Category Archives: Humor

Say what you will about the Gubernator…

Some years ago I talked with a Berkeley professor who first was shocked when Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected guvenor of California – then, a year later, had to grudgingly concede that he wasn’t all that bad – especially in that he took on the State Assembly, which is incredibly conservative in its vested-interest radicalism. The following message recently sent to the State Assembly shows that he (or someone on his staff) has a sense of humor, too:


How I wish the underlying messages of other political emissions where equally clear…

(Via boingboing, which, true to form, spends most of the comments on calculating whether this was a coincidence or not…)

Not sure if this is a good thing

Bill Schiano and I, between ourselves, solved this one pretty quickly. (That is, we found the computer names, not the extra thing, not mentioned on the site.)

(Incidentally, I also found SAGE, which was a pretty important computer system in its own right (as well as a computer company.). Also UNIX, CEC 80 (which at least sounds like a computer) and "rank" and "crib". Oh well.

A product I would really like to see…

I would love to have a set of noise-canceling head phones that could filter out bureaucratese and administrative noise from academic and other meetings, so that only relevant and interesting information reaches the wearer’s ears.

(Yes, I initially sent this to some collaborators as an April Fool’s joke. But eventually, this could really be done.)

As an academic and a technologist, I inevitably have to sit through many meetings of a bureaucratic nature, characterized by a low information signal-to-noise ratio, slow tempo and endless repetitions. As Brad Delong has described it, "an academic meeting is not over when everything has been said, but when everything has been said by everyone."

Imagine a collaboration with a good search technology company, such as FAST (now Microsoft) and a good headphone company, such as BOSE. Noise-canceling headphones work by recording the ambient sound picture and then filtering out noise (characterized by an irregular wave pattern), only letting well-modulated sound waves, such as voices and music, through.

It is a small step to strengthen this filtering by using advanced search technologies such as sentiment analysis, which applies automated semantic analysis to words and phrases. It is now mostly used to automatically evaluate blog comments, but it could be used directly on the audio patterns coming in, perhaps initially using speech-to-text conversion. Since administrative and bureaucratic language is characterized by many easily recognizable phrases and a high degree of repetition, it should lend itself well to filtering both in an initial phase and through collaborative techniques (easily implementable with a red "banish" button on the head phones themselves.) Personalization could also add value, by filtering out stuff you have heard before and only letting through things that are new to you.

Response time might be a problem, but professors are deemed to be a bit slow in their reaction to external stimuli anyway, so I doubt if anyone would notice any difference.

(Initial responses from my collaborators suggested dealing with this by skipping the meetings altogether, which I must admit is an attractive alternative. But not everyone can do that, and besides, there is always the chance that something might slip through the filter.) And imagine the market opportunities, for students, journalists, politicians, parents (at PTA meetings). Not to mention how this would put the final nail in the TV advertising coffin. I suppose seeing a movie such as Groundhog Day would be hard, but personalization would eventually fix that.

Ah, the dreams of reason

Stewart, Cramer and ducking humiliation all the way to the bank

Like many others, I have been enjoying Jon Stewart’s skewering of Jim Cramer, CNBC’s money madman. But the New York Times has an interesting perspective interesting perspective on this: The media attention may be to Cramer’s advantage (as opposed to what happened to Crossfire when Jon Stewart appeared and exposed them for what they were.

Nevertheless, it must have been uncomfortable being up there, and deservedly so. But I do prefer this one:

The view from the fringes

Them: Adventures with Extremists Them: Adventures with Extremists by Jon Ronson

My review

Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Alternately deeply disturbing and howlingly funny about the paranoid of the world – and the exclusive but increasingly out-of-touch elite meeting fora that feed the fringes.

I keep shaking my head when someone can get time on national television (in any country) claming that the world’s leaders meet in secret places to plot wars and elections – and that most of them really are giant lizards inhabiting human bodies…

View all my reviews.

ERP analogies

Andy McAfee uses an analogy of an ERP as a factory for business processes. Here are my analogies:

  • We are born as originals and die as copies. ERP systems are the other way – they start as copies and die as originals. An ERP system, when it is installed, allows you to configure it by choosing parameters – what kind of budget process, how you define "customer", etc. etc. After having set a few thousand parameters, you can be absolutely certain that you are the only company in the world with that particular SAP or Oracle or whatever configuration. Of course, standardization was what ERP systems were all about when they were introduced in the mid-nineties: The idea that software should be simple again.
  • ERP systems are flexible the way cement is flexible. Less true now than it was – cement is ultimately flexible when you pour it, then it hardens into the shape of the hole it was poured into.
  • A more advanced version of this is the old joke that SAP (or insert your favorite ERP system) is like a new basic element. Basic elements go through three stages: Fixed, fluid and gas. SAPium (and its cousin Oraclium) start out as a fluid that runs down and fills the holes (basic business process) you want fixed. It then becomes a gas, expanding to fill the whole area (organization) until it has permeated everything, whereupon it becomes a solid that can never be changed again….

Oh well. Less true now than it was, maybe. Or maybe not.

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.)


Until 2003, I lived in a part of Norway that gets about 7 ft of snow every year, so after a brief period of sweaty and aching mornings I invested in a small snow-blower. Then I moved to a place about 20 ft above sea level, where snowfalls are few and far between. But my little snow blower has brought unexpected benefits.

The first winter here was bare and cold until late January, when I woke up one morning to about a foot of snow. It was before seven in the morning and the office beckoned, so I dressed warmly and got to it.

I was a little worried, though. My next-door neighbor, with whom I share the driveway, is unofficial Norwegian champion sleeper and likes to delay the vertical part of life as long as possible. I wondered how he would react to the noise from the snow-blower at a time he considered to be just after bedtime. But I had to get to work, so I pulled the cord and started.

Half an hour later I was done, garaged my little machine (which is more like a motorized broom than a real snow-blower, except in the noise-making department) and got inside for a brief thaw-out and the day’s first coffee.

Then the doorbell rang. I prepared for the worst and nervously opened the door. There stood my neighbor, in slippers and morning coat and with his hair in all directions.

He had woke up, seen the snow and resigned himself to having to get up and do something about it when he heard me start the engine. He didn’t know I had a snow blower, and explained with an ecstatic expression that little snow-blower with a missing muffler was "the most beautiful sound he had ever heard."

Whereupon he handed me a bottle of Cognac and returned to bed.

PS: We have since formalized the arrangement. I blow the driveway, and he buys one bottle of wine per snowfall, which we consume with a delightful dinner sometime in April.

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….

Fun page on statistics

I was looking for a reference to the story about bullet holes in bomb planes, and came across this fun page on statistical lore. My favorite:

Question: How many people have more legs than the average?
Answer: Almost everyone. This is because the number of three-legged people are greatly outnumbered by one-legged people, so the mean (i.e. the posh mathematical way of saying that which most people think of as the ‘average’ [total sum divided by number of values]) number of legs is a little bit lower than 2.

I also liked the fact that, statistically speaking, there are 2 popes per square kilometer in the Vatican….