Category Archives: Uncategorized

Hans Rosling in memoriam

Hans Rosling died from cancer this morning.

Not much to say, really. Or, maybe, so much to say. I met him in Oslo once, I had seen his video and suggested him for the annual “big” conference for movers and shakers in Oslo. He came and wowed everyone. Simple as that.

Here is another one (this one in Swedish) where he just shuts down a rather snooty and ill prepared newsshow host by saying, essentially, “this is not a matter of opinion, this is a matter of statistics and facts. I am right and you are wrong.”

What a man.

Computational thinking notes

Grady_BoochNotes from Grady Booch‘ presentation on Computational Thinking, and ACM Webinar, February 3, 2016 (4617 people attended, in case you wondered.)

Note: This is real-time notetaking/thought-jotting. Lots of errors and misrepresentations. Deal with it.

This will be a different way of thinking – and perhaps to think differently about the profession of software development. Recommends Yuval Harari Sapiens, talks of the cognitive revolution, the agricultural revolution, the scientific revolution. Babbage as citizen scientist, begin to see a new way of thinking: Computational thought. Boole had a similar set of ideas, took it from mechanization to laws of thought – tries to investigate the operations of the mind by which reasoning is done.

I can’t shoe a horse, but can build a 3D rendering of one, and then produce a virtual horse in Avatar. Why? Our ways of thinking addresses what is necessary to survive in the world we live in. We have different relationship to time: With the cognitive revolution, we had slow ways of measuring time, such as seasons, the scientific revolution gave us theories of time – and a frantic obsession with ever smaller measures of time. If the ways of thinking we had in previous lives where appropriate then, what are the ways we should think now?

Jeanette Wing – introduced computational thinking in CACM: Computational thinking as the thought processes that are involved in formulating a problem and expressing a solution in a way so that a computer – human or machine – can carry it out. To be able to do that will be increasingly important to succeed in today’s world – it will help you shape the world and live in this world.

Computing started out as human computers (mostly women), then a gradual mechanization and, indeed, industrialization of computing with ever more rigid processes, eventually digitalization of it (via punch cards). Businesses gradually starting to reshape itself as a result of computational thinking – and businesses changing computation. Sciences beginning to use computational thinking. Around WWII it also began to change the ways we went to and won wars. (Again, many women, see the documentary “Top Secret Rosies“.) The computational thinking drove our imagination beyond what the computers could do, beyond what we do in the present.

In the 60s and 70s, computational thinking started to reshape society – but it was compartmentalized – the “programming priesthood.” The SAGE was one of the first personal computers, example of interfaces learning from war. Largest systems of its kind, forced us forward in UI, hardware and software. The 360 and others broke computational thinking out of the chosen few – Margaret Hamilton coined “software engineering”. Finally personal with the PC – representing a state change. omtroducing devices that forced people to think in computational ways, forcing us to adapt to the machine. Current state: Outsourcing part of our brains to smartphones – computers that happen to have an app for dialing – computational going from numerical to symbolic to imaginatined realities. Computational thinking is beginning to erode our thinking about old imagined realities, such as governments and organizations.

I think the idea of the singularity is fundamentally stupid – when and if it comes, we will have become computers ourselves anyway, according to Rodney Brooks. This forces us to think about what it is to be human. How does computational thinking change how we look at the world.

In terms of software development, the changes has been from mathematical to symbolic to imagined realities. We are not only building imagined realities, but stepping inside them and living in them.

The fundamental premise of science is that the cosmos is understandable; the fundamentalt premise of our domain is that the cosmos is computable. We enter the world with the understanding that anything we can dream, we can compute.

Gödel taught us that there are things that are unknowable, but that does not diminish the importance of scientific thinking. There are similar things that are uncomputable, the computational thinking is still powerful and can push the world forward. The scientific process suggest that we have a trajectory towards a simplified, standard model. In computation, we go the other way: Start with something simple and make it incredibly complex.

What does it mean to see the world as computable? The first assumption is that the cosmos is discrete, or at least computationally finite. I can make reasonable assumptions about reality that means I can do powerful things. It may not be totally, but near enough that it is useful.

Secondly, I assume the world is based on information, which means I can look at the world through data. DNA and cellular mechanisms can be computed. The lens of information allows us to derive powerful theories. The dark side what is happening in CRISPR, genetic manipulation without knowing the consequences. Incredible power but incredible responsibility.

Third, data is an abstraction of reality. We can use all these powerful tools, but in the end we are building an abstraction of the world. Can build them and begin to rely upon them, but the other side of computational thinking realizes that this is not reality, it is just our view of it. A model is a model.

We use algorithms to form abstractions, but now can hand over without waiting, because we can depend on our ability to generate an algorithm to represent the world. Look at BabyX, from University of Auckland.

The importance of scale, from Feynman‘s Room at the bottom article. But we can also build imaginary realities that are larger than the universe itself. Computing is universal – can be used everywhere, spreads to any manifestation of execution: computational physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, sociology … and gradually computational philosophy. Has spread itself in ways that has changed everything – but maybe this way of thinking is just the threshold of the next way of thinking?

The earliest ways of thinking evolved as a means of bringing more certainty and predictability to an uncertain and unpredictable world. Scientific thinking evoleved to understand the world. Computational thinking has evolved as a means of controlling the world at a level of fidelity once reserved for gods.

Computational thinking has changed how we look at the world. That is to be celebrated, and we should encourage non-programmers to understand how it works. But let’s not forget what it means to be human in this world.

Some questions:

  • Are we falling into the “modelling the world in terms of current technology” trap? Yes, let us be self-aware of the limits of this thinking. We are assuming that evolution is computation on DNA, but it is only an abstraction – what if there is something wrong and it is not the correct model. BTW: Nick Bostrom and intelligence – I disagree that computation can create life, but lets explore it.
  • How does new forms of teamwork (as with email) change our ability to solve problems? Not a sociologist, but fascinating that the same social structures show up in our imagined worlds. 10K years out? Don’t know, but some adaptation may have happened. No matter what, we need trust – the degree of trust forms the basis for any organization and what you can do with it. I believe that anything we do in this space is shaped by human need.
  • What about genetic programming – will computers be able of compuational thinking? First off – computers write their own programs now, including manipulating their environment. But most of the stuff in neural networks is dealing with the perception side of the world, we can’t go meta on those neural networks. Second – is the mind computable? Yes, I believe it is, but see one of the computing documentary we are making.
  • Can computing create art with meaning? Listen to the classical pianist Emily Howell, but Emily is an algorithm. Computers can create art, but we create our own meaning.
  • Does outsourcing your brain to smartphones inhibit our ability to do computational thinking. See Sherry Turkle, it does change our brain, refactors it. It is a dance between us and our devices, and that will continue for a long time.

Recording will be at learning.acm.org/webinar.

 

XKCD answers to everything

What If? : Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical QuestionsWhat If? : Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

XKCD (i.e., Randall Munroe) addresses questions of all kinds in his inimitable fashion. Great fun and an inspiration in the spirit of Richard Feynman, allowing you to marvel not only at the author’s answers but the sheer inventiveness of the questions (including the “weird and worrying” ones. Highly recommended.

A Boston letdown

I have always recommended my friends to finish their trips to Boston by a) checking into Logan at least 3 hours before the plane leaves, b) trek over to terminal C (from the international terminal E), and c) feast on excellent seafood at Legal Seafood at that very terminal.

After having spent a great two weeks in Boston, we set this script in motion, only to find that Legal Seafood, unfortunately, has moved their restaurant to terminal B – inside security. We morosely trotted back to terminal E, to see whether it was possible to find something good to eat there.

Well, what is there is essentially a tourist scam: Durgin Park, a “Yankee cooking” restaurant, featuring overpriced food ($26.95 for a tiny lobster roll, a sip of chowder, and some fries. I mean, what? For those prices I could go to Oslo and eat.) After standing in line for 20 minutes and waiting at the table for 20 minutes, a friendly but extremely overworked waitress served our food, which was adequate (we avoided the seafood, had steak, chicken salad, those kinds of things.) The bill came to 83 and change for a two chicken salads and a rudimentary steak, and three draft beers. For that kind of money I would eat lobster and have wine at Legal. Add to this that the restaurant was head-achingly noisy.

The problem here is that the crappy service at terminal E leaves customers with a bad memory as they leave Boston. Next time, we will pack food or eat at a restaurant before check-in (or, even better, check in four hours early and go to Legal Harborside). The trouble with airport restaurants is that you have a captive audience. Terminal E is understaffed, overcrowded, noisy and just tiresome. The WiFi is some ad-supported junk that just doesn’t work.

One positive experience: The wine bar Vino Volo, which is relatively (and that is relatively) quiet, prices are airport high but not insane, the staff is friendly and the WiFi really works. So, get your food before you come to the airport, and send yourself off to Europe with a nice Malbec.

As for Durgin Park – well, it is a tourist trap in Boston, and it is close to extortion at Logan. Truly something whoever is in charge of the customer experience at Logan needs to do something about. How about throwing them out and offering the concession to Legal Seafood?

The Death Of Blogs? Or Of Magazines?

According to Andrew Sullivan, it isn’t blogs that are dying, but magazines with titles such as “the death of blogs.” I agree – like the Internet now reflects a whole society rather than the thinking of the early pioneers, the blogosphere has evolved into many distinct segments. It is natural, things take time, and we are still at the beginning.
(Incidentally, this is a reblogging test )

The Dish

photo-22

As part of his “eulogy for the blog”, Marc Tracy touches upon the evolution of the Dish – which he praises as “a soap opera pegged to the news cycle”:

[T]oday, Google Reader is dying, Media Decoder is dead, and Andrew Sullivan’s The Daily Dish is alive in new form. This year, Sullivan decided that he was a big enough brand, commanding enough attention and traffic, to strike out on his own. At the beginning of the last decade, the institutions didn’t need him. Today, he feels his best chance for survival is by becoming one of the institutions, complete with a staff and a variety of content. What wasn’t going to work was continuing to have, merely, a blog.

We will still have blogs, of course, if only because the word is flexible enough to encompass a very wide range of publishing platforms: Basically, anything that contains a scrollable stream…

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Assignment for Essec-Mannheim class

To:       Students Essec-Mannheim EMBA module
From:   Espen Andersen & Hermann Kopp
Date:    October 2012
Subj.:   Evaluation session, Friday October 5, 2012

Dear students,

For the evaluation, we will have each study group prepare a case analysis and present it to the class. Since listening to 7 groups on the same case would not be very productive, we have assigned two cases, Daksh and Glamox – groups 1, 3, 5, and 7 will present the Daksh case, 2, 4 and 6 Glamox.

Daksh case:

  • Daksh (A): 1999 Business Plan(Stanford case E-251A), Arippol/Wendell)
    Study questions:

    • From an investor’s perspective (and without the benefit of hindsight), in general, how attractive would you find the opportunity, what are its attractive and unattractive features? What do you think of the compnay’s 1999-2000 market entry plan?
    • Regarding making an investment, which would be the more important decision factor for you: The founding team (the “jockeys”), or the opportunity itself (the “horse”)?
    • How do you evaluate the growth and financial projections for Daksh contained in exhibit 11? Realistic? Conservative? Overstated?

Assignment for group 1, 3, 5 and 7: Prepare and give a 10-minute presentation (please limit the number of slides to no more than 5, the fewer the better), evaluating the Daksh business plan as if you were a financial consulting company advising a group of investors. What would your recommendation be to Daksh? To the investors?

Glamox case:

  • eBusiness from within: The organizational transformation of Glamox (NBS case, Andersen et al.)
    This case describes the reengineering of a small manufacturing company in Norway, and is useful in seeing how IT can be a vehicle of change. It also shows many of the difficult decisions that a CEO has to face in situations with hard competition and falling markets.This case will be prepared as a group. Here some questions you can think about to help you analyze the case by yourself:

    • What are the differences between the ”old” Glamox and the new?
    • How does the new technology change the role of the sales person?
    • How does the new technology change production?
    • Why isn’t the company making money after the e-Business project?
    • What did Christian Thommesen do wrong?
    • What should he do now?

Assignment for group 2, 4, and 6: Prepare and give a 10-minute presentation (please limit the number of slides to no more than 5, the fewer the better), evaluating the turnaround process as if you were a strategic consulting company advising the Board: What worked, what didn’t (and why), and what should Christian Thommesen do now?

Things to do in Boston

(This post is irregularly updated – a Norwegian version is also available.)

I have lived in the Boston area for about eight years altogether, not counting frequent shorter visits. Since there are many universities and conferences in that part of the world, I am often asked by colleagues and others what they should do when they are in Boston. This is a list of my personal recommendations. Note that these are my personal favorites – your mileage may vary.

imageI will start at Harvard Square, not really Boston but in neighboring Cambridge. The Square is in the middle of the constantly expanding Harvard Campus and is one of my favorite places – though, as a slew of critics like to point out, it has become less personal and more mall-like over the years. I agree, but still like it.

  • Before bookstores go the way of video rentals: Take a deep dive into The Harvard COOP Bookstore (the large and “official” university bookstore) or the Harvard Bookstore (my favorite, an independent bookstore with great selection, competent staff and a great used book basement) Spend time browsing (nobody will bother you) and wearing down your credit card.
  • Amble around the Harvard Yard, and, if you want to see what an unlimited lawn care budget can do, the Harvard Business School.
  • Have a burger at Mr. Bartley’s Gourmet Burger Cottage (right next to the Harvard Bookstore.) No alcohol, but great lemonade, crispy onion rings and a huge selection of excellent burgers. Cash only, noise level can be high. If you are alone, ask for a seat in front of the kitchen – great entertainment! Have a frappe for dessert, if you can manage.
  • Buy Harvard paraphernalia for the kids and people back home at the COOP (cheap and good by Norwegian standards)
  • Have a coffee at Peet’s Coffee (worn locales but good coffee) at Brattle Square. This is the place to bring your newly purchased stacks of books and dig into them without feeling awkward.
  • GlassIris.jpgVisit the “glass flowers” at the Harvard Museum of Natural History and spend an hour or more at the Harvard Fogg Art museum (one of my Norwegian colleagues, an art buff, characterized it as “small and selective, just great for a relatively short visit.”)
  • Bring a bunch of friends and have a Tex-Mex dinner with much shouting and joking at the Border Cafe (which, unfortunately, have stopped serving John Steinbeck’s favorite Bohemia beer). The bar here is also good, try a Marguerita as an aperitif. No reservations, expect some wait.

You can take the T (i.e, tube or underground) to MIT/Kendall Square, where you can

  • Stata Center, MIT(nerd alert!) visit the MIT Press bookstore (not to be confused with MIT’s branch of the COOP, which is on the other side of the street.) MIT Press Bookstore is tiny and on the right side of the street when you look towards Boston, at Kendall Square. (Not that the MIT Coop is bad, that’s where you get your MIT souvenirs).
  • Take a tour of MIT (in my opinion, MIT’s tours are better than Harvard’s) – they are free and start at 11am and 3pm every day. MIT has lots of history, the tour includes strobe light demonstrations and many tales of student hacks. The architecture is also interesting – pictured is the Stata Center.

In Boston proper, you could

  • Start at the Mass General T stop and amble along Charles Street, with interesting stores and nice little coffee houses. Eventually, you will get to the Boston Public Garden, where you can admire the duckling sculptures and, in the summer, take a ride on a Swan boat. At the other end of the park you will find …
  • Newbury Street, Boston’s place for upscale shopping and showing off. Brand stores, of course, but on a Saturday this is where you see the beautiful people (many of them rich Eurotrash students from BU) ritzing down the street. Have a drink at Joe’s Bar (a chain restaurant, but the location is great.) If you want to do more shopping, swing south to Copley Place. If not, continue the amble down to the end of Newbury street and have a beer at The Other Side, a really great brewpub/café.
  • Visit the Museum of Fine Arts and The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
  • Stay away from Cheers, a bar that from the outside looks like the TV series. There are plenty of nice bars (especially Irish-looking pubs) down around Quincy Market – but be warned, this place is the 7th most visited tourist attraction in the USA and prices and milieu reflect it.
  • Have dinner in North End, the Italian district. Lots of good restaurants along Hannover Street and in the side streets. (My favorite is Gennaro’s at North Square). Cannoli for dessert is obligatory!
  • Have seafood at the Union Oyster House, USA’s second oldest continuously operating restaurant. It is regarded as a bit of a tourist trap by the locals, but it has been a huge hit with anyone from abroad I have taken there.
  • If you can get tickets, Boston has good teams in the four main US sports: Basket (Celtics), baseball (Red Sox at legendary Fenway Park), football (New England Patriots) and ice hockey (Boston Bruins).
  • In the Fall or Spring, take a walk in the Arnold Arboretum.
  • If you can get someone to lend you a bicycle, bike up and down the Charles River, past MIT, Harvard and Boston University.
  • Walk around and explore – Boston is a city of culture, with interesting stores and restaurants. A car is not necessary. It is very safe – there are a few dodgy areas, but they are out of the tourists’ way, for the most part.

Outside Boston (mostly requires a car, easily rented):Pilgrim Monument, Provincetown

  • Go to Newburyport and Plum Island. Eat seafood from one of the food joints.
  • Visit Concord, have lunch at the Concord Inn and take a walk around Walden Pond (Where Thoreau wrote his book)
  • Go to Marblehead for an ice cream, a stroll along the harbor, and some seafood.
  • If you have a short weekend or a long day, drive (or take the fast ferry) to Cape Cod, visit Provincetown (“P-town”, if you want to sound local) at the tip of the peninsula. P-town is also the gay capital of eastern US, and sitting at a cafe and watching all the gay couples walking up and down the main street on a Sunday can be quite entertaining – hetero middle-aged couples sometimes dress alike, but gay middle-aged couples take it to a new level. And the tower (pictured) is actually quite fun to climb.
  • If shopping is your thing, drive to Wrentham Village outlet mall– designer clothing, shoes and sports equipment at very low prices, 45 minutes from Boston. My trick is to position myself in the bar at Ruby Tuesday after I am done (they have big screens with sports) and take the job at keeper of the goods the family/entourage bring in.
  • If you have an oval weekend: Go to Marthas Vineyard or Nantucket. Needs a bit of planning, and can be expensive in the tourist season. But great.
  • If you want to shop sports/camping/fishing equipment, it might be worth it to drive to the L.L.Bean store in Freeport, Maine, which is open 24 hours – it has actually been open continually since 1951, except for two Sundays. L.L.Bean has a store in Burlington, just north of Boston, but it is rather small and not well stocked, in my opinion.

IMAG0492Lastly, my favorite way to end my stay in Boston [NOTE: Legal is no longer available in Terminal C! Your best bet it probably to eat somewhere outside the airport.]:

  • Most flights to Europe leave in the afternoon or evening. Check in three hours before the flight leaves (hence, no lines). Check-in is in terminal E, the international terminal. Then go to terminal C (long walk through corridors) and have a great seafood dinner at Legal Seafood, the best seafood chain restaurant in the USA. I recommend the lobster bake (a full lobster dinner with clams, chowder, chorizo) – but the signature dish is really the clam chowder (pronounced “chowdah”) which is great as an appetizer.

There are, of course, lots of other things to do and see, but these are some of the things I particularly like. I have deliberately not mentioned the most common tourist things (such as the Freedom Trail, the Constitution, etc.), mostly because, well, I’d rather do the things mentioned here.

Have a great trip!