Monthly Archives: October 2005

Herr Keyboard appears…

Das KeyboardI needed an external keyboard in the office I am borrowing in Boston, and since Norwegian-language keyboards are hard to get in the USA and I didn’t have a spare USB keyboard available in Norway, I went ahead and ordered the secondmost geeky keyboard of them all – Das Keyboard.

This keyboard is kind of old-fashioned, it looks very much like the classical IBM PS/2 101-key keyboard, with one important difference – there are no letters or numbers or anything on the keys. It is quite amazing how much this gets you to focus on the screen rather than sneaking glances down at the keys, and pressuring yourself to write automatically (it is quite amazing how easily your fingers remember where the [angle bracket] keys are, for instance.)

As for how it feels, I think I will like it. It is a classical keyboard, well engineered, and could easily be a winner but for the competition having heated up lately: Some of the new, low, modern oneshave very good key response (such the cordless Logitech keyboard/mouse combo I recently got). Das Keyboard has a certain "buckling spring" feeling to it (the snappy response that every geek loves and recalls with fond memories from early IBM keyboards, particularly (in my case) from the 3174 terminals). It is much more quiet than a true IBM keyboard, though. (And, in case you wondered, the classical IBM buckling spring keyboard, particularly AT style, is the most geeky keyboard you can get. I do a lot of telephone interviews, though, and they are too noisy for that.)

All in all, I think I will keep Das Keyboard, though there is a 30-day money back guarantee. It is geeky enough, and besides, I am a little curious as to whether it really will speed up my writing. Besides, one advantage is that very few people are likely to nick it from the office…..

What is an information system?

Some years ago (December 1998, according to my email archive) I participated in an online discussion on the ISWORLD mailing list, about what an information system really is. I posted this story, which I had heard told somewhere but never found a source for:

A CEO with hotel chain A found himself having to spend a night in a hotel from hotel chain B. Naturally, he was very curious as to what kind of information systems they had, and resolved to keep an open eye for competitive use of IT. As he approached the reception for first time, the woman behind it smiled at him and said "Welcome back, Sir!"

Flabbergasted, he said "But…it is 12 years since I was here last! How could you know that I have stayed here before, what kind of advanced information systems do you have that can store and find the fact that I was here 12 years ago?"

"Well, it is really very simple", she said. "When the doorman opened the door to your cab, he asked if this was your first stay with us. You answered no, and as you walked through the door, the doorman looked at me through the window and touched his nose. That told me that you should be welcomed back…."

Moral of the story: Information systems don’t have to mean information technology (at least not digital information technology)…. 

I was going to use this story in a paper I am writing, did a Desktop Google search for it – and found it not only in my email file, but also on a number of web pages (here and here, in addition to a previous story here).

It is kind of fascinating to see how these things move, but I still don’t know the real source of that story – does anyone?

(And incidentally, this story is an excellent teaching device…) 

Regional e-commerce differences

Thomas Crampton guestblogs at Joi Ito’s place about how there are regional differences in e-commerce usage patterns (based on his article in International Herald Tribune.)

Actually, I am not surprised that there are differences – but I was a little surprised that online purchasing was so low in the States compared to Europe. Europeans don’t use credit cards to the same extent as Americans do – both because they trust them less and because debit cards are more common (but not yet ported to the Net). I also think that US shoppers use the telephone for shopping much more than in Europe (thus causing underreporting of e-commerce numbers) – credit cards can be used over the phone in the US, but not normally in Europe. The infrastructure for physical goods transportation is much better in the US (thanks to UPS and Fedex), meaning that telephone and mail orders shopping was developed earlier and over a larger area. I also agree with the mall hypothesis – not only are malls easier available in the US, but they also tend to have more inventory and greater selection, rather than running out of winter coats in early December like they do here in Norway.

Regional differences come both from culture and from differences in timing of introduction of technologies. Credit cards were slow in Europed because the giro payment system was introduced (obviating paper checks) which allowed fast interbank clearance and interoperable debit cards. Cellphones were standardized earlier in Europe because the countries were smaller and needed roaming agreements. Cell phones grew faster in Europe because the fixed line phones were more expensive (the local call is still metered in most of Europe), because voice mail and 800 numbers did not catch on until late, and because the mobile phone market was a competitive almost from the start. In the US, with larger land areas, coverage was worse and the alternative for the consumer (800 numbers, pay phones and phone cards, and voice mail) was seen as adequate for a long time. In Japan, the high degree of Internet surfing via cell phone was due to a proprietary and almost monopolistic player offering all layers in the function stack – and the fact that many Japanese spend long hours on public transportation and have time to surf at 9600 bps.

Other areas where they may be difference can be TV – I think the regional differences would be larger in Europe, preserved by dubbing. On a side note, my daughter tells me that her fellow students think UK English is much harder to understand than US English – which she attributes to her classmates watching Friends in US English and more polysyllabic BBC News UK English.

Wikipedia uses also vary by region – I think Jimbo Wales mentioned that in the Japanese version of Wikipedia, things are hashed out for a long time in the Talk pages before committing to edit the actual article?

Consumers are sensible, but a little slow. They use what works best for them. And what works best differs by country, for reasons of culture and history. Even under Web 2.0

Phishing on a grand scale

Telephone call: "I’m a secret agent, we are conducting a terrorist money-laundering operation, please hand me all the bank’s cash in a bar, so I can mark them. You will get them back, I promise!"

I don’t know what this says about bankers in Paris, but I hope at least some of them, at this point, are former bankers….

BIBA for six weeks

Harvard Square at nightAfter a serious case of overteaching, I am escaping to be in Boston from October 28 to December 8. The idea is to do some writing, hang out in Concours’ offices a bit (being a teleworker has its benefits, but there are drawbacks as well, such as not knowing what people you work with look like and what kind of beer they drink), visit universities and interesting companies, catch up with old friends, go to seminars, do a deep dive into the bookstores around Harvard Square and Kendall, and try to figure out what I should do with my six month sabbatical, which comes up January 1, 2006.

If anyone would like to meet, chat, know of an interesting seminar I should go to, want me to come and speak to their students or company, or otherwise have something for me to look into, please send me an email (self at espen dot com) or use the comment fields.

(Incidentally, I am also looking for an inexpensive room and/or car to rent – I can stay with friends, but six weeks is a bit long if you want to keep them as friends…)

See you in Boston! 

Blackbored and WebCT to merge

According to PRNewswire, Blackboard and WebCT has announced an intended merger.

Two mediocre companies merging does not one great company make, only a big one. The sooner the university community starts to develop an open-source learning managment system, preferably based on a blogging interface, the better. Both Blackboard and WebCT are firmly based, architecturally and service-wise, in an era that predates Web 1.0. and reminds me of old "userfriendly" mainframe systems like PROFS.  Idiot-proof, but no room for user extensions.

I will start looking for good Open Source LMS’es….lemmesee, the first to come up in Google is Moodle.

(Via eBlog)

Google towards the online office

Apparently, Eric Schmidt turned up at a Sun news event, and the yahoos that somehow have passed themselves off as business technology journalists interpret this as Google declaring war on Microsoft, teaming up to offer competing office soutions. I don’t know. To me, this sounds more like Scott McNealy trying to get on the Google bandwagon that anything else. I think the proof of the pudding is in the eating – and as someone who loves Google products (Google Desktop saves my bacon at least twice a week) and who has hauled his computing environment around with him since 1985 (with the bad back to show for it) I would like nothing better than to move everything online.

 But there are some things that need to be worked out first. Gmail is great, but I don’t use it because I have 4 gigs – not 2.8 – stacks of old mail around – and need the integration to my desktop environment. Openoffice is great, but still requires installation on a local processor. I would like that delivered online – and it seems that with interfaces such as Wikiwyg we might see that happening. But there is a tremendous amount of add-on software such as Endnote, Acrobat, templates and stuff that needs to 1) work and 2) have a migration process in place before we can talk about a replacement for Office.

In the meantime, I will use FolderShare to keep things synchronized, jump on anything that Google offers, trusting and hoping that they will keep on innovating rather than get embroiled in battles and wars they don’t need to fight.

And there is hope in a younger generation – my elder daughter uses her PalmPilot to take notes, storing them online PeanutButterWiki. The others (one grade school, one high school) use MSN and other online tools, and effortlessly move their schoolwork back and forth between school and home using an the school’s LMS. Word and Excel are to them just things that turn up – and having something similar online, especially something that could recognize you from client to client, would be a gradual change, not a wholesale replacement, for them. They just might be the overserved audience a disruptive technology like an online office needs.

UPDATE: Robert Scoble makes a useful distinction: He likes web apps for occasional work, and client apps when he needs to use them a lot. At this point in the technology evolution, he is onto something. I remember when WordPerfect came with a mainframe version. Wonderful standardization logic, cumbersome interface. The bridging, of course, lies in applets downloaded with anticipation of use, or based on prior usage patterns. Imagine logging into an airport lounge computer and it instantly beginning to download the functionality you use the most, gradually and seamlessly moving you from web to local interface….