Monthly Archives: January 2005

Another one for the CIO

Virginia Postrel has an interesting take on Sarbanes-Oxley and all the trouble it creates for the IT department. I know from pretty reliable sources that SarBox is high on any Fortune 500 CIO’s agenda, because the added need for tracking and documentation creates no end of headaches throughout most systems. I was especially struck by the observation that what would be considered small companies in the US ($68m) consider going private again, just to avoid the nitpicking.

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Nostalgia unrequited

John Le Carre: Absolute Friends
John le Carre’s novels tend to focus on goodhearted people caught in circumstances that are too big for them. This time it is Ted Mundy, sometime revolutionary and later spy, whose friendship and later contact with a German spy comes back to bite him when the Cold War is officially over.
Reading this book was an uneven experience – the first two thirds are vintage le Carre, describing espionage as only he can. Most of the last third is the mystery of the book, when new circumstances come up and the reader can share the main protagonist’s confusion and alternative explanations. The conclusion of the book was, if unexpected, something of a disappointment – unlike most of Le Carre’s books, which tend to be subtle to the point of confusion, the resolution feels like a tacked-on explanation for the lay and not too smart reader.
The thriller industry was badly served by the fall of the Berlin Wall. Le Carre has fared better than most, but this book, while enjoyable reading, leaves you with a feeling that he really would like to continue writing about the good old days of espionage. As do the characters he portrays.
Not that I blame him – masterpieces like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley’s People leave me wanting more, too.

Punctuated inapropriam

Lynne Truss: Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation
After reading this book, I can no longer read The Economist without noticing the very British overuse of commas, and have acquired a gnawing anxiety about my own punctuation, first-language English or not. I just wish someone would write a book like this for the Norwegian language. In fact, I wish Norway – the only country I know with two official languages and nobody that speaks either – would get used to the idea that languages have rules, and are stronger for it.
Anyway, recommended along with Strunk and White, Bill Bryson’s Mother Tongue and Made in America. Sticklers, unite!

Linking through LinkedIn

Joi Ito reports that LinkedIn suddenly is popular at PeopleSoft as the effects of the Oracle takeover comes in.
I have been fiddling with LinkedIn myself – not that the Norwegian School of Management is getting rid of people, but as an excercise starting with Christmas cards (going through the list makes you remember people) and finishing with a lecture on social software for my MBA class on Friday.
I like LinkedIn because being on it is limited to work issues, and you don’t give out your life and email by signing up. Plus, it is quite surprising how wide a four-degree network can get.
However, some people seem to have missed the point: That you are only to link up with people you have some form of prior connection with. One LinkedIn member has more than 5000 connections and clearly sees that as an achievement in itself. Since connections more than one degree away requires endorsement from someone who knows you, this kind of defeat the purpose of the network itself. All coverage and no depth.

Good concept, weak execution

Barbara Kellerman: Bad Leadership.
This book is an interesting concept: Study bad leaders and identify just in what way they are bad (as opposed to identifying good traits of good leaders.) Notwithstanding the fact that bad leaders must have been good leaders in the sense that they got into a leadership position (and Kellerman acknowledges this point, though she does not follow up on it) the examples chosen are identified as failing because of specific traits, namely incompetence (Samaranch), rigidity (Mary Meeker), intemperance (Marion Barry), callousness (“Chainsaw Al” Dunlap), corruption (William Aramondy), insularity (Bill Clinton, seen as a failed leader for failing to react to the Rwanda atrocities), and evil (Radovan Karadzic).
I liked the concept, but unfortunately the execution is very weak – the examples of failing leadership are unclear, with shallow portraits and at least for some of the examples unconvincing reasoning. The book would have been better for a really critical editor and more time spent on each example. Pity.

Excellent paper on safecracking

Via Boing Boing comes a link to the paper “Safecracking for the computer scientist” (PDF) by Matt Blaze. This has caused some consternation within the locksmithing industry, but I don’t really see why – anyone who has read Richard Feynman’s brilliant “Surely you are joking, Mr. Feynman!” know how to pick locks already. And believe me, it works even on a standard key lock, as I found out having locked myself out of the house one day, having to diddle the lock with a screwdriver and a bent paper clip. It is actually surprisingly easy, and most toolsmiths should be ashamed of themselves, mostly for making products of so low precision that you easily can detect the wheel imperfections.
Security by obscurity, indeed.