decisions, but people will not follow them. Decision making is social, so decision makers in these environments need to be. The winners in political organizations are often those with the most time – which is why many universities are dominated by the administration rather than the faculty, who have other calls for their time and do not come in to the office every day. (See this cartoon for an excellent description).
  2. Persist. One of the most frustrating things (I have seen this when businessmen come in to lead political organizations, several times) in a political setting is the decisions seldom seem to really be taken – there might be a decision, but every time it comes up, it get revisited. In other words, a decision made can always be raised again – so never give up, you can always get the organization to reconsider, either the same decision directly or the same decision dressed up in new language.
  3. Exchange status for substance. As someone said at some point, it is amazing what you can get done if you are prepared to forgo recognition for it. There are many leaders who want to look good and make decisions, but don’t have the knowledge or energy to do so. Make decisions easy for them – you can get a lot done if you make decision-makers look good in the process.
  4. Facilitate opposition participation. Rather than trying to overpower the opposition, find ways for them to participate in the new way of doing things. This is one of the reason why processes and fields frequently get renamed – to allow groups to continue doing what they are doing or want to do, but in new contexts.
  5. Overload the system (to change decision making style). Decision-making time expands to fill the entire time available (alternatively, a normal meeting is over when everything is said, an academic meeting is over when everything has been said by everyone.) By giving the system lots of decisions to make (i.e., many ), this style changes – and you can get your decision through because nobody has enough time or energy to give it the full treatment.
  6. Provide garbage cans. Provide topics for discussion as distractions, to consume energy from decision-makers.
  7. Manage unobtrusively. You can get things changed by changing small things, and in succession. I have seen examples where you get a strategic goal set up that everyone can agree to but few define (“make us a more knowledge-based organization”), get resources allocated to it, and then propose lots of projects under this heading – which now is about fulfillment of a strategy (albeit redefined) rather than an entirely new strategic direction.HouseofCardsposter.jpg
  8. Interpret history. Volunteer to write meeting minutes, and distribute them late enough that most participants have forgotten the details. History, traditionally, is written by the winners (except, perhaps, for the Spanish Civil War,) but you can make it the other way around – that you become the winner by writing history.

(After writing most of this I found this blog post by David Maister which summarizes this much better than me, in the context of professional service firms): Understanding politics is very much about recognizing these tactics and using them. It may seem Machiavellian, but then Machiavelli was one of the first political theorists and knew what he was talking about.

(And now I feel a need to see the next episode of House of Cards on Netflix. Garbage cans in action…)

Testing blogging from iPhone 5

This post is written using my little Think Outside keyboard and my iPhone 5, via the WordPress app. The app is not very good (it lacks the immediacy of Windows LIve Writer, as well as the WYSIWYG interface). I wanted to buy the BlogPress app, which apparently offers a better experience, including better picture and video integration, but apparently Apple thinks I am in the US and will not let me enter a Norwegian credit card. Just when you thought the world was going global…then it is not (and yes, I have a slight keyboard issue here as well, working on it.)

Anyway, seems this works. Barely. If only there was a blogging extension to Evernote….

Think outside the iPhone

I recently got myself an iPhone 5 – despite researching technology, I am rather slow in adopting it. One advantage of never throwing old technology away, however, is that accessories sometimes work – and I just discovered that my old Think Outside bluetooth keyboard works, originally intended for my Palm Pilot V, may it rest in peace, work rather nicely with the iPhone. (Here’s how to do it, in case you’ve got one lying around.)

Meaning that, once again, I can go to meeting carrying stuff only in my suit pockets and still be able to take notes using all ten fingers. Now, all Apple needs to do is to lengthen the battery time on the iPhone to match the Palm Pilot, and we will have gotten past the “Concorde moment”* that was the Palm Pilot…

*A situation where technology regresses – the Palm V had lots of functionality that has since disappeared, like week-long battery time and the Graffiti sign-recognition software. First uttered by James May on Top Gear.

Peter G. Neumann in New York Times

Peter G. Neumann is one of my heroes – a computer science and security expert with a sense of humor (his dry comments on the Risks Digest are legendary), inventive solutions to problems (he once built a keyboard with two pedals (for “alt” and “ctrl”) to deal with carpal tunnel syndrome) and far-reaching views on most things. He is currently profiled in New York Times, including the story of the RTM Worm, which I remember clearly, and where the RISKS Forum played a role in analyzing and stopping it.

I remember an email exchange with Peter in the mid-nineties, when I was writing a research report on knowledge management for CSC Research Services. Peter has been running the email list RISKS forever (I signed up for it sometime in 1985) and when asked about how to find people to do such a job in a corporate setting he replied:

The bottom line is that moderating a newsgroup wisely takes serious dedication to, familiarity with, and commitment to the subject matter and willingness to put oneself into an intrinsically sensitive position. It does not work well if someone is arbitrarily assigned to the task.

In other words – if you want social media to work in a company, let people loose and then support the leaders that emerge, rather than try to replicate the current organization in the new medium. Not a bad insight to have 15 years ago – before this social media thing started.

Not quite the game I hoped for

Playing the GamePlaying the Game by Alan Lelchuk
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was lent this by my daughter’s very capable history teacher on the assumption that, since I am interested in both basketball and history, this would be interesting. I love the premise – an obscure history professor and assistant basketball coach at an Ivy League college gets appointed as head coach, with nobody expecting much. By recruiting disadvantaged youth and reading passages of American history to them, he brings the team to the NCAA finals.

It should work, but it doesn’t. The main character is not believable, the history excerpts are too long-winded, and the adversities encountered (racist faculty, an NCAA looking askance at the newcomers and plotting against them, etc.) seem rather contrived. In the end, you start wondering whether the whole story is a figment of the main character’s imagination – not just the author’s.

Pity, it had so much going for it…watch Danny DeVito in Renaissance Man instead – it has humor and compassion, and a slightly similar subject. And the academic comes out on top.

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Assignment for Essec-Mannheim class

To:       Students Essec-Mannheim EMBA module
From:   Espen Andersen & Hermann Kopp
Date:    October 2012
Subj.:   Evaluation session, Friday October 5, 2012

Dear students,

For the evaluation, we will have each study group prepare a case analysis and present it to the class. Since listening to 7 groups on the same case would not be very productive, we have assigned two cases, Daksh and Glamox – groups 1, 3, 5, and 7 will present the Daksh case, 2, 4 and 6 Glamox.

Daksh case:

  • Daksh (A): 1999 Business Plan(Stanford case E-251A), Arippol/Wendell)
    Study questions:

    • From an investor’s perspective (and without the benefit of hindsight), in general, how attractive would you find the opportunity, what are its attractive and unattractive features? What do you think of the compnay’s 1999-2000 market entry plan?
    • Regarding making an investment, which would be the more important decision factor for you: The founding team (the “jockeys”), or the opportunity itself (the “horse”)?
    • How do you evaluate the growth and financial projections for Daksh contained in exhibit 11? Realistic? Conservative? Overstated?

Assignment for group 1, 3, 5 and 7: Prepare and give a 10-minute presentation (please limit the number of slides to no more than 5, the fewer the better), evaluating the Daksh business plan as if you were a financial consulting company advising a group of investors. What would your recommendation be to Daksh? To the investors?

Glamox case:

  • eBusiness from within: The organizational transformation of Glamox (NBS case, Andersen et al.)
    This case describes the reengineering of a small manufacturing company in Norway, and is useful in seeing how IT can be a vehicle of change. It also shows many of the difficult decisions that a CEO has to face in situations with hard competition and falling markets.This case will be prepared as a group. Here some questions you can think about to help you analyze the case by yourself:

    • What are the differences between the ”old” Glamox and the new?
    • How does the new technology change the role of the sales person?
    • How does the new technology change production?
    • Why isn’t the company making money after the e-Business project?
    • What did Christian Thommesen do wrong?
    • What should he do now?

Assignment for group 2, 4, and 6: Prepare and give a 10-minute presentation (please limit the number of slides to no more than 5, the fewer the better), evaluating the turnaround process as if you were a strategic consulting company advising the Board: What worked, what didn’t (and why), and what should Christian Thommesen do now?

The complicated path from innovation to acceptance

One of my favorite essays is Elting Morison’s Gunfire at Sea: A Case Study of Innovation, from his book Men, Machines and Modern Times (1950, MIT Press, PDF here). In it, he details the story of Captain Percy, US Navy, who by making changes to the sights and elevation mechanisms of the cannons on his ship increased the accuracy by about 3000%, which should be considered relevant. Subsequently, his innovation took a long time to be accepted throughout the Navy, for reasons having to do with the innovator himself (he was a rather controversial figure), the rate of innovation (simply too good to be believed) and the fact that the innovation went against certain organizational and cultural norms (no news there, I am afraid.) One of his conclusions is that no military service should be allowed to reform itself, a point I think we can extend far beyond the military.

But this well told and well documented story is not the only reason this essay is one I keep coming back to. I also like (and frequently retell) the introductory story, which goes like this:

In the early days of the last war [i.e., WWI] when armaments of all kinds were in short supply, the British, I am told, made use of a venerable field piece that had come down to them from previous generations.  The honorable past of this light artillery stretched back, in fact, to the Boer War.  In the days of uncertainty after the fall of France, these guns, hitched to trucks, served as useful mobile units in the coast defense.  But it was felt that the rapidity of fire could be increased.  A time-motion expert was, therefore, called in to suggest ways to simplify the firing procedures.  He watched one of the gun crews of five men at practice in the field for some time.  Puzzled by certain aspects of the procedures, he took some slow-motion pictures of the soldiers performing the loading, aiming, and firing routines.

When he ran these pictures over once or twice, he noticed something that appeared odd to him.  A moment before the firing, two members of the gun crew ceased all activity and came to attention for a three-second interval extending throughout the discharge of the gun.  He summoned an old colonel of artillery, showed him the pictures and pointed out his strange behavior.  What, he asked the colonel, did it mean.  The colonel, too, was puzzled.  He asked to see the pictures again.  “Ah,” he said when the performance was over, “I have it.  They are holding the horses.”

And there you have it – people just don’t want change (unless it is more of the same). Let me illustrate this with the following story, from back in the 80s when I ran user support for the Norwegian Business School:

One user came running up to the IT department’s help desk informing us that “the printer has gone”. The printer in question was an IBM mainframe printer, roughly the size of a large freezer, and was situated, all by itself, in a small (about 2 x 3 meters) dedicated room, like this:

image

The help desk person consulted his terminal, which after a few keystrokes reported the printer as present and ready. Still, the user maintained that the printer was no longer there. An investigation was launched, and a small investigation party, consisting of the user and two or three incongruous IT people set out for the printer room. After a few minutes, the IT people returned, reporting that a) IBM’s service personnel had been there and serviced the printer, and b) for reasons unknown, they had changed its position thusly (and note, the printer and a few cases of paper were the only things in this room):

image

This episode proved to me that Morison definitely was right – most people cannot handle change, and get rather upset when things are in any way out of the normal.

Furthermore, most people do not think about why the world is the way it is, but that is the subject of another essay.

May the change be with you – mostly, it is good…

Knocking off early today…

…to go to Stockholm for a three day dance event called The Stockholm Dance Heat, where Lena and I will receive dance instruction from, amongst others, these two:

(Keep in mind that what they are doing here is improvised, strictly lead and follow – though Jordan Frisbee and Tatiana Mollmann have danced together for years.)

So, have a great weekend – I sure will!

Doc Searls on the market of one

I quite liked Doc Searls’ piece in the Wall Street Journal on the market of one – or as he calls it, power to individuals to broadcast their intents until they find a vendor that matches what they want, not what the vendor wants to sell:

Since the Industrial Revolution, the only way a company could scale up in productivity and profit was by treating customers as populations rather than as individuals—and by treating employees as positions on an organization chart rather than as unique sources of talent and ideas. Anything that stood in the way of larger scale tended to be dismissed.

The Internet has challenged that system by giving individuals the same power. Any of us can now communicate with anybody else, anywhere in the world, at costs close to zero. We can set up our own websites. We can produce, publish, syndicate and do other influential things, with global reach. Each of us can be valuable as unique individuals and not only as members of groups.

According to David Weinberger, the caption “Customer as God” was not something Searls wrote himself – it does look a bit over the top. But customer power is increasingly on the rise – though it has come much longer in the USA than it has in Europe, no matter how much legislation EU has as opposed to the USA. The wonders of competition and falling transaction costs…

Four is a little, four is a LOT!

imageMy friend Cheska Komissar is quite a character. Not only does she make a peanut sauce that restores my faith in humanity, she is also the bubbliest person alive and, as of a few months ago, a children’s book author. Her delightful Four is a little, four is a lot is just the thing to get someone turning four – and wondering, as children do: Is four a lot or just a little?

The book has four illustrators (of course), but you would be hard pressed to see the difference in styles – though the collaboration has been remote, the drawings are remarkably close in coloring and style and the underscores the text excellently.

image

So, count up the number of three-year-olds you know, surf you way over to the Four Dollar Books website and get the requisite number of books (at four dollars each, of course.) They also have birthday cards featuring illustrations from the book – and the combination will be both four-midable and four-tunate…

Highly recommended!

Great apartment, car and furniture in Brookline

Update June 25th: The apartment is now rented, but the furniture/kitchen stuff and car is still for sale…

Update July 31st: All gone, I am afraid….

I am currently on a sabbatical at MIT, will go back to Norway around August 1. I’ve lived in Boston for a total of bout 8 years, so I have some experience procuring and furnishing apartments – and now I am looking for an academic family/couple/some friends/colleagues who would want to take over my (rented) apartment with furniture and all. I also have a great car for sale.

IMG_4056The apartment is, I think, about 1,700 square feet (158 square meters, gross figures, including a large walk-in closet / attic that can be used as a bedroom in a pinch.) The rent is $ 2400 a month (not including electricity / gas / oil, but my American friends think it is a bargain.) The apartment is located in the top two floors of a four-story house in a small dead-end street (18 East Milton Road, CambridgeBrookline, MA, but maps.google.com shows the wrong house, it is the second last on the north side of the street). Very safe area with an excellent “walk IMG_4057score“. The distance to Brookline High School, an excellent high school with many international students is a 5 minute walk. According to the landlord, there are two good grade schools nearby. The MBTA (subway) is four minutes away. It takes about 10 minutes to Boston University and the Longwood area (where all research hospitals), 25 minutes to MIT, 30 minutes to Harvard. I bike to MIT in 19 minutes, slow enough that I don’t break a sweat.

IMG_4067The apartment has two bathrooms (one with bathtub, the other with a shower cubicle with door,) a large bedroom downstairs, large and very nice living room / kitchen, two bedrooms (one with a slightly odd layout, loft-like, but private) high. Large loft / walk-in closet, which can also be used as a bedroom in a pinch (for short-term visitors, for example.) Reserved parking for one car on the street – nice, since renting IMG_4063a parking space in Brookline can cost $ 80-200 per month. Oil heating, fireplace, nice and toasty (and cheap!) pellets-oven in the kitchen, hardwood floors downstairs, carpets on top floor. Bright and airy, painted white, very nice for having guests and parties.

Kitchen with dishwasher, two ovens, microwave, gas stove, sink with in-sink grinder (or whatever they call those things that chew up food scraps). Washer and dryer IMG_4058the bathroom next to kitchen. Dryer and washing machines are relatively quiet, which is not a matter of course in the United States. We have bought kitchen utensils from IKEA, and various electric kitchen weapons (toaster oven, blender, etc.)

Very friendly landlord who lives in the 1st floor and helps if you have any questions or issues. The apartment is flexible – fits nicely for a couple with 1-2 children. But it’s perfectly possible to be many – for Christmas IMG_4059we were, we were seven people (me, wife, daughter #3, and daughters #1 and #2, each with boyfriend) + two dogs for four weeks, worked really well.

I am hoping for someone in the same situation as me to come in – the plan is that you take all our equipment (full kitchenware, sofa, two armchairs, a kitchen table with chairs for six, two wide comfortable beds, two leather office chairs, lamps, vacuum cleaner, toaster oven, etc.) Everything is bought at IKEA at considerably lower prices than we have in Norway, and my price is half of what we paid (I have most of the receipts).

imageThe car is a silver 2002 Mercedes E320 station wagon with four-wheel drive (big advantage when it snows here) with seven seats (folding seat in the back), leather interior, air conditioning, automatic, built-in GPS, heated seats in front, electric memory front seats, sunroof, everything one could wish for. It has 150000 miles and I have had it maintained by the best Mercedes garage in Massachusetts, European Auto Solutions (www.virtualeas.com) in Waltham – these guys are so good it is a reason to get a Mercedes in itself. (I am rather partial to Mercedeses, have a classic veteran MercedesI bought here a few years ago.)

The car I bought for $7200, and I am hoping to sell it for around the same price, since I have put in approx. $2200 (new alternator and water pump, a few more fixes). There is little rust (Mercedes had some rust problems from 1999 to 2004, this is completely clean except for a spot on the back door.) Runs like a dream, lots of horsepower and comfort. The only drawback is that the left channel of the stereo does not work, I have not bothered fixing it, but EAS told me that a new stereo part (the amplifier) would be about $550 to put in.

We also have a men’s hybrid bicycle and a retro lady bike for sale, bought used, in very good condition.

So there you are – if you are in for a sabbatical in Boston, here is your chance to take over a ready-made apartment and not have to spend time running around shopping for basics. The apartment is perfect for Harvard, MIT, BU, Northeastern, many other universities, all of the major research hospitals in the Longwood area, and downtown Boston.

Send me email (self@espen.com) is you are interested.

Introduction to GRA6834

This is an intro to a course (GRA6834 Business Development and Innovation Management) I am giving in the Fall, open to M.Sc. students at BI Norwegian School of Management, posted here because, well, I couldn’t be there to do the presentation myself. The course description is here, my presentation slides are here, I forgot to say when to turn to the next slide in the presentation (so you’ll have to guess from circumstance), and I do apologize for the rather booming voice, but this is what I could do on rather short notice…

If you have any questions, please email me.

The intellectual bodybuilder

Cover of: Muscle by Samuel Wilson Fussell Muscle: Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder
by Sam Fussell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sam Fussell, a tall and scrawny son of two writers and academics (Paul and Betty Fussell) started bodybuilding in an effort to remake himself, and succeeded, to the point where, 4 years and 80 pounds later, he competed in and nearly won a bodybuilding competition. This is the hilarious story of how he did it and the outlandish characters he met on the way – all in search of size and definition. (Here is a blog post giving a fuller summary.)

A fun read, though there are occasionally too much detail on diet and training regimens – on the other hand, it nicely illustrates the obsessiveness needed. I understand Muscle has become something of a cult read in bodybuilding circles – the author, quitting after realizing the futility in it all, nevertheless leaves you with a feeling that for all the drugs and diets, he did enjoy being something different for a while – still comparatively safe that he had a somewhat privileged position to return to.

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Paul Fussell in memoriam

Paul Fussell, curmudgeon par excellence, died yesterday at 88, according to The New York Times. He was one of my favorite authors ever since I giggled my way through Class around 1987, combining insightful analysis with sharp humor and, when serious, righteous and exceptionally well formulated anger.

Of his serious books, I would particularly recommend The Great War and Modern Memory, a literary analysis of how war was described before and after the first world war, for which he won the National Book Award. He wrote similar works about the second world war, as well as an analysis of American travel literature, but it is this one that stands out, the perfect companion to Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong. His autobiography, Doing Battle: The Making of a Skeptic is very interesting – here is a video interview where he talks about it. Of his more essayistic and humorous work, Class: A Guide Through the American Status System still stands out as a superb mockery of an academic treatise lightly hiding very sharp observations of the American not-so-hidden status system. It was written in 1983, but holds up well over time – one of those books that irrevocably introduced an ironic view of America you just can’t (and won’t want to) shake.

Fussell apparently was not an easy man to live with, but this seems to have yielded some literature as well: His first wife Betty wrote her own scathing autobiography My Kitchen Wars and his son, less scathingly, the cult tome Muscle: Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder, both of which are highly readable as well.

The solution to American unemployment…

(Flash thought as I am listening to Erik Brynjolfsson and Andy McAfee talk about Race Against the Machine at the MIT Center for Digital Business research conference – an excellent event, by the way.)

The core issue identified in Race Against the Machine is that technology improves faster than humans. Consequently, a rising number of people get automated out of a job. Previously, that has not been a long-term problem, because new industries have sprung up to hire. Now, however, the new industries hire very few people (haven’t checked the facts, but someone said that Facebook, Google, Twitter and Amazon collectively have about 100,000 employees, which is the job growth needed per month to keep up with population growth in the US workforce.)

So – we need to find new areas where we can hire lots of people, to do jobs that, at least as of now cannot be automated.

Here is my tongue-in-cheek solution:

1. The US has a rising (or, perhaps, expanding) obesity problem.

2. Obesity is expensive, since obese people disproportionately consume health care.

3. Take all the unemployed, sort them into a) thin and b) thick.

4. Hire group a) to be personal coaches to group b).

5. Pay for it with the savings in health costs.

Great, job done. Now for some real work…

(On a serious note, first-line health care is probably an area that could consume a lot of workers. On the other hand, it will also experience many job losses – health care is vastly inefficient in the US now, primarily because it is so cumbersome to administrate and pay for.)

Update 5/24: I was wrong – personalized weight loss coaching is now available as an app.

Keep it simple, stupid–and elegant.

In Pursuit of EleganceIn Pursuit of Elegance: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing by Matthew May
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A nice (I suppose you could say elegant) little book about why less often is more. Anecdotal, well-written, with at least some examples I found very interesting (the “shared space”, rule-free concept of traffic regulation exemplified in the Laweiplein crossing for example, as well as the Nigerian clay pot vegetable coolers,) some I found rather repetitious (the iPhone’s elegant simplicity) and others done better elsewhere (Christopher Alexander’s pattern language approach to architecture.)

Much to like, some to admire, and the book is summed up in the four elements of elegance: Symmetry, seduction, subtraction and sustainability. A nice little read, recommended.

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