Monthly Archives: May 2005

Real S-curves

A few weeks ago, I taught a class on business strategy, and ended up discovering that many of my otherwise quite capable students had no clue of how things work. The result (aside from much head-shaking on my part) was a little essay – The S-Curves of Sinks, and Technology – which now has been published in ACM Ubiquity.

Joe Speyer, incidentally, was a really nice man. He wasn’t really fond of business school professors, but had the good grace never to tell me that.

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Sasson for the defense

Today I attended Amir Sasson‘s doctoral defence, where he defended his thesis “On Affiliation and Mediation: A Study of Information Mediated Network Effects in The Banking Industry.” Amir has studied to what extent companies and banks have economic gain from being well connected, in essence: Do well-connected companies have higher survival rates, do they pay less interest on their loans, and do they have higher credit availability than others? And vice versa – do banks do better by targeting customers that are connected to each other? Amir’s conclusion is that both companies and their banks benefit from being interconnected – and that banks can provide value for their clients by increasing the number of ties between their customers.

His supervisor has been Øystein Fjeldstad, chairman of the committee has been Henrich Greve, and the opponents have been Brian Uzzi of the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University and Kent Eriksson, KTH Royal Institute of Technology.

The work received excellent marks – Amir has done a tremendous job in creating the data set and developing a way to analyse network structures. Most importantly, as Brian Uzzi said, the work has a high potential for generalization to other industries and, indeed to other literatures – the hallmark of an excellent dissertation.

The questions given by the opponents in a doctoral defense tend to be more difficult the better the dissertation is – and the questions from the two opponents were detailed and hard-hitting. Amir sailed through with an understanding of theory, conceptualization and method that sets a standard that will be hard to follow for other doctoral candidates at BI. Congratulations are in order both to Amir and his advisors – this is an unusually well designed and executed thesis.

Why DRM is a bad idea for books

My colleague, respected academic Bård Kuvaas, told me about his problems with an Adobe eBook he had purchased at Amazon UK. The book, Psychological Management of Individual Performance costs £94 ($172, about NOK1100). He downloaded it, things worked fine, until he decided to upgrade his Adobe Acrobat from the reader software to the full, commercial Adobe Reader/Writer. Now he can no longer access his eBook, and has so far not gotten any help from Adobe, from Wiley (the publisher) or from Amazon.
I think this little case illustrates the problem with DRM technology: Bård is in many respects the ideal eBook customer – a serious scientist willing to shell out serious money for copyrighted information that he needs. And when he decides to upgrade to a better version of the reader software, he loses access to the product he has purchased. (And just so you know – Bård is not an IT specialist, but proficient enough to purchase eBooks and install new software from a network. And yes, he has sought help from the school’s very competent IT department, which can’t figure this one out either.)
I especially like his very low-key conclusion:

If copyright issues regarding ebooks are so complicated that honest customers cannot access their books, I don’t think ebooks will have any success among scholars or students in Norway.

My thoughts exactly.
Update: The issue, for this specific instance, has been resolved – after reading about this on Boingboing, a representative from Wiley has contacted Dr. Kuvaas, and a new eBook has been sent from Amazon. (The underlying problem – software that makes products hard to use – is still there.)

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Lessig frustrated with Kopinor conference

Lawrence Lessig gave a talk at a conference for licensing organizations here in Norway and was frustrated because the audience (or, at least, most of them) didn’t get it, and he was seen as naïve and dangerous.
I am not really surprised – the collective licensing organizations collect money where they can and dole it out to “approved” authors (not all authors, only those deemed qualitatively good enough.) Creative Commons and other forms of financing destroys (or, at least, attacks) their reason for being. Hence the hostility.

I could, unfortunately, not be at the conference. Wish I was. But I will get my chance later this year, giving a talk at a conference for a similar organization in Denmark.

As for Lessig’s view of Norway – I hope he is reassured that some Norwegians, at least, think highly of him and his ideas. The Future of Ideas remains the one book I recommend to everyone to understand the need for a differentiated set of rights systems and a “default option” of free and available.

Don’t give up, Larry. The Swedes joke that when airplanes from Stockholm land in Oslo, the captain will tell passengers to put their clocks five years back. We will get there, eventually.

Spanish university fires P2P lecturer

I suppose it is always dangerous to voice support for something without having heard both sides, but in the case of Jorge Cortell, I will make an exception. Cortell was fired from his teaching post at Polytechnic University of Valencia UPV because he held a conference on the legal uses of P2P file sharing networks. I only have Cortell’s story to go with, since I don’t know Spanish. But I also have Cory’s word for it. That being said, Cortell does not seem terribly upset by losing his job – only about the censorship.
Apparently, in a stunning display of academic cowardliness (not to mention PR ineptness), the Dean of the University not only gave in to pressure from the recording industry and fired Cortell – but now tries to deny that he ever taught at the place, and to pressure him to remove links to the university from his web page. Surreal in a world of free information and instant communication.
It will be interesting to watch further development – I think the dean will find that the world is larger, more connected, and certainly more vocal than he ever thought.
Update: Check the comments on this one – there are issues around this lecturer’s CV.

The war in the war

Book Cover: The Spanish Civil War by Antony BeevorAntony Beevor: The Spanish Civil War is highly readable, as are all his books (Stalingrad and The fall of Berlin are the most well known.) The Spanish Civil War was a war that is often described as a prelude to and training ground for WWII, with an elected democratic Republic fighting a Fascist army, the latter with decisive German and Italian support – especially the Condor Legion, German pilots who notoriously bombed the Basque town of Guernica, rendered famous by Picasso’s painting of the same name. The history of war is written by the winners, says Beevor, but for this war, the story was written by the losers – and the reason they lost is rather complicated.
The Fascist side was called the Nationalists, an insurgence led by Franco in a conservative alliance between officers, landowners and the Catolic church (which really has some explaining to do and excuses to make for their role in the conflict.) The Republicans, on the other side, consisted of Socialists, Anarkists and Communists, the latter of whom were better organized than the others and managed to co-opt both the Anarkists and Socialists organization, sometimes to the point were there was a “civil war inside the civil war.” Most of the time, it seemed the Communists were more interested in that they would win that that the opposition should lose, so weapons were withheld from allies and tactics were decided for progaganda reasons rather military, resulting in grievous losses for no military purpose.
The Spanish Civil war was a conflict between centralization and decentralization, feudalism and socialism, and religion and secularism. The Nationalists managed to keep their internal feuds internal (mostly by clever maneuvering by Franco), whereas the Spanish Republic never was more than a coalition of groups united only by their opposition to the Nationalists, and sometimes not even that. Extremism won out on both sides, resulting in tragedies and atrocities both during the war and after – events that haunted Spain for the rest of the century.
One aspect that struck me is that in the story of Spain lies much of the key to how Hitler could come into power in Germany – the opposition on the left was destroyed to a large degree by their own internal strife, allowing an initially small group (Franco started with 30,000 legionnaires from Morocco) to take over a country because the majority was split into groups that would rather lose than see any of their allies get credit for a victory.
I wonder if not the Spanish Civil War should be taught more in schools – its is more overviewable and allows less for demonization of the enemy than that of Germany. The political forces and internal machinations are more visible and more understandable. Extremism wins out when centrism cannot offer a unified and clear voice – a dilemma which we still haven’t found out how to counter, at least not in the short run.

Quants and schmoozers

Brad deLong has a great discussion of the difference between quants and schmoozers (or specialists and generalists, in my terms) in the investment bank community. Any young consultant who wonders why the old farts on the golf courses are paid so much should read it – for one thing (not mentioned by Brad) they know the capabilities of their own company and which deals to walk away from.
The greatest danger to a consulting company (or investment bank, I presume) is the young salesman who doesn’t know what is hard and what isn’t. The old farts are there because they have tacit knowledge on what they can commit the company to, and at what price.