Category Archives: Blogging

Professor BowTie

My Chinese students (in the BI-Fudan “best-of-both” MBA program) refer to me as “Professor Bow Tie), for obvious reasons (though not in my presence – there, I am “Professor Espen”). On a couple of occasions, they have even showed up wearing bow ties themselves – and looking out over a room with 60 bow ties is rather distracting….

Anyway, since almost all Chinese students have a self-chosen English name in order to make life easy for foreigners, I think it is only fair that I should have a Chinese name for the same reason. So, with a bit of help from the BI-Fudan liaison office, here it is: Băo Tài, pronounced with a very sharp T:

professor-bow-tieI have, obviously, no clue as to what it means (and I am pretty sure mispronouncing it could lead to some hilarity), but have been assured by the office that it is OK. Perhaps someone out there could translate it for me?


Newsblur–an alternative to Google Reader

The best way to find new tools and work tips is to see what other people are doing – which is why I spend time writing up experiences with various tools. It is even better when you can read the experiences and work tips of someone you admire – such as this Lifehacker interview with the frighteningly articulate and productive Cory Doctorow.

From this interview I noted that Cory, like many of us, has to leave Google Reader – as he says, probably for Newsblur. I promptly went there, plonked down $20 for a year’s subscription, choose “import Google Reader subscriptions”, and wondered why I hadn’t heard of this gem before. In addition to RSS feeds, Doubt if I will ever open Google Reader again…. Newsblur seems more elegant, gives me the option of reading the blog in original format, and has a great interface for adding and deleting blogs. And it is trainable – i.e., it observes what you read and asks your opinion – though I haven’t used it long enough to see how this works.

Highly recommended – and the fact that a) this is fee-supported, hence not subject to arbitrary facing-out decisions that leave a loyal following with no tools, and b) recommended by Cory and now – gasp – me, should make this a very viable tool in the future. The creator, Samuel Clay, is a bit overwhelmed with demand right now (hence no free test subscriptions), but that will change as the site firms up its infrastructure and gets more optimized, I am sure.

Highly recommended!

Tips and tricks swap meet

Today I hosted a brown bag lunch with researchers from BI’s Technology Strategy group and MIT CISR. The objective was to get to know each other, but every meeting needs a topic, so I asked people to bring their computers and share a few smart things, useful web sites and other things they have discovered, that people wouldn’t know about.

Here is a list of some of the smart tricks and tools people came up with:

  • If you need to edit a large document in Word, create a table of contents, place it at the beginning of the document – and jump to the right chapter or subsection by control-clicking on the TOC. (Alternatively, use the document map feature, see this blog post.)
  • Pressing . (period) while in presentation mode in Powerpoint will give you a black screen, pressing the same key again gives you the slide back. Useful for making people listen to you rather than read the slide.
  • A tablet computer is useful for presentations: Draw on slides, use Windows Journal to sketch out diagrams and drawings – which you can then PDF and make available to students.
  • This article explains how to get rid of New York Times cookies with a bookmarklet.
  • Google Reader (since discontinued, use Newsblur instead) lets you read RSS feeds quickly and easily.
  • Clearly from Evernote is a great tool for reading webpages – removes unnecessary clutter and lets you save the page to Evernote.
  • Think-Cell is a great tool for creating charts in Powerpoint, faster and simpler and more good-looking than standard Excel.
  • is great for finding possible meeting times.
  • The Meeting Planner from is useful.
  • If this then that lets you automate certain web tasks by monitoring information streams and taking action based on their results.
  • Hipmunk is great for finding flights quickly, has a great graphical display.
  • In Word, under the File/Open or File/Recent menu choice, there are little pushpin symbols that, if pushed, will make sure the document stays visible in the list.
    Very useful for keeping the position of frequently used documents that are stored in SharePoint without having to go through a lengthy access procedure.

The fun thing with a little meeting like this is that everyone comes away with at least one or two things they hadn’t thought about – which is more than you can say for most meetings.

Epicurean financial readability

The Epicurean DealmakerThe Epicurean Dealmaker is one of my favorite blogs – witty, learned, topical, writing anonymously and eruditely on topics financial and others. That someone can profess to be an epicurean and at the same time an investment banker may seem like a contradiction in terms, but from his/her writings, the worthy blogger seems to pull it off. May he never be found out – or worse, may he not be found to be an out-of-work high school dropout with a Unix box, a Greek library and CTS.

Anyway, his latest missive on the continuing counterparty risk caused by investment banking consolidation and market monopolization is definitely worth your time and not inconsiderable effort. The causes of the last financial crisis are a alive and well, thank you very much. Lest you think the worthy Epicurean is an insider with an ax to grind, let me offer his elegant, is snarky, caveat emptor defense of the industry as well.

Investment banking and the whole “structured products” industry is so complicated that anyone can get lost – and most politicians and economists seem to avoid discussing it, much like most executives avoid discussing technological and network externalities. It simply is too hard, too complicated, and lacking in easy, sellable solutions. Better to not talk about it, at least not in detail.

By the way, he blames the lawyers for much of the complication of financial regulation. Hard to disagree.

Welcome to our new location…

…as of today, October 17, 2011, Applied Abstractions has found a new home at The old material at has been transferred, comments and all. For a while, I am sure there will be links that need a bit of updating and other details that will need tending to.

I remains to see how much of all that good Googlejuice I had made over at makes it over….

Hiatus bloggiensis

It has been rather quiet here lately – for three reasons:

  • I find that Twittering is a quicker way to leave links to interesting pages. However, TweetsTwits (alas not) are ephemeral, also for me, and recently I glanced back at some of my blog posts commenting other pages and found they were useful, whereas I never go back to look at my microblog mutterings. So I will return to snippet posting for my own reference here.
  • I had in mind of upgrading the blog software (from Movable Type 3.x) but when I checked some time ago (and even paid for an upgrade) my ISP didn’t have the right version of MySQL etc., etc. Upgrade moved to back burner and promptly forgotten. I am now contemplating WordPress and moving my blogs to their native (rather than pointing) domains.
  • And lastly, I am heads down in various research projects that take time (and should take time) away from blogging.

On the other hand, I have now turned 50 and am approaching what should be called the age of rumination, so we shall see if a return to proper bloggery is not imminent.

(And right here, the back broke on my office chair – even the furniture seems to think I should return to doing something else…)

A wave of Google

This presentation from the Google I/O conference is an 80-minute demonstration of a really interesting collaborative tool that very successfully blends the look and feel of regular tools (email, Twitter) with the embeddedness and immediacy of Wikis and share documents. I am quite excited about this and hope it makes it out in the consumer space and does not just rest inside single organizations – collaborative spaces can create a world of many walled gardens, and being a person that works as much between organizations as in them.

Google wave really shows the power of centralized processing and storage. Here are some things I noted and liked:

  • immediate updating (broadcast) to all clients, keystroke by keystroke
  • embedded, fully editable information objects
  • history awareness (playback interactions)
  • central storage and broadcast means you can edit information objects and have the changes reflect back to previous views, which gives a pretty good indication that the architecture of this system is a tape of interactions played forward
  • concurrent collaborative editing (I want this! No more refreshes!)
  • cool extensions, such as a context-aware spell checker, an immediate link creator, concurrent searcher
  • programs are seen as participants much like humans
  • easy developer model, all you need to do is edit objects and store them back
  • client-side and server-side API
  • interactions with outside systems

I can see some strategic drivers behind this: Google is very much threatened by walled gardens such as Facebook, and this could be a great way of breaking that open (remember, programs go from applications to platforms to protocols, and this is a platform built over OpenSocial, which jams open walled gardens). This could just perhaps be what I need to be able to more effectively work over several organizations. Just can’t wait to try this out when it finally arrives.

From surfing the net to surfing the waves….

Update: Here is the Google Blog entry describing Wave from Lars Rasmussen.

Jon Udell on observable work

Jon Udell has a great presentation over at Slideshare on how to work in observable spaces – something that should be done, to a much larger extent, by academics. I quite agree (and really need to get better at this myself):

Tag games again

I’ve been tagged by Kimberly to write seven things about myself (OK, I can do that) and then hit seven other people with the same curse (which I am way to shy to do, unless someone volunteers.) And I will take the opportunity to say that this is the last blogospherical tag game I will participate in. So here goes:

  1. I have once almost collided with a reindeer herd while skiing in a snowstorm just north of Finse in Jotunheimen (with my father). Quite an experience.
  2. I have fallen down in a crevasse once – and almost disappeared into another. One of the reasons my knees are bad and the rest of me is getting fatter.
  3. When young, I was sure I would never have children nor pets – now I (or, rather, we) have three of each.
  4. I really care about keyboards and have more than two for each computer (if you count the internal ones,) including übernerdy varieties.
  5. I often fall asleep in meetings, but don’t be fooled – I pay attention. At least I would want you to think so, especially if you are a student.
  6. I often predict correctly which technologies will win, but never seem to make any money from it.
  7. I used to hate gardening until I got a garden myself. Now I enjoy garden warfare – except digging.

There. Not too painful. Done for now. And forever.

Myers-Briggs and me

Typealyzer is a service that classifies your blog (and, by extension, you) into the Myers-Briggs personality classification framework. Based on, I am an INTJ, which is fine by me, though I thought I was more over towards ENTJ:


OK. Not sure I have difficulty communicating, but that may just be that I mostly sit by myself pontificating to the wall or similar-minded people who find my communicating style compatible. Anyway, what I really liked was this brain chart:


In other words, little chance that I will survive in a world like the one described in Ben Elton’s Blind Faith….

(Hat tip to Vaughan and Kimberly for this one.)

Demotivators Fall Catalogue

…has arrived. And they are keeping up with the times:


I guess I like the procrastination one as well, as evidenced….

Come to think of it, there is no demotivator for strategy, and I need one for a project I am working on with nGenera – and because it would be wonderful on the wall of the department of Strategy and Logistics here at NSM….

Andrew Sullivan on blogging and essaying

Andrew Sullivan has a thoughtful essay in The Atlantic on blogging and what it does for writing – his own and others’. Blogging is a substitute that frees the writer’s mind and increases the premium on orderly thinking:

A blogger will air a variety of thoughts or facts on any subject in no particular order other than that dictated by the passing of time. A writer will instead use time, synthesizing these thoughts, ordering them, weighing which points count more than others, seeing how his views evolved in the writing process itself, and responding to an editor’s perusal of a draft or two. The result is almost always more measured, more satisfying, and more enduring than a blizzard of posts. The triumphalist notion that blogging should somehow replace traditional writing is as foolish as it is pernicious. In some ways, blogging’s gifts to our discourse make the skills of a good traditional writer much more valuable, not less. The torrent of blogospheric insights, ideas, and arguments places a greater premium on the person who can finally make sense of it all, turning it into something more solid, and lasting, and rewarding.

Good stuff. Read it.

And now for the good news…

I don’t, as a rule, read the HBS Alumni Magazine too closely, but here is an interesting perspective on the decline of the newspaper industry from Roben Farzad, MBA ’05  and business journalist, who paints a bleak picture of the newspaper industry, declining in revenues and importance as the barbarians digitally storm in with their click-counters and lack of respect for the sanctity of the fourth estate and its industrious acolytes. There is little hope, he says, as the fundamentals of the industry are disappearing so fast that not even patient money taking over to run newspapers as museums would help much.

I would like to point Roben to the case, developed after he finished HBS, of Schibsted ASA, a Norwegian media company that, so far, is one of the few media houses that successfully has managed the transition to the web. As one executive at said to me recently: We dominate everywhere in Europe, except Norway and Spain, where Schibsted dominate. Schibsted was early onto the Internet, and managed to have a long term view (15 years) on their investments and the luck of selling out a few of their early investments before the dot-com boom, so that their portfolio did not look totally hopeless even in 2002. It helps, of course, that its top management (particularly Kjell Aamot) was convinced, very early, that the Internet was here to stay and fundamentally would change the newspaper business.

Now, their Internet revenues exceed those from their newspapers (partially because they dominate classifieds in Norway with, more people get their news from their web sites than from their (large) newspapers., the largest news web site, gets half as many hits as (and we are less than 5m people here in Norway). breaks every rule of good web design and, precisely because of that (according to Torry Pedersen, its editor) encourages browsing. Incidentally, Torry recently became editor of both the web site and the newspaper (which, at some point in the not-too-distant future, may become free).

And yes, they have different journalists working on the net and the paper. Only 10% of the material is cross-posted, because Torry wants it that way. No mixing – these are different media and need different kinds of people.

Schibsted is by no means out of the woods yet – but they have a far better chance than any other media group I know of. I think they should focus more on their considerable capability in search technology to create more targeted and specialized, "automated" web sites, as well as get their hand more firmly in search-based advertising. And there is still work to do on integration of their activities across their various media outlets. But Schibsted did something while the rest of the media industry (and most of its journalists) lamented the coming of this vulgarity called the Internet. And that is the beauty and the fear of disruptive technologies – that by the time you understand their impact, it is too late for the majority of companies. And those who work there.

The funny thing is, if you ask journalism students, the majority of them want to work for paper papers, not this vulgar web thing, where you have to publish right away, write quickly, and instantly know whether you are being read or not. A paper journalist files one item per day. A web journalist, according to figures floating around among journalists here in Oslo, posts, on average, six.

I recently heard an anecdote about a rock singer who no longer can make money selling records, so he had to do many more concerts to maintain his income. That forced him to lay of cocaine, since he now had to go to work much more often.

A few years ago, the Oslo press club had to close for lack of customers. Presumably, they were at work. What a loss….

Semi-voluntary blog pause

This blog has been quiet for a while. The reason was that I (rather stupidly) started updating Movable Type the day before going on holiday in Spain – and when it didn’t work, I took a look at the error log and said to myself  "hey, I need a vacation anyway – what an excellent excuse not to blog" and took off.

Incidentally, the error turned out to be that the Perl version my ISP (Verio) had running was too old – despite what they told me. That little caper cost me quite a lot of time and frustration. On the positive side – it wasn’t my fault. And it caused me to install a new FTP client, FileZilla, which is a great improvement on WS_FTP. On the negative side: Upgrading to MT4 (with, reportedly, better spam control) will have to wait until Verio puts its software were its mouth is. Time to migrate to Dreamhost, methinks….

Anyway, I am now officially up and running again. To a grey and rainy Oslo. I could do with about one week more vacation….