Category Archives: Up close and personal

There is hope in America

I have always loved the USA, but it has been hard to do that lately. But this poetry reading by Amanda Gorman well, saved my day. I am two months shy of my 60th birthday and very aware of it. Praise to this 22 year old woman for raising my spirits!

This, truly, is the USA that I love and cherish.

Clay in memoriam

IMG_2252Clayton M. Christensen, 1952-2020 (WSJ, NYT)

You think of many things when a friend dies.

When I was about 16, I went into the forest with some friends to watch the 50-km cross-country race at the Holmenkollen ski festival. One of the stars that year was Juha Mieto, an enormous (more than two meter) Finn who had to be careful with his strength, as he tended to break his ski poles. One of my friends decided to try to keep up with Mieto, just to see how long he could do it. My friend was a reasonably good skier, and managed to keep up for about 300 meters. Mieto, of course, kept going for 50 kilometers.

Sometimes I had the same feeling when interacting with Clay. Not because he was an imposing giant in the physical sense, but because of his incredible work capacity and ability to follow things through. I felt I could keep up with him for a while, enjoy it – and he would then go on, endlessly doing so much more than I was capable of. Clay was so many things: A famous scholar, a life-changing teacher, an adviser, a church leader, husband, father of five – and seemed to do it, if not effortlessly, at least conclusively, with a degree of self-discipline hard to imagine. For me, he was a friend.

We met as students at Harvard Business School in 1990 (he started one year before me), in an Organizational Psychology course with 140 papers on the reading list. Doing that alone just wasn’t possible, so we formed study groups of 5-6 people, writing summaries of papers for each other and occasionally meeting to discuss them before class. I still have the notes. Clay was different in that he added vry observations to his summaries, showing an ability to reflect and a degree of irreverence that wasn’t much visible elsewhere.

We became friends of a sort, spending much time studying in the cramped basement of the doctoral student house at HBS. Like me, Clay had a family and biked to work, but he would be in much earlier than me. After lunch, he would take a nap in his carrel, lying on the floor with his feet on the office chair. I remember him coming to school one day, shaking his head: His son had dunked a basketball – and he was twelve years old.

Clay’s research was on the evolution of technologies, specifically on generations of hard disks, a project that eventually became the The Innovator’s Dilemma. I got to see how his theory developed through seminars, papers and discussions, including some blind alleys. I was in a different field, but was more interested in technology than most of my peers and think I was one of the people outside his department who early on thought his work interesting and understood the implications, though I do not think I contributed in any meaningful fashion aside from encouragement.

Clay graduated in record time and became a professor, and I needed a friendly face on my thesis committee – so I asked him. Eventually I graduated and moved back to Norway, but kept my consulting job in Boston and travelled there quite often. Clay became famous, and, cashing in a favor, I invited him over to Oslo to speak at BI Norwegian Business School. He came in January, on his way home from the World Economic Forum in Davos. It was cold and dark and he gave a lecture the audience referred to as “life-changing”. I asked him if there was anything he wanted to do in Norway. There was one town – Drammen – he had always wanted to visit, since his great grandfather had been repeatedly arrested there for being a Mormon missionary. (To put this in context: Coming to Oslo and wanting to see Drammen is equal to landing in New York and asking to see New Jersey.) So we went there, in my colleague Øystein Fjeldstad’s car. It was foggy and bitterly cold and Drammen was every bit as dreary as you can imagine. We went back to Oslo, dropped off Clay at the luxurious hotel we had booked for him and urged him to try the gourmet restaurant. When his expenses came in, it turned out he had gone to McDonald’s. Our CFO solemnly informed me that I was free to invite this guy anytime I wanted.

In 2007 I thought I had come up with a way to redeem myself and my country and arranged a “Disruptive Cruise” – a weeklong trip on Hurtigruten with Clay’s family. The idea was to create a nice experience for execs from interesting companies and for Clay to have a great vacation with his family and some good discussions. Economically it just did not work – a combination of an economic downturn, Norwegian executives’ unwillingness to spend a week away during what for them was summer vacation, and my listless performance as a salesperson meant that the whole thing became a highly personal, rather low-budget thing – but Clay and his large family liked it. Clay spent much of the time typing on his computer, but found time to see the midnight sun from the ship’s hot tub, and experience both the bridge and the machine room (where passengers are not normally allowed), in addition, of course, to the coasts and mountains of western and northern Norway.


My partner in crime for this trip was Trond Østgaard, who was chairman of the Hurtigruten Appreciation Society as well as a prominent citizen of Drammen. Hence, Clay and family could visit Drammen in style this time, being shown around the old City Hall (where his great-grandfather had been imprisoned) by the Vice-Mayor and have his photograph taken next to the portrait of the sheriff who had done the arrests.

We stayed friends, though we did not spend much time together. I would occasionally pop into his office at HBS, where we swapped anecdotes and talked about technology. I tended to come up with examples, he would think about how they would play out. We would discuss processor modularity, telecommunications competition, hospital management and (a lot) the coming disruption of business schools. Again, I don’t think I contributed much to his research, aside from coming up with a few examples and suggesting ways to communicate things (not that Clay needed any help there). Perhaps my main contribution was to introduce him to Øystein Fjeldstad (the third guy in the picture on top here), whose “value configurations” made it into a couple of Clay’s articles and books. The way to talk to Clay was not to explain things, but to state examples and wait (not long) for him to work out the consequences himself.

I would occasionally see him when he swung by Oslo for a talk, once or twice being the MC myself. But Clay was incredibly busy with audiences constantly demanding his disruption stories (“I am becoming my own theory here,” he would comment, ruefully), I stopped travelling so much to the US, so we saw less of each other. In one sense we were very different: Clay was deeply religious, I am an ateist, and I could never reconcile his scientific mind with his religious views. We talked about it on a few occasions, agreeing to disagree. Mostly, we would talk about our families and our job experiences, stepping back and seeing what it all meant. For all his fame, Clay was invariably down to earth, a great support for me when two of my children became seriously ill – and I believe I played at least a small part like that for him, too. Clay’s health was not good – diabetes, cancer, heart problems and a stroke that made it difficult for him to form words, but he never complained and kept working – a bit much if you ask me (and his family).

I learned a lot from Clay, and he (politely) said he had learned from me. I learned about how to think critically and clearly, and how to be principled and persistent when you believe in your analysis. In my career this has helped me understand that I should build my career on what I am good at and what I can and want to do, not what the organisations I work for see as the correct career path. His way of thinking has enabled me on a number of occasions to listen to what job the customer want done – not a very intellectual concept, but one that is surprisingly effective – and apply that both to offerings I have developed myself and to my analyses of various companies and industries. In my teaching, he has influenced me enormously – when I finally felt secure enough to teach technology in a business school through cases, and cases only, it was his course I started with.

I keep judging my ideas up against what he would have thought. Just a few days ago, I discussed an idea for a paper with Chandler Johnson, a colleague at BI: Is machine learning disruptive to traditional management research (or traditional research in general)? We swapped some ideas back and forth, and I suggested we type it up as a short outline and send it off to Clay to hear what he thought about it.

And now he is no more.

In addition to his management books, Clay wrote and spoke about how to evaluate your life – and said that in posterity, he would not be judged for being a famous business school professor, but for how he had helped other people.

I don’t believe in an afterlife, but I do think that as a person, you exist as long as somebody remembers you, how you were, and what you did for them. For me, at least, Clay will exist for the rest of my life, and, I am sure, for many of my students.

And my thoughts go to Christine, and to her and Clay’s children and grandchildren, who have lost infinitely more than the rest of us have and for whom that form of remembrance is a small consolation – but hopefully, a consolation nevertheless.

Avoid UPS Norway at all costs

UPS – United Parcel Service – is a paragon of operational excellence in the United States. For all I know, they are excellent in other countries as well. In Norway, they are the worst transportation company you can think of – at least when it comes to administration and customer service.

I order quite a few things from abroad, and whenever the company I order from tell me they have sent it with UPS I groan – because I know the package will be late, the paperwork will be cumbersome, and the customer service slow.

Here is the latest example: I order an electric bicycle from Sweden, from The price is given including Norwegian customs and taxes. I pay the net sum to the bicycle company, and UPS is supposed to send me a link with payment information, since they cannot send the package out before customs has been paid.

Except they did not send it until I called them after 10 days (“because someone forgot to send it” according to customer service.) I paid, the packaged was delivered (the driver was great, incidentally, carried the heavy package behind the house since we were away.)

Then, two weeks later, I get an invoice for the customs and taxes. I call in, and they say (after a long wait on the phone) that it is paid, but they send out an invoice not marked as paid in case I need it for documentation.

I have interviewed top management in UPS in the States, the company is known for excellent delivery services and innovation in logistics. In Norway – check out this page, with 33 reviews, all of them one star…

Can someone in top management in the US please contact the Norwegian organization and tell them to get a grip?

Peter as the bionic man

Peter Scott-Morgan, former colleague of mine and a mercurial mind in so many dimensions, was relatively recently diagnosed with motor neuron disease (MND or, more popularly known as  ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Steven Hawking had a slow-moving version of this disease. Charlie Osborne, a friend and fellow doctoral student of mine, died from it.) A devastating blow to anyone, Peter has, not unexpectedly, turned this into an opportunity to explore technology as a way of staying connected with his surroundings.

MND gradually shuts down the communication system between your body and your brain, and can leave you trapped with a fully functioning brain locked inside a body you cannot control. Peter, who has a Ph.D. in robotics and energy enough for a platoon, aims to do whatever he can to stay not just alive, but communicating and functioning, as long as possible. To do this, he has had several operations to facilitate technology access to his body and continued functioning (you eventually lose control of the smooth (involuntary) muscles as well as the regular ones) after his brain stops communicating naturally.

Dr Peter Scott-Morgan on Vimeo.

In order to install and to a large extent develop this technology, he needs help finding people with expertise and interest in developing new technology using him as the experimental subject and development partner. Peter is no stranger to being a pioneer – him and his spouse Francis Scott-Morgan were the first gay couple to be married in a full ceremony in the UK in 2005.

So – anyone with knowledge of medical technology and interest in this project – please get in touch with Peter! (And incidentally, there is already going to be a documentary about his quest.)

What to do in Oslo (and Norway) in summer

Yesterday I got an email from an old friend and former colleague who is visiting Norway and wondering what to see and do. His is not the first email of that kind – and it dawned on me that the rational and productive thing to do (well, it is early Sunday morning and I am still undercaffeinated) is to write this up as a blog post. (Did the same thing for my Norwegian friends asking me about what to do in Boston.) So – what would I recommend if you should find yourself in Oslo during the summer, with some time to look around?

First of all, you need to understand a few basic things about Norway. Norway has lots to recommend it, but we are mainly about nature – while Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim and some of the other cities are nice, they are a bit like a one-star Michelin restaurant – worthy of a stop, but not destinations in themselves. To appreciate Norway, you need to appreciate nature and natural beauty – and be willing to put in some effort to see it. On that note:

So: If you are going to Norway, pack good shoes, rain gear, basically the light hiking setup. You may not need it, but you certainly won’t regret packing it. As the saying goes here, there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. And we mean it.


Caveat: I like to list things that are (arguably, somewhat) unique to Oslo. We have nice cafes and tolerably good museums (such as the National Gallery), but those you will find in any capital in Europe. Most people who come here do it for a short visit – and you want to stay away from that which is mostly for the tourists and not different from anywhere else in Europe. So, here is where I take my (mostly) American friends:

  • norway-vigeland-sculpture-park-8The Vigeland park (or Frogner park). This is the world’s largest sculpture park dedicated to one artist, Gustav Vigeland. And, as every American says who has been there – they are all naked! Vigeland was a pupil of Rodin and the sheer size and rather playful humor of the place is enjoyable and a sure hit with the kids. (My favorite: The little girl who, unseen by her parents, is picking up a snake. See if you can find it.) One of Oslo’s city symbols is “Sinnataggen”, a little boy having a tantrum. This is also where people in Oslo go to relax and hang out if the weather is good, so you might see some locals.
  • 10414The Holmenkollen ski jump, especially if we can throw in a little walk in the woods. The ski jump is impressive in itself (though ski jumping is no longer the enormous draw it used to be for Norwegians) and you get an excellent view of Oslo. There is a zip line if you feel adventurous. But, to really have a Norwegian experience in the sense of doing something the locals like, walk from Frognerseteren to Tryvannsstua (pictured, about 3 km) or Skjennungstua (5 km, view, delightful pastries) to get a sense of Oslomarka. Oslo is 63% protected forest, with gravel roads, paths and (in winter) hundreds of kilometers of prepared ski tracks. Heavily used by the citizens of Oslo and surrounding municipalities.
  • The Munch museum, a bit run down, will probably move to a new building in 2018/19 [closed for moving to new location 2019] but the paintings are, of course, worth seeing.
  • Exhibition_in_Viking_Ship_Museum,_Oslo_01The Viking Ship museum. The museum itself is crowded and due for an update, but it is the only place in the world, as far as I know, where you can see a complete, real Viking ship. Worth the trip. If you are feeling energetic, there are lots of other museums (at the Bygdøy peninsula, take a boat there from the City Hall). I have taken people to the Folk Museum a lot – mainly because two of my daughters have had summer jobs there and can provide an inside perspective – but it requires a deeper interest in folklore and rural history than most people have (but if you go there, make sure to sample the Hardangerlefse, cooked over open fire. Carbs galore.) There is the Fram and Kon-Tiki museum, as well, though I haven’t been for many years. Plus Huk, a nice beach, if you feel like a dip.
  • The Ekebergparken sculpture park, a relatively new sculpture park donated by property investor and man-about-town Christian Ringnes. The park itself is more of a lightly edited forest than an art installation, but it works well, and the collection (themed as an homage to women) is very good. And the view of the city is excellent – this is, quite literally, where The Scream was painted. (There is a metal frame at one point where you can take photos recreating the painting yourself. Including screaming.)
  • 1920px-full_opera_by_nightExplore the fjord – Oslo is built around the fjord, and if you can get on a boat – even just taking a summer ferry out to some of the islands – by all means do it. (I live on an island, perhaps I am a bit partial here.) In later years, the city has tried to make the shoreline available for walking (a project called Fjordbyen) and it works rather well. The high point, of course, is walking on the roof of the Oslo Opera House, but the Akershus Fort and just hanging out slowly sipping a cold (and expensive) drink while ogling the historical boats you find here and there is nice, too.
  • Møllerfossene i AkerselvaExplore Oslo by bike or foot. The urban bike project is pretty good, you download an app to your smartphone and check out and in bikes from many places. Best path: Along Akerselva. Grünerløkka (partially along the river) is the “bohemian” (well, gentrified) district, Frogner is more upscale, Grønland for immigrant food and culture, and Gamlebyen for history.
  • Eat at a restaurant. Food is somewhat expensive, drinks horribly expensive, but the quality is very high. My personal favorite is Kampen Bistro, a semi-hidden neighborhood restaurant/community house with a semi-fixed menu and the world’s best cheese platter. But you will find lots of good food and a constantly changing set of restaurants – Google for a list. (Alternatively: My friend Bill Schiano once spent most of a day walking from bakery to bakery all over town, a very happy man.)
  • If you want to say you have seen something not many Norwegians have seen: The Emanuel Vigeland mausoleum, created by Gustav Vigeland’s, well, rather eccentric brother. Opening hours are complicated, but if you have been there, you have definitely seen more of Oslo than most people.

Norway outside Oslo

Well, now it gets difficult. There are, literally, hundreds of web pages devoted to Norwegian tourist spots, from Prekestolen to Trolltunga to Hurtigruten to Flåmsbanen to whatever. They are all fantastic, but since you can read about them in lots of detail there and also plan your route via and other sites, I will stay away from the obvious choices, and, again, go for something a bit more hidden and for the local (though not very hidden.)

bamsemums_smallExtremely important warning: In addition to the weather and clothing issue mentioned above, Norwegian culture is fundamentally built on the principle that you, yourself, and nobody else, is responsible for being knowledgeable and physically capable of doing whatever you set out doing. Norwegians do not believe in protecting people against their own stupidity. (And forget about suing anyone, you’ll be laughed out of court.)

Norwegians are quite cynical about this. Do not expect there to be signposts and security fences in the mountains or along the fjords – but if there are, obey them religiously, because they denote real dangers, not risks of lawsuits. Every year, some tourist will fall off Trolltunga or Vøringsfossen, step too close to a calving glacier or drown in a fjord because they did not have the wits, skills or equipment necessary. That is considered to be the tourists’ fault. At Svalbard, tourists are referred to as “Bamsemums” (a popular foam-bear-covered-in-chocolate candy) because of their propensity to end up as polar bear lunch, on account of going where they are not supposed to without a gun. Something of the same spirit prevails in most of Norway, though in some places (such as Trolltunga), the local authorities are thinking about fencing things in a bit, mostly because it is so expensive to haul the bodies out.

Yes, I am exaggerating a bit. But not much.

With that out of the way: The best way to see Norway is to amble around (preferably in an electric car), stop whenever you feel like it, and (thanks to the Viking-age freedom to roam) go for a walk in your hiking shoes. Norway is all about nature, and there is so much of it that practically anything is worth seeing. That being said: The south coast is mellow and sunny and idyllic, the west coast is spectacular with deep fjords and high mountains, the North (north from Trondheim, that is) goes from New Zealand fjords to Alaskan tundra. The Eastern forests offer opportunities for canoeing and fishing, if you are into that. The mountains in the middle have peaks and glaciers and mountain huts, managed by the truly wonderful Norwegian Tourist Association. Explore at your leisure, spend time, and above all, do not feel forced to see the famous sites, when you can find something almost as good quite close.

I have never been to Geiranger, for instance. (But I haven’t seen Star Wars either.)

As for recommendations, here is a fairly random list of things I like:

  • knutshøMountaineering is great, but where to go if you don’t have much time? Some suggestions from Jotunheimen (but there are thousands of others):
    • Knutshø (pictured, steeper than it may look) is dramatic, close to the road, has fantastic views, and there are not many people there. Perfect one-day walk: Park the car and do it, walk along the ridge, return along the lake on south side. Great view of Besseggen.
    • Bitihorn is another, less dramatic alternative.
    • If you want to get above 2000 meters, try Rasletind.
  • The Rosendal Barony is breathtakingly beautiful, as is the view. Not far away (south of Odda there is a path up to Buarbreen, a part of Folgefonna, nice walk to a glacier.)
  • If you don’t fancy walking, taking the boat from Gjendesheim to Gjendebu and back is worth it. While reading Three in Norway by two of them.
  • Solvorn is a sleepy little hamlet with a fantastic little family hotel called Walaker. From there, you can drive to Veitastrond and Tungastølen (damaged in heavy weather in 2011, will hopefully reappear with fantastic new architecture) and walk in to Austerdalsisen (fantastic glacier views, while they are still there.)
  • While I am at it – the Glacier Museum in Fjærland is worth a visit. As well as the nearby glacier (mind your step.)
  • Ålesund is a beautiful little coastal city which burned in 1904 and was rebuilt in Art Noveau style. Many Norwegian cities were architecturally brutalized in the sixties and later, but Ålesund has kept its style.
  • bakklandetTrondheim is nice – and Baklandet Skydstation has been named the best cafe in the world several times. I love it. And it is close to the only bike lift I know of. Trondheim is a university town – primarily the technical university, Norway’s MIT.
  • Bergen is nice – the whole city – perhaps with an exception for the fish market, which has transmogrified from local and lively market to a canned tourist experience the last few years. Will probably be fixed. Take a tram or cable car to the surrounding hilltops*.
  • The south coast has lots of beautiful little towns with white-painted “skipper” houses. I like them all – Lillesand, Grimstad, Arendal, Tvedestrand, Risør, Kragerø – but if you somehow can get to Lyngør, it is absolute perfection in summer.
  • Tromsø has nightlife and nature and the most active local patriots in Norway. And that is saying a lot.
  • I quite like the Henrik Sørensen museum near Holmsbu.
  • Svolvær and Lofoten and the other Hurtigruten things are fantastic, of course, don’t misunderstand me, but they tend to fill up.
  • Fishing is, apparently, fantastic. (I don’t fish myself…)

A few notes:

  • You cannot see the northern lights in the summer. Sorry.
  • Nor the midnight sun in the winter.
  • Norway is expensive and service is friendly but overstretched (we have near wage equality and employees are very expensive…). Do not expect fawning service, even at fancy hotels.
  • pictures_funny2_grandeNorwegians are rather reserved and have a fairly expansive sense of personal space. When the other people at the bus stop are keeping their distance to you, it has nothing to do with you. It’s them. (See The Social Guidebook to Norway for further information).

And that is that. Comments welcome. More to follow as I remember things.

PS: Found this video with Morten Rustad’s 10 favorite places in Norway. I spent much of my summers as a boy in Valdres and Jotunheimen and agree with him. But note also: Solitude and challenge is a plus, crowds a minus, for the quintessential Norwegian tourist/explorer:

*No, not mountains. I Norway, any mountain with trees on top is a hill, no matter how steep or tall.

Call on me – by cancer patients

It’s been a secret for quite a while, but now I can share it: Jenny, our youngest daughter, lymph cancer survivor, has been to London to record a dance video with “Aktiv against cancer”. Here is the resulting video:

And here is a longer video with a bit of background and interviews with some of the participants, including Jenny:

Jenny has been a dancer all her life, and getting back to dancing through this video and the dancing classes she takes at her high school has been very important to her – a source of inspiration, as I think is evident.

Car-ried away a bit

I really should not be writing this – I have numerous other demands on my time, sitting in my home office and writing outlines for a couple of new courses, doing my taxes and preparing for a class in Shanghai next week. But I just read this column by Bob Cringely and, well, last Friday I picked up this beauty:

2014-03-14 12.41.36 

Now, this is a $100,000 car and you might be asking yourself why on earth a not too well paid academic should go out and purchase something like that. The answer is complicated and very Norwegian. We needed to update the Andersen car fleet (have a 1996 Mercedes C class and a 2002 Toyota Previa, both due for an upgrade). The kids are moving out, eventually, so we no longer need the minivan, and we were thinking about an SUV or perhaps a Volvo station wagon, about 5 years old. The problem is that a car like that costs $40-50,000 in Norway, due to the 200% taxes levied on almost all cars when they arrive in the country (more, if it is sportier.)

Anyway, for electric cars, there is no tax. Moreover, if you take it as a company car (I have my own consulting company), the assessed benefit is only half of what it would be for a regular car (or even a hybrid.) Moreover, you can park for free in Oslo, drive in bus lanes, get a free E-Z-Pass (i.e., the Oslo equivalent), there are free charging stations around and there is no annual road tax. Electric energy is clean and plentiful in Norway. The upshot is that this great GT car will cost me just a little bit more per year than our 12 year old Toyota. In short, a no-brainer. The Tesla S is a very cheap car in Norway, and consequently, Norway is the second largest market in the world for it. The dealer told me they were taking delivery of almost one thousand of them only in March.

It drives wonderfully, as Cringely says. After having driven it for a few days I have a permanent grin on my face. The effect is similar to driving my veteran Mercedes 6.9 – smooth and effortless power and comfort – but without the $2/mile fuel cost. In fact, driving the Tesla 100 km (60 miles) costs around $2.30 in electricity if I charge it at home, which is quite manageable, thank you very much. Now I make up excuses to drive somewhere, and constantly have to watch the speedometer, since there is no motor noise to help you estimate the speed.

iPhone Screenshot 1Right now, of course, I am not driving the car, since I am slaving away at my keyboard. But there is an app that allows me to see where it is – and currently my wife and youngest daughter have driven it to Sweden to do some shopping. With the app, I can see where the car is, how much juice it is consuming, and its speed. Great for constructing annoying messages to my wife commenting on her driving…

There has been an interesting debate in the Norwegian media the last few months about the subsidies for electric cars. The first electric cars were really not very practical – range and speed limited to 50 miles and 50 mph, respectively – and so the tax incentives where set up. Then the Tesla comes along with technology blowing everything else out of the water, and now you can be environmental and have fun at the same time. This constitutes an almost existential crisis for a number of people, who write angry articles about these monster cars that, well, don’t pollute (at least not in the use phase) and, well, should not be that good. We are, apparently, meant to suffer for the environment in order to save it, not enjoy our cake and eat it, too. (I am, of course, a technology researcher and can make the excuse that I should be familiar with new technology – in fact, perhaps I should charge the thing to my research budget…)

But I am not suffering at all at the moment. Instead, I am looking forward to tomorrow when my wife, perhaps, will not need the car and I’ll get to drive it.

If you need a Toyota and a Mercedes or two, just send me an email….

Still here?

No blog post since May 4… Well, my excuse is that a) I got sick for a couple weeks, which has slowed things down, and b) I then embarked on a 3-week teaching/speaking/travelling marathon that consumed all time, was very interesting and will earn me an SAS Gold card as soon as the points get processed.

Over the last three weeks, I have taught a four-day executive EMBA class at BI, two full-day PCL sessions for Harvard Business Publishing (at ESSEC in Paris and ESADE in Barcelona, both very enjoyable), participated in two oral exams, given presentations and facilitated sessions in a few companies that shall remain nameless, and held a session on technology tools for teaching for my colleagues. One more whole-day session to go, and then summer can begin.

For various reasons I have been working from home almost the whole semester, acquiring the odd hours and sloppy clothing habits of a hermit scribe (except when videoconferencing, where a hastily added shirt and some clever camera positioning is required). You can get very addicted to your cluttered home office and the view from the front window – and find that tutoring students over Skype is, if anything, more efficient than being in the office. It only takes me 30-45 minutes to get to work (car, bus or bicycle) but I have begun to see the 1.5 hours wasted as an unbearable intrusion on my productivity.

But you do find that there are wide discrepancies in people’s attitude to video- and teleconferencing. Consultants, engineers and some academics barely bat an eyebrow when I suggest Skype. Others – including some foreign clients – absolutely insist that I have to be there in person, even for fairly routine matters. Some official meeting don’t do teleconferencing, for some reason. And don’t get me started on the bureaucratic hassles of various exam-, medical and visa-related matters, which apparently were designed for parchment, quill pens and post diligences.

SAS appThere is progress. After some hiccups my SAS app worked beautifully, meaning that paper boarding passes and check-in lines (even at machines) is a thing of the past. I relearned where the lounge is at Arlanda airport. I rediscovered my system for where to store things so I don’t forget them, and started feeling like a flying consultant again.

And for three weeks, it was rather fun. Now I am happy to go back to the reclusive hermit style. Ahhhh…where was that white wine again?

Boston Marathon Bombing

This hits home – it is very bad. Boston is our family’s second home town, where our youngest was born and the other two had formative years (as did we all.) Boylston street certainly is familiar and so is every Boston reference and place name now being repeated on CNN.

I am impressed by the police and various spectators and marathon officials – they immediately run to help the wounded, acting very sensibly, quickly coordinating to gain access to the bomb site and get to the wounded.

Let’s hope the aftermath of this event is characterized by the same calmness, relevance and restraint. The bombings in Oslo and shootings at Utøya two years ago gave rise to very solemn reactions and a surprisingly thorough and measured debate about immigration, extremism and the role of religion in Norway – as well as a thorough examination of security routines and the response of the police (which, unfortunately, was not as quick and coordinated as in Boston.

Let’s hope this can be an event to learn from, whoever the perpetrators may be. The Boston Marathon is very much an outdoor celebration – people happily cheering the runners along the route and everyone having a great time. It would just be too sad to have it changed and locked down by the insanities of people who think violence will gain them anything at all.

Finding Nemo, unsurprisingly, again

(Intially posted as a comment to Dave Weinberger’s blog, but expanded/edited into a bona fide rant here. Update, Feb. 13: Dave continues the discussion in his column at

New England has just had a snowstorm, predicted to be of historic proportions, but eventually ending up, as always, as nothing much, except a staggeringly incompetent number of people (400,000 or so in Massachusetts alone) losing power. As a Norwegian currently in Oslo (but with nine winters in Boston (Arlington and Brookline)): New England snowstorms, despite their ferocity, are not aberrations of nature but a failure to prepare a systemic level.

It is just snow. Not a lot (well, a lot, but for a short time, as illustrated by the photo.) It shows up fast, and leaves again equally fast. It doesn’t stay the whole winter, from November until March, as it does here in the south (get it – south!) of Norway.

The fact that New England panics every time there is a flurry is due to lack of preparedness at the infrastructure level. In most of Norway power and telephone lines are underground, it is illegal not to have snow tires on your car after December 1st or thereabouts (if you drive in the snow with regular tires and go in the ditch, you are fined quite severely) and during my own and my children’s school days we have never had a snow day or any other interruption due to the weather (and we have plenty of weather). In Norway you cannot get a driver’s license without passing a driving-on-slick-surface course. The Oslo subway (or buses – what kind of drivers to you have?) has never been closed due to snow. I have never been to the store to stock up on batteries and water. (I have been to the gas station to buy gas for the snow blower ahead of a storm, though.) Our airport does not close down for snow, though there can be delays. In New England, there are public service announcements (from Thomas Menino’s office) saying “When clearing motor vehicles, remove snow around the muffler/exhaust system before starting the car”. How stupid can you get?

I just can’t get used to the New England oh-my-God-here-it-comes-again-flip-to-channel-5 attitude. I attribute this to lack of far-sightedness in planning – rather than taking the cost of modernizing the power grid and change the telephone lines to fiber all around, incrementalism wins. (Then again, I have found myself being the only driver (in a VW Vanagon with worn tires) on the 128, and the only person coming in  to work (in a Chevy Caprice).) Instead of driving responsibly you salt the roads until they are white and dogs can’t go out due to the pain the salt inflicts on their paws. Instead of having a public works division outfitted to fix things with proper equipment you resort to an army of contractors with F-250s barging out to power-plow 2 inches of wet snow that will disappear at 9am the next day anyway, just to get paid.

imageI drove (with wife and three kids) from Florida to MA during the blizzard of 96, which closed down NY and NJ. In Georgia, we saw 200 cars in the ditch, including an 18-wheeler cab-up in a tree. It looked like an 8-year old had emptied out his toy car crate. On an Interstate in North Carolina I saw a police cruiser (who had tried to cross from one direction to the other via those little police-only paths) nosed into and completely buried a six-foot pile, the blue lights forlornly spinning through the snow. Driving around Richmond, I saw people pass me doing 75 in their Cherokees on the highway, only to see them buried in a drift two miles later. In Washington (Metro population 5.6m, number of snowplows: 1) I drove around (in a Dodge Caravan with a not very advanced AWD system) a Chevy Suburban spinning on all four wheels as the owner moronically pumped the gas pedal. (Incidentally, the only institution open was the Norwegian embassy, whose employees arrived on cross-country skis.) When we got to the NJ border, we were stopped, as the turnpike was closed. I stupidly tried to argue with the cop that I was Norwegian, had 4WD, and was a former instructor in 4WD driving in the Norwegian army, that driving in the snow was easy if you went slowly and gently. He was, needless to say, not swayed. We spent the night in a motel.

Why doesn’t New England harden the grid and communications systems, put winter tires on school buses, mandate winter tires in snowy conditions, and just get rid of this stupid idea of snow days? It is winter, it happens almost every year. It is just something to get used to, minimize the consequences of and then get on with a productive life.

On the other hand, most Americans work way too much, so perhaps it is just nature’s way of giving you a much-needed break. In the meantime, you are providing quite the entertainment at Norwegian TV, for which I suppose I should be thankful.

(Images from TriStateWeather)

Update Feb. 13: Somewhat related, here is an infographic (from Curtis Whaley via Boingboing) on how to walk on ice. Put on your tailcoats and waddle away…:

Four is a little, four is a LOT!

imageMy friend Cheska Komissar is quite a character. Not only does she make a peanut sauce that restores my faith in humanity, she is also the bubbliest person alive and, as of a few months ago, a children’s book author. Her delightful Four is a little, four is a lot is just the thing to get someone turning four – and wondering, as children do: Is four a lot or just a little?

The book has four illustrators (of course), but you would be hard pressed to see the difference in styles – though the collaboration has been remote, the drawings are remarkably close in coloring and style and the underscores the text excellently.


So, count up the number of three-year-olds you know, surf you way over to the Four Dollar Books website and get the requisite number of books (at four dollars each, of course.) They also have birthday cards featuring illustrations from the book – and the combination will be both four-midable and four-tunate…

Highly recommended!

Great apartment, car and furniture in Brookline

Update June 25th: The apartment is now rented, but the furniture/kitchen stuff and car is still for sale…

Update July 31st: All gone, I am afraid….

I am currently on a sabbatical at MIT, will go back to Norway around August 1. I’ve lived in Boston for a total of bout 8 years, so I have some experience procuring and furnishing apartments – and now I am looking for an academic family/couple/some friends/colleagues who would want to take over my (rented) apartment with furniture and all. I also have a great car for sale.

IMG_4056The apartment is, I think, about 1,700 square feet (158 square meters, gross figures, including a large walk-in closet / attic that can be used as a bedroom in a pinch.) The rent is $ 2400 a month (not including electricity / gas / oil, but my American friends think it is a bargain.) The apartment is located in the top two floors of a four-story house in a small dead-end street (18 East Milton Road, CambridgeBrookline, MA, but shows the wrong house, it is the second last on the north side of the street). Very safe area with an excellent “walk IMG_4057score“. The distance to Brookline High School, an excellent high school with many international students is a 5 minute walk. According to the landlord, there are two good grade schools nearby. The MBTA (subway) is four minutes away. It takes about 10 minutes to Boston University and the Longwood area (where all research hospitals), 25 minutes to MIT, 30 minutes to Harvard. I bike to MIT in 19 minutes, slow enough that I don’t break a sweat.

IMG_4067The apartment has two bathrooms (one with bathtub, the other with a shower cubicle with door,) a large bedroom downstairs, large and very nice living room / kitchen, two bedrooms (one with a slightly odd layout, loft-like, but private) high. Large loft / walk-in closet, which can also be used as a bedroom in a pinch (for short-term visitors, for example.) Reserved parking for one car on the street – nice, since renting IMG_4063a parking space in Brookline can cost $ 80-200 per month. Oil heating, fireplace, nice and toasty (and cheap!) pellets-oven in the kitchen, hardwood floors downstairs, carpets on top floor. Bright and airy, painted white, very nice for having guests and parties.

Kitchen with dishwasher, two ovens, microwave, gas stove, sink with in-sink grinder (or whatever they call those things that chew up food scraps). Washer and dryer IMG_4058the bathroom next to kitchen. Dryer and washing machines are relatively quiet, which is not a matter of course in the United States. We have bought kitchen utensils from IKEA, and various electric kitchen weapons (toaster oven, blender, etc.)

Very friendly landlord who lives in the 1st floor and helps if you have any questions or issues. The apartment is flexible – fits nicely for a couple with 1-2 children. But it’s perfectly possible to be many – for Christmas IMG_4059we were, we were seven people (me, wife, daughter #3, and daughters #1 and #2, each with boyfriend) + two dogs for four weeks, worked really well.

I am hoping for someone in the same situation as me to come in – the plan is that you take all our equipment (full kitchenware, sofa, two armchairs, a kitchen table with chairs for six, two wide comfortable beds, two leather office chairs, lamps, vacuum cleaner, toaster oven, etc.) Everything is bought at IKEA at considerably lower prices than we have in Norway, and my price is half of what we paid (I have most of the receipts).

imageThe car is a silver 2002 Mercedes E320 station wagon with four-wheel drive (big advantage when it snows here) with seven seats (folding seat in the back), leather interior, air conditioning, automatic, built-in GPS, heated seats in front, electric memory front seats, sunroof, everything one could wish for. It has 150000 miles and I have had it maintained by the best Mercedes garage in Massachusetts, European Auto Solutions ( in Waltham – these guys are so good it is a reason to get a Mercedes in itself. (I am rather partial to Mercedeses, have a classic veteran MercedesI bought here a few years ago.)

The car I bought for $7200, and I am hoping to sell it for around the same price, since I have put in approx. $2200 (new alternator and water pump, a few more fixes). There is little rust (Mercedes had some rust problems from 1999 to 2004, this is completely clean except for a spot on the back door.) Runs like a dream, lots of horsepower and comfort. The only drawback is that the left channel of the stereo does not work, I have not bothered fixing it, but EAS told me that a new stereo part (the amplifier) would be about $550 to put in.

We also have a men’s hybrid bicycle and a retro lady bike for sale, bought used, in very good condition.

So there you are – if you are in for a sabbatical in Boston, here is your chance to take over a ready-made apartment and not have to spend time running around shopping for basics. The apartment is perfect for Harvard, MIT, BU, Northeastern, many other universities, all of the major research hospitals in the Longwood area, and downtown Boston.

Send me email ( is you are interested.

Hawai’ian interlude

The week before last was spent on Hawai’i (Oahu, to be precise), courtesy of an old collection of American Airlines points, that fact that we are in the US and hence already have paid for half the flight, and a week’s break in daughter number three’s high school schedule.

The goal for the trip was simple: New Facebook profile pictures for father and daughter – standing up on a surfboard. To this end, we had signed up for two days of surf classes with Hawaiian Fire, an eminent surf school run by firefighters. Their classes take place on the southeast side of Oahu, at a beach where waves are consistent and the water reasonably shallow – as a novice, you can always jump off the board and stand on the bottom. (In practice, you want to be a little careful, always landing flat in the water, since there are rocks and corals on the bottom.)

To make a short story short, we both made it into vertical – daughter number three rather faster and better than her top-heavy father.


And lastly, let it be said that despite, in certain aspects, feeling a bit like Las Vegas (at least the brand-name shopping areas of Waikiki), Hawai’i has a distinct culture, a refreshingly laid-back attitude, fantastic nature (we particularly enjoyed exploring the North Shore and the Tantalus/Round Top drive) and an extremely enjoyable climate. It is only to wonder that not many more people live there…

Waiting for Christmas (with help from Tim Minchin)

Tim Minchin, UK-based Australian comedian, composer and contrarian, performs what is my favorite Christmas tune, his “White wine in the sun”, which manages to be sentimental, smart, atheistic (or at least skeptical) and deeply felt, which I think everyone should be. Especially at Christmas, which is about so much more than religion.

And I am not just saying that because I am 3501 miles from home, with the family arriving for a prolonged Christmas visit, or because, just like me, Tim met his wife when he was seventeen and they stay together, but because this song describes the best parts of Christmas – indeed, the whole purpose of Christmas – quite precisely.

Looking forward to Christmas far to often is attributed to consumerism (at least for small children) or has to be legitimized through some religious reference, such as the inevitable pre-Christmas op-eds about how we are losing sight of what the holidays are all about, etc. etc.

So, this year as any other, I am looking forward to Christmas with our little rituals.

Just as long as it isn’t white. All our snow gear is in Norway. Snow would really let us have an American experience…

MIT for me for now

imageAnd just like that, I have moved across the Atlantic to Boston, where I will be for the next year. There are two reasons for this: First, daughter #3 – a bona fide US citizen who moved to Norway as a two-year old – wanted to spend her middle high school year in the United States. She did not want to go with one of the standard exchange programs, because with those you cannot choose where in the US you will be (which essentially means you will be somewhere in the mid-West.) Secondly, I was due for a sabbatical. In both cases, Boston is a good place to be.

So, daughter #3 is now at Brookline High School, and pater familias has infested MIT’s Center for Information Systems Research. This is a academic research group that in its structure and processes operates very much like CSC Index and Concours Group, companies I previously have worked for. In fact, CISR is in the same building as CSC Index used to be (five Cambridge Center, on , only three floors lower. It is very much deja vu – I have already had lunch at the Poppa & Goose truck (now called something else, but the food is the same.) The last week has been busy, getting a great apartment in Brookline (with good help from friends), buying an old (well, old by American standards) but great Mercedes station wagon for transportation, buying used bikes and doing the necessary runs to IKEA for what Douglas Coupland refers to as “semi-disposable Swedish furniture. We even got a whiff of Hurricane Irene, with loss of power for 10 hours and many threes down in the neighborhood.

The rest of the family, for various reasons, could not come with us, but visits are planned (the first one this week) and a long Christmas vacation already booked. Despite having a sabbatical, I still need to go home to Oslo for the occasional executive course, but hopefully not too much – the whole point of a sabbatical is not to have to think about teaching and administration.

Oh well. I see this year as a visit to an intellectual candy store – CISR cohabits with MIT Center for Digital Business, MIT Center for Computational Research in Economics and Management Science, and MIT Center for Collective Intelligence, just to mention some of the closest neighbors – a candy store where gorging does no harm but, indeed, is encouraged.

How to respond to terrorism

Today I participated in a memorial and response to the terrorist attacks in Oslo, a semi-spontaneous gathering of people organized within 24 hours via Facebook and TV. Around 200000 people – a third of the city’s population, the largest gathering in Oslo since the second world war, and that in the middle of the holiday season – met at City Hall Square. the large square between the City Hall and the harbor. I have never seen so many people in the streets of Oslo – and yet, the city was eerily quiet.


Most, including us, carried roses or other flowers. The intention was to have a “March of Roses“, but the number of people made this impossible – instead, it became a silent and stationary memorial, especially moving when everyone held their flowers high and spontaneously and very mutedly sang Nordahl Grieg’s “Til ungdommen.”



There were speeches by many, among them the Crown Prince (“today the streets of Oslo are filled with love. We have chosen to meet cruelty with closeness.”) and the Prime Minister (“evil may kill a person, but will never defeat a people”) but I actually thought the Mayor of Oslo, Fabian Stang, expressed it most cogently:  “Together, we will punish the murderer. The punishment will be more openness, more tolerance, and more democracy.”

Before going down to the City Hall Square arrangement, we visited the Oslo Cathedral, which has become a focal point where people have left flowers, candles and letters:


We also went closer to the bomb site to see the damages. This is the building where Julie, our oldest daughter, works:


And here is a view into a coffee shop on the first floor, two blocks away from the blast:



There were lines outside every flower shop:


After the ceremony, people where told to leave their flowers somewhere in the city. Here is one solution to this challenge:


Like one of the speakers, Dilek Ayhan, said: “Today, I am very proud to be Norwegian.”

PS: Many more, and better, images here.

The Oslo attacks

20110723-halvstangMy family and I have received many emails from friends in the USA and other places, offering their condolences and wondering if we are OK. (We live in Oslo, on an island, and from a distance it is natural to worry.) This post is to address those issues and reflect a little on what this means in Norway.

Our youngest daughter was alone at home (about 5 kilometers from the site) when the initial explosion (video here)occurred, and felt the impact in the house. Julie (oldest daughter, interviewed here by Boston Globe) was waiting for a bus in town about 800 m from the bomb site and both heard the explosion and felt the impact quite forcefully. She works in one of the buildings very close to the site, but was on sick leave at the time. Many of the windows in this building were blown out. Our middle daughter was away in the South of Norway. Lena and I were in Germany visiting friends, we returned early this morning.

As far as we know (and the names of the dead and wounded will not be made public until later this week) nobody we know directly has been directly harmed. Our youngest daughter knows, indirectly, five of the youths listed as missing. As I am writing this, 7 people are confirmed dead in the explosion, 86 (later revised down to 68) in the subsequent shootings on the island. About 73 are listed as seriously or critically wounded, 4-5 missing.

Lena and I drove through the Oslo City center on our way home at 2am this morning. The main government buildings and the bombing site are cordoned off and guarded by soldiers, and there are policemen on many street corners.

As unlikely as it may seem, the attacks are probably the work of one man, a fairly well-to-do islamophobe who has planned this for nine years. The intent seems to be to gather attention for a self-published manifesto, a feverish 1500-page PDF screed detailing his inflated self-picture, confused world views and preparations for the attack. The bomb attack was similar in technique and effect to the Oklahoma bombing, but with relatively few casualties due to it being vacation time and relatively late in the afternoon. The ensuing attack on the island (which is very small, about 200 x 500 meters) with the summer camp left such a devastating result because there are few places to hide and nowhere to run. Also, the gunman was dressed as a police officer and fooled many into getting close enough to him that they could be slaughtered.

The whole country is in mourning – at noon a silent minute was observed here and in the other Nordic countries. The Prime Minister and other public figures have shown remarkable dignity and restraint in a situation that must be inhumanely hard, especially since many of the killed and wounded were personal friends.

Norway is very small – as the poet Nordahl Grieg wrote during the second world war: “We are so few in this country, every fallen is a brother or friend.” In proportion to the population size, this attack has claimed roughly twice as many victims as 9/11. The 500 youths at the summer camp came from all over the country. In such a small society, everyone knows or knows of someone who has been harmed.

Norway has always been a very open society – the police is largely unarmed, you can run into public figures with few or no security guards (in fact, we met the Prime Minister on a bike tour in the city forest in April this year,) political meetings and demonstrations take place with a minimum of security presence. This openness and trust is highly valued by all. It is my hope and expectation that the actions of a deranged loner will not succeed in destroying one of the most cherished attributes of this small and close-knit society.

Adirondacks! (or, what I did for a summer diversion)

Vacation is doing something you don’t normally do, and since I tend to be stuck in front of a computer at all times, I decided to engage in some work with my hands and build Adirondack chairs this summer. You can buy these in stores, of course, but they are expensive (up to $1000 for one chair in Norway,) and the store ones aren’t really Adirondacks, which need a curved back, an anatomically becoming seat and armrests wide enough for coffee, wine, and a computer.

I found drawings from Popular Mechanics, and modified the design a bit to cater for taste and European lumber dimensions. Then I made the pieces – having a wife with quilting and sewing expertise helps a lot – and made one chair (which took three days). The chair was tested by family members and modified (back angle, seat shape) according to their feedback and anatomy. Then I went industrial and made four chairs with good help from my equally theoretically inclined colleague Bill Schiano, then five on my own.

Painting turned out to be tricky. On the advice of a neighbor I invested in a compressor and a paint gun, and first coated the chairs with an impregnating wood treatment. Then I used high-quality house paint, which turned out to be difficult because it needed to be thinned to go through the paint gun. Eventually I ended up with window frame paint. At the suggestion of a reader of my Norwegian blog, I might add a top coat of boat paint later, to get a hard and shiny surface that repels water.

Cost of materials came to about $50 per chair, plus paint. I would not have taken the project on if I couldn’t buy cheap Chinese tools (table saw, band saw) as well as a cheap compressor. If I was going to do it again, I would get a table mounted band/circular sander and used a handheld electric saw rather than the band saw, which uses blades rather freely.

Anyway, I now have 10 chairs to distribute around the garden and porch. They are very comfortable – you really don’t need pillows or blankets. As noted elsewhere, doing a project like this allows you to reflect on how you think in your more theoretical work as well, although a wise colleague warned me that theoretically oriented teachers who do a practical project and try to expound on it in general makes asses of themselves, so I will refrain from elaborating. At least I have understood that a good woodworker is one that not only knows how to follow plans but also can come up with solutions to the inevitable blunders. And that an effective sander can fix a lot of mistakes.

As for kindling, we are well supplied for the winter…