Monthly Archives: February 2005

Airtime Machiavelli

My colleague and fellow case teaching enthusiast Mark Kriger dug into his files a few days ago and showed me Robert Ronstadt’s The Art of Case Analysis, a self-published how-to for prospective students in a case teaching environment. This thing is fantastic – it has strategies for how to look smart in front of the teacher (see exhibit), where to sit in the classroom, and roles to play in the classroom. Also has pointers to preparation and case ethics, as well as some basic analysis. My, what a cheat sheet for students…..
Here are three alternative strategies for how to let the teacher form a good impression:

And here is where to sit in the classroom:

Architecture and buildings

JohnJim McGee (with whom I briefly overlapped at Harvard) has written an excellent essay on architecture of buildings and systems based on Stewart Brand’s book How Buildings Learn.
I first encountered this perspective back in the mid-90s, when I worked at CSC and Richard Pawson pursued the same ideas, thinking about how systems architecture could learn from the adaptive architecture ideas of Brand and Christopher Alexander (who wrote A Pattern Language, a collection of architectural “ideas that work”, much read in the circles that practice extreme programming).
McGee adds a thoroughness to the analysis that I haven’t seen before, and nicely points out the contradiction in Brands conclusion: That building work if they are either adaptable or non-changeable (the latter, I suspect, being more an artifact of the stability of the activity taking place in the building than the building itself.)
I have recommended Stewart Brand’s book for years (and have given away at least 3 copies so far, the last time when we were designing the new building for the Norwegian School of Management). It really is an amazing book and an enjoyable read whether you are an architect, a systems engineer, or just someone who happens to take an interest in your surroundings.
Highly recommended (both the essay and the book).

From Mozilla to Firefox/Thunderbird

This blog seems to be degenerating into the usual “this vs. that” technology, so here goes: I recently went from Mozilla 1.7.1 to Firefox/Thunderbird (Mozilla’s new browser/email client). Verdict so far: Mixed. I have gained a better email interface (faster and less errors, and the great ability to save searches as folder). Firefox is also a marginally better browser than Mozilla 1.7.1, with better bookmark handling, RSS inclusion (though I use Bloglines, so it shouldn’t matter much – or perhaps that was Thunderbird?) and more robustness.
However, I have lost the easy integration between email client and browswer, and the (admittedly not wonderful) HTML editor is gone. I cannot click on a link in an email and choose “open in new tab” or even “open it new window” – instead, it will open in the top window of Firefox, pushing aside whatever I had there. I can do ctrl-m to compose a new email message when in Firefox.
A good thing with F/T is that if one app crashes (and face it, it happens), then I don’t have to shut down the whole suite. But the integration I am referring to should be easy to accomplish. And how do I easily link in an editor under Firefox – I would very much like to be able to hit ctrl-e and go right ahead editing.
As it is looking now, I will probably keep Thunderbird but go back to Mozilla 1.7.1 for browsing and editing.

MacCharlie resurrection


Via Gizmodo comes this mocked up Mac Mini back-pack docking station. Let me be the first to point out that this looks uncanningly like one of the weirdest computer products ever to see the light of day: The MacCharlie, a wrap-around PC-compatible computer that turned a Macintosh into an IBM clone back in 1985.
Those were the days…..

Upside down world

Interesting idea by Dana Blankenhornhow about Apple buying Sony? Would make an interesting inroad into portable cellphones/MP3 players, and also get them access to a lot of digital music for iTunes. I wonder to what extent there would be institutional obstacles, though. Sony is an old Japanese company and the shares may not be as licquid as a listing on NYSE should indicate.

Dream desktop getting closer


Once upon a time (in the mid-1980s to be slightly more precise) I expressed a wish for a desktop that would be real and electronic – that is, it would be the size of a real desktop, with a touch-sensitive interface. The idea was to create the paperless office (anyone who has seen my office knows what a pipe dream this is) where only the coffee cup would be “real”.
Now, we seem to be getting a tad bit closer with this beautiful screen from Wacom (via Gizmodo.) Let’s see, if we set about four of these side-by-side….

HTML Editor?

I recently upgraded from Mozilla 1.7.1 to Thunderbird and Firefox (email client and browser, respectively). The benefit of the upgrade is increased speed and certain features, especially in Thunderbird, that are useful (such as better search and stored searches (“all emails to and from Doug”, for instance).
Mozilla 1.7.1 is good, but a tad slow, and I have a tendency to have 10-15 windows running at the same time, with lots of tabs in each, three edit windows up at the same time, etc., etc. Since all this is essentially one application, a crash in one forced crashes in everything. Plus, modularity is preferable if you want to stay current.
All of which leaves me without the (annoying but simple) Mozilla editor. I have done all my editing either in Notetab light or in Mozilla, but it is about time I move to a better HTML editor, especially one that supports CSS. Free/cheap is nice, should be able to handle relatively simple web pages and it would be very nice it if could handle synchronization between my hard disk and my web server, as well as helping me manage my many course pages efficiently (especially nice if I could have sub-parts of courses, learning modules, that could be stored so that I did not have to make changes many places). There are lots of them out there – any suggestions?
Of course, I could create a blog for each course. I could also do everything in Blackbored, our lame courseware option. But I like straight HTML and open access to courses. I could also install Macromedia (we have a license at the school) but that is overkill for me, I just don’t want to learn all that. So, what to do?

Bridget Jill

Saturday 9:38am: Reading Jill’s Bridget Jones-writealike blog entry. Fun, reminds me of Umberto Eco’s piece about time spent on research (from How to travel with a salmon), where he (if memory serves me right) proves that as a professor of linguistics, he had 1 hour per year or so for research. Especially liked the entry on “Head of Department can decide less teaching for self”, followed by “Head of Department realizes resource contraints and find she has to teach anyway.”
Aside from that, I remember a study done at American Airlines in the early 90s, about white-collar productivity. The idea was that about 40% of people’s time was spent unproductively, doing things such as unproductive meetings, waiting for the copying machine etc. The company was investing in office automation, and wanted justify it by decreasing unroductive time by using computers to automate boring stuff, so people could concentrate on the core part of their job. Disappointing results, though people liked email and an integrated work platform. And spent as much time as before being “unproductive”.
Seems we humans have a need for some time in slow gear doing busywork. Such as blogging. And she might have a book in this…..