Monthly Archives: April 2008

Canon LBP2900: Good personal workhorse printer

While I am on the subject of my technology setup, let me pause briefly to sing the praises of my Canon LBP 2900, a small laser printer which lives unostentatiously next to my home office desk.

It was cheap and  prints lots of pages before the cartridge runs out. I haven’t done the numbers, but it is rated at about 2,000 pages per cartridge. That means four packages of paper, and I am sure I have used much more than that on the first cartridge (since I print primarily text.) It is quiet and more than fast enough for personal printing (shared by about 5 computers, hitched to a workstation). Produces crisp printouts, but can be a bit tricky with envelopes (but I use a different printer for that anyway). The only real drawback is that it can take a while before it warms up and spits out the first page, but once it gets going, it is very quick.

One of those things that you buy and forget about (or, as Jerry used to say, it Just Works). Economical and reliable. Recommended.

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My computer setup (testing notes)

I am testing various pieces of equipment on behalf of the IT dept. at the Norwegian School of Management, and this post is a second report on how it is working (the first one is here, in Norwegian.)

X61 Tablet with two 22'' widescreens

My new setup (as pictured) is what I think ought to be the new standard for faculty: A decent laptop for travel and a good setup (with large screens) for office work. The technology components here are: Lenovo X61 Tablet, docking station, keyboard and mouse (with cable, I really don’t like wireless keyboards and mice) and two Samsung SyncMaster225bw 22” screens, held together with a Matrox DualHead2Go Digital Edition. This gives me a 3360×1050 screen (16 bit color, 60Hz).

All in all, a pretty good setup, though I am still ironing out a few kinks. Some details follow:

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Masterstudies at Hawaii

I have just (well, last Friday) come back from the AACSB conference in Hawaii. As previously noted, I am on the board of a small but quickly growing company called Masterstudies.com, and this was our first “in the flesh” meeting with customers and partners. I tagged along on the theory that since I am an academic, I probably know how to talk to academics as well.

I am no stranger to academic conferences, but attending it as a vendor, not a regular participant or speaker, was new to me. I usually walk through the vendor section of a conference with downcast eyes, trying to not be cornered and pitched to. It was very interesting to stand there and see other people trying to avoid you – as a result, I have resolved to be much nicer to salespeople from now on.

That being said, the conference was a resounding success for us as a company – we talked to more than 60 universities and many of the other vendors and conference partners came over to our booth to congratulate us on the high interest and many compliments we got for our product. And I found it rather fun to market something – especially when it turned out we had a service that addressed a real need for many of these universities.

Recruiting blues
The problem with recruiting students is selectivity and quality control – you want students that are both good (in the sense that they have good grades and other qualifications) and also are environmentally compatible (for lack of a better term) with the other students. The first criterion is pretty easy to test for – grades and GMAT scores provide good indicators. Ensuring a proper mix of students for a program is harder.

For the prospective students, finding a school can also be very hard, since few students (at least outside the US) know more than a few business schools’ names and nothing about their quality. The result is a power law of prestige: At the top (“the fat head”), you find a few extremely well known schools (such as Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Wharton, INSEAD, LBS and IMD) with thousands of extremely well qualified people applying and very few getting in. Harvard, for instance, tend to receive 10 times as many applications as they have spaces, and of those people applying at least half of the people are good enough to make it through the program, if they only got in. At the top, finding students is not the problem – selecting them is.

For the students, another problem is avoiding the very bottom of universities: The outright frauds and degree mills that will sell you a certificate for a fee and an overview of your “life experiences”. (See this list for some suspects, but they tend to pop up like mushrooms after a rainy night.) A degree from a very weak place is not something you want to attach to your CV at all.

Most schools and most students fall somewhere in the middle, though: Decent schools providing good programs, and reasonably smart students prepared to do the required work to obtain a degree.  Masterstudies.com provides a service here by maintaining a database of quality-controlled schools which prospective students can search without having to go to each school’s web site, and quickly submit requests for information to interesting schools.

Selective international recruiting
If this was all we did, we wouldn’t provide much value, however. Most students can search in Google for business schools, and listings abound. The problem for schools trying to recruit internationally is not that they don’t get responses when they advertise on the Internet – it is that they get hundreds or thousands of “leads” from people who clearly are not qualified to be admitted, either because they don’t have the background or the finances.

In certain countries, such as a large African country beginning with N, most of the requests for information have nothing to do with getting an education: Enterprising men request glossy business school brochures to show women, saying that they are applying to a prestigious school and thus are attractive partners. Given the cost of an information package, this is clearly not a service most schools would want to provide.

To avoid this, we have the students put in their characteristics (education, work experience, managerial experience, age, desired industry they want to work in, etc.) and then match them to schools where they have a chance of getting admitted. The schools can filter the incoming leads so that they only get students they want, doing things such as selectively market in certain countries – say, perhaps they have enough people from Northern Europe or India, but want more from China or Southern Europe. Since we track where the prospective students log in, we can filter based on geography as well.

It works surprisingly well, which is why I am willing to be on the board. It is also very cost-effective: We charge the industry standard price for a lead (i.e., a prospective student), but the lead is qualified, meaning that every reference that comes from us has passed the hurdles the schools have set up themselves. That means that information packets go out only to students that actually a) have the requisite quality, and b) are in target markets the school want to serve.

(Of course, since I have read Shapiro and Varian, we also have a Pro package, where schools can pay a little extra and get promoted on the front page and so on – perfect for that newly launched MBA with a special twist that you secretly worry filling up.) As we start to build up good logs (we have had more than 100,000 unique visitors and growing per month since the new site launched in January) we should also be able to provide some pretty good and detailed overall statistics. For my own research, I am thinking about doing text analysis on the language in the program descriptions, to see what the main differentiating strategies of the schools are.

Check it out for yourself – though if you are a school, you should probably contact Linus, our Irish CEO (a former professional racing biker),  or Bernt, our VP of Business Development (who tried to teach me to surf in Hawaii, with decidedly mixed results) to get a peek under the hood, at the statistics and filtering pages which allow schools to select carefully and measure the results of their marketing.

And now, back to our regular programming….

Door close button unmasked

According to this great essay in the New Yorker, the “close door” button in most elevators does not work (unless you are a fireman with a key). This is something I have long suspected, since noticing how Americans bang on it and Europeans ignore it, with no noticeable difference in elevator speed.

Via Boingboing.

PS: The elevator industry is really interesting from a commercial viewpoint – the ultimate example of the razor-and-blade business model (install it cheaply and live off the service contract) as well as infrastructure technology (which you only notice when it break down.

PSPS: And yes, the elevator bank at the New York Marriot Marquis must be the slowest in the world.

The longest love story

Audrey Nieffenegger: The Time Traveller’s Wife, Vintage, 2004

One of the favorite movies around our house, the kind that you bring out with a bottle of wine when you want to kick back and not think about anything in particular, is Groundhog Day.  The premise is rather simple: Phil, a self-important and cynical weather man, played by Bill Murray, goes to small town to do a rather boring job of reporting on the annual awakening of the groundhog. A snowstorm closes the roads, the team has to stay another night – and when Murray wakes up the next morning, it is the previous day all over again. And so it continues – every day he wakes up to the same day, nobody except him remember what has happened.

Groundhog Day is a great movie not for that simple idea, but for how the movie manages to build on that simple premise. Aside from the one little thing of repeating the same day over and over, nothing Phil does is illogical, as he progresses from enjoyment to despair through development to, eventually, redemption. Anyone seeing it could imagine being Phil. It is a very intelligent comedy.

The Time Traveller’s Wife (the book, that is, I haven’t seen the movie) has a similar concept: The main protagonists are Henry and Clare, "who met when Clare was six and Henry thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-two and Henry thirty. This can happen because Henry time-travels – involuntarily, always showing up buck naked in unexpected places, but very often around Clare. He even meets himself, at various ages. Clare and Henry have to come to terms with the misery of sometimes knowing what is going to happen in the future (which, of course, can be useful if you want to play the stock market) as well as the more practical difficulties of showing up in various places without clothes and with only a dim recollection of where you are and, especially, what time it is.

The novel succeeds for the same reasons that Groundhog Day succeeds: It manages to tell a believable story in an unbelievable setting. Clare and Henry must somehow shape a normal life out of an incredibly difficult situation, and how they do it is both funny and moving – a love story where you can never be sure of anything. At no point does Niederegger veer off into science fiction-like explanations of why Henry has this "rare condition", just as Groundhog Phil never tries to find out why he wakes up to the same day every morning. The book is also delightfully free of New Age-isms and spirituality. Instead, the focus is on the central characters and the relationship between them, how they have deal with the practicalities (stashing clothes in places Henry is likely to turn up, learning to pick pockets and locks to survive) and emotional turmoil. Both Clare and Henry learn things about each other’s futures – how do you deal with knowing that something bad is going to happen, for instance,  do you tell the person about it or not?

This is an extremely well thought out novel, at no point does the time-hopping (not to mention the oral form, where the characters tell their story in short episodes) get tedious (with a possible exception for their wedding, which gets a little contrived and sugary). It is a long love-story (76 years, to be exact) but worth the time spent.

Recommended.

(and thanks to Julie for leaving this one around the house so I could take it with me and make Frankfurt-LA seem a tad bit shorter…..).

Aloha

This is written from a 747 somewhere over the Rocky Mountains. I am on my way to the AACSB Annual conference in Honolulu, Hawaii. It is a conference on business school management, which is interesting in itself, and Hawaii, of course, is a new destination for me.

But the real reason I am on my way is because I am on the board of Masterstudies.com, and startup company offering a Web-based search-and-match service for business schools and prospective business school students. (Check our the website – and for all my colleagues out there – we are getting good reviews, send me an email if you think this might be a good way to generate leads for your school.)

Anyway, the VP of Business Development is going over to sell our services, and I am tagging along to translate between academese and marketing and (I suspect) as a guarantee that this is a serious business. I am quite looking forward to it – it will be interesting to see how other business school are competing for students in an increasingly global market. It will also be interesting to see which way the market moves – I suspect a movement towards more and more franchising of well-known schools, more tailored education (tied to knowledge profiles and career tracks in large corporations) and, of course, more use of technology both in marketing and execution.