Notes from ACM Webinar on blockchain (etc.)

The Next Radical Internet Transformation: How Blockchain Technology is Transforming Business, Governments, Computing, and Security Models

Speaker: Mark Mueller-Eberstein, CEO & Founder at Adgetec Corporation, Professor at Rutgers University, Senior Research Fellow at QIIR

Moderator: Toufi Saliba, CEO, PrivacyShell and Chair of the ACM PB Conference Committee

Warning: These are notes taken live. Errors and omissions will occur. No responsibility whatsoever.

  • intro: old enough to remember the discussions in the early 90s about how the internet would change mail services – completely forgetting shopping, entertainment and others
  • Blockchain solves the problem of transferring value between Internet users without a third party
  • goes beyond the financial industry, can handle any kind of transaction
  • most of the world has access to a mobile phone, only about 20% has access to the banking system
  • Blockchain is the banking industry’s Uber movement
  • Blockchain much wider than Bitcoin, will facilitate new business models.
  • Blockchain transfers rather than copies digital assets, making sure there is only one instance of it.
    • settlement process: no clearing houses or central exchanges
    • peer-to-peer transfers, validation by network
  • Example: WeChat taking over payments in China, no link to banks
  • many commercial or government services are basically “databases” that are centrally managed, with one central point of failure
  • Blockchain allows a distributed ledger, information put in cannot be changed
    • Estonia thinking about a Blockchain in case of hacking or occupation
  • public (open), private and government blockchainsxx1
  • allows new services to existing customers, lots of inefficiencies up for grabs
    • estate records, voting, domain control, escrow, etc…
    • iPayYou allows use of Bitcoin
    • Walt Disney looking at Blockchain (DragonChain) for internal transfers, also use it for tracking supply chain to their cruise ships. Opensourced it.
  • 80% of Bitcoin mining done in China
  • regulation comes with a cost
  • Shenzhen want to be Blockchain Tech capital
  • 6-level security model, developed by William Mougayar (goes through it in detail: transaction, account, programming, distributed organizations, network (51% attacks, perhaps as low as 30%, smaller blockchains more vulnerable), governance)
  • Ethereum blockchain focusing on smart contracts: Hard forked in 2016, DAO issue where somebody hacked DAO code to siphon off money, hacking the program using the blockchain (not the blockchain),
  • credit card transaction can take up to 30 days, with disputes and everthing, Blockchain is almost instant
  • How “real” is blockchain technology
    • Goldman-Sachs invested $500m+
    • 15% of top global banks intend to roll out full-scale, commercial blockchain
    • etc.
  • what is holding it back?
    • difficult to use, understand, buy in; perception of risk and legality
    • difficult to see value for the individual
  • questions:
    • what are the incentives and adoption models?
      • different philosophies: computing power must be made available in the network: industrial mining vs. BitTorrent model, the amount of computing provided will be important, if we can find a model where just a little bit from every mobile phone is required
    • what are the hard costs of Blockchain?
      • you can google the costs. There are other approaches being developed, will post some links
    • can Blockchain be compromized by a virus?
      • theoretically, yes. Bitcoin is 10 years without, open source means verification (change is happening slowly because of code inspection)
      • comes back to incentive and governance model
  • and that was that…recording will be at webinar.acm.org in a few days.

Case teaching in Vienna

quantI have been asked to give a keynote speech at a conference on case teaching in Vienna, at the The University of Applied Sciences BFI. This is quite an honor, and I am very much looking forward to it.

Should you happen to want to be in Vienna and focus on case teaching on May 19 – well, I hope to see you there!

SmartHelp – geolocation for crisis situations

I am on the board of SmartHelp – a platform for crisis communication for emergency services (or, indeed, for any company that needs to locate its assets or employees in a hurry). The platform has been running in production in two emergency services (fire and ambulance) in Trondheim, Norway, since December 2014. It allows the public to contact the emergency service via a Smartphone interface, give precise details about where they are automatically, and also to chat and share their medical information (fully encrypted up to a medical standard.)

Here is a video demonstrating how the system works:

We are currently seeking partners for marketing and further developing this platform outside the Norwegian emergency service market. Please contact me (self@espen.com, +47 4641 0452) or Fredrik Øvergård, CEO (fredrik@radvice.no, +47 977 32 708)  for further information.

Effective student feedback

In our book Teaching with cases: A practical guide, Bill Schiano and I talk at a fairly high level about how to give effective student feedback by using a spreadsheet and personalized emails. Our argument is that by giving every student individual feedback in addition to the grade, you reduce the number of grade justification requests and complaints. This blog post is a detailed guide on how to do it – too detailed for the technically inclined, probably, but we all have to start somewhere.

You probably already have all the tools you need on your computer – a spreadsheet and an email client that works with your spreadsheet – such as Excel and Outlook, for example. (For myself, I use Excel and SerialMailer, a cheap serial mail client for Mac.) You can probably use online software as well, for instance a Google spreadsheet (which is nice because editing by more than one teacher is easy) and Gmail, though I have never tried it.

The idea is to use the spreadsheet to organize all your feedback, and to set it up so you use as little time as possible to give as much feedback as possible. I will demonstrate this, with an example for a fictitious course with three in-class sessions (with participation grading, 40% of grade), an individual written examination (30% of grade), and a group assignment (30%). I will show the various details of building the spreadsheet below – if you want to skip ahead and inspect the thing your self, I have made it available for downloading.

I start with a spreadsheet of students and email addresses, provided to me by the administration or downloaded from our LMS. Let’s say it looks something like this:

1eval

(If I have the time or can get the administration to create it from their databases, I ask to have first and last names in separate columns. For this demonstration, I won’t bother.)

Then I add columns for each of the assignments that I am going to grade:

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(In this example, the individual examination has six questions, of which the students should answer four.)

For the group project, I create a separate sheet (in the same workbook, called “Groups”

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The group sheet is exceptionally simple, just group number, points and comment. If you have several group assignments, this is where you will put them:

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Note that I also create a group numbered 0. This is what I use for students who drop the course or don’t do the group assignment.

With that done, I assign students to groups in the Students sheet…

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…and then I am ready to start teaching my course.

As the course rolls along, I enter points and comments for each student. As mentioned in the book, it is extremely important that you do the participation evaluation immediately after each class. I tend to give the students a score of 1-3, sometimes 1-6, with some definition. As I will show later, what scale you use does not really matter, as you can normalize them to whatever you want later in the process.

Anyway, assume the course is finished, and you have entered comments and points for everything – for the individual student, in the Student sheet….

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…for the groups, in the Groups sheet:

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To finish the evaluation part (we’ll get to communication later), you need to a) match the group points and comments to each individual student, b) calculate a final score for each student, and c) determine the letter grade for each student.

First: Group grades and comments. For a small class like this, this is probably a bit of overkill – you could just copy comments and points over to each individual student. But doing it the way I show here has the advantage (aside from being correct from a database administrator’s point of view) of error-correction (any error you make will be systematic and therefore easily spotted) and repeatable (the first time you do this, it is a chore, the second time, you just copy your previous spreadsheet and fiddle with it). Moreover, if you have a class with more than 40 students, a bit of “programming” saves time and effort. (I have done this for classes of 350 students, a situation where participation grading is not really possible – except as a small reward for exceptional students – but where the group feedback mechanism becomes extremely valuable.)

So, first – link individual students with their group’s scores and comments, using the LOOKUP function:

8eval

The formula is

           =LOOKUP($E2;Groups!$A$2:$A$8;Groups!B$2:B$8)

and what it does is take the student’s group number (E2), look it up the first column of the “Groups” sheet (Groups!$A$2:$A$8), using fixed references to be able to copy the formula to the rest of the sheet, and displaying the group score (which is in column Groups!$B2:$B8). This nicely picks up all the group scores and comments:

9eval

We now have all the information for each student, then we have to calculate the various scores. We have the exam score already (the average of the exam points) and the participation score (a sum of the score for each session.) We now need to calculate the total points, which isn’t too hard: The max for participation is 9, for the others it is 10, so the formula for the total will be:

01eval

         =(W2*0,3)+(O2*0,3)+(J2*0,4*10/9)

(I use comma as a decimal delimiter, parentheses for readability). We can now add a student ranking in the G column (students are always interested in this, so why not tell them?)

02eval

Now we are ready to set the grades. The simple way to do this is to sort the students by their scores (or rank, if you will):

03eval

How you set the letter grades is up to you, of course, but it helps to have the students sorted. I set grades by starting at the top, trying to get a reasonable distribution, and make sure that I don’t use absolutes so that some unlucky student narrowly misses a better grade. Let’s say we end up here:

04eval

Now we are ready to communicate the results to the students. We will do that by writing a letter to them, composed largely of common text (i.e., feedback that is the same to all students), and them use the mail/merge function of word to merge in the individual details from the spreadsheet.

1feed

Example letter using SerialMailer

As said above, I use a product called SerialMailer on my Mac. The concept is simple: You write the letter, link to the spreadsheet, and insert field names into the text. When the letter is sent out (or printed), the field names are substituted for the values for each individual student.

Here is how to do it in Word (if you want to send it out via email, you need to have Outlook as well.):

First, open Word and write the letter:

2feed

(As you can see, I recycle much of my texts…)

Let’s start by replacing “student” in the opening salutation with the student’s name. Then you open the Mailings tab in Word and hit Select recipients from an existing list…

3feed

…and select your spreadsheet:

000ff

I get this message, click OK:

5feed

And open the “Students” sheet (i.e. the individual sheet):

6feed

If you click “Insert Merge Field” now, you should get a list of the column headings in the spreadsheet:

7feed

Delete the word “student”, choose “Insert Merge Field” and choose “Name”, and the field code will be in the document:

8feed

If you hit “Preview Results”, the code will be replaced by the content for each student:

9feed

Now write field labels and insert the fields you want to share with the students. I like to add the listing at the end of the letter, but you can do whatever you want:

1ff

Hit Preview, and this is what each student will see:

2ff

And there you go. Now hit “Finish and Mail Merge”, and select whether you want to print the documents on paper (or PDF) or send them out via email (shown).

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You must tell Outlook where the email addresses are in the spreadsheet:

5ff

Then specify a subject and choose HTML Message (if you want formatted text):

6ff

…and, well, this is where I will have to stop, since I do not use Outlook. But trust me, it works well, the students love having individualized feedback, and it really isn’t that much more work than just providing the grade. As an added bonus: If students want a grade justification, you can just tell them that they already have it…

(Corrections and feedback welcome, of course.)

Singularity redux

From Danny Hillis: The Pattern on the Stone, which I am currently reading hunting for simple explanations of technological things:

Because computers can do some things that seem very much like human thinking, people often worry that they are threatening our unique position as rational beings, and there are some who seek reassurance in mathematical proofs of the limits of computers. There have been analogous controversies in human history. It was once considered important that the Earth be at the center of the universe, and our imagined position at the center was emblematic of our worth. The discovery that we occupied no central position – that  our planet was just one of a number of planets in orbit around the Sun – was deeply disturbing to many people at the time, and the philosophical implications of astronomy became a topic of heated debate. A similar controversy arose over evolutionary theory, which also appeared as a threat to humankind’s uniqueness. At the root of these earlier philosophical rises was a misplaced judgment of the source of human worth. I am convinced that most of the current philosophical discussions about the limits of computers are based on a similar misjudgment.

And that, I think, is one way to think about the future and intelligence, natural and artificial. Works for me, for now. No idea, of course, whether this still is Danny’s position, but I rather think it is.

Key myths about analytics

My excellent colleagues Alessandra Luzzi and Chandler Johnson have pointed me to this video, a keynote speech from 2015 by Ken Rudin, head of analytics at Facebook:

This is a really good speech, and almost an advertisement for our course Analytics for Strategic Management, which starts in two days (and, well, sorry, it is full, but will be arranged again next year.)

In the talk (starting about 1:30 in), Ken breaks down four common myths surrounding Big Data:

  1. Big Data does not necessarily imply use of certain tools, in particular Hadoop. Hadoop can sift through mountains of data, but other tools, such as relational databases, are better at ad hoc analysis once you have structured the data and determined what of the data that is interesting and worth analyzing.
  2. Big Data does not always provide better answers. Big Data will give you more answers, but, as Rudin says, can give you “brilliant answers to questions that no one cares about.” He stated the best way to better answers to formulate better question, which requires hiring smart people with “business savvy” who will ask how to solve real business problems. Also, you need to place the data analysts out in the organization, so they understand how the business runs and what is important. He advocates an embedded model – centrally organized analysts sitting geographically with the people they are helping.
  3. Data Science is not all science. A lot of data science has an “art” to it, and you have to have a balance. Having a common language between business and analytics is important here – and Facebook sends its people to a two-week “Data Camp” to learn that. You ned to avoid the “hippo” problem – the highest paid person’s opinion – essentially, not enough science. The other side is the “groundhog” issue – based on the movie – where the main character tries to win the girl by gradual experimentation. Data is like sandpaper – it cannot create a good idea, but it can shape it after it has been created.
  4. The goal of analytics is not insights, but results. To that end, data scientists have to help making sure that people act on the analysis, not just inform them. “An actionable insight that nobody acts on has no value.”

To the students we’ll meet on Tuesday: This is not a bad way of gearing up for the course. To anyone else interested in analytics and Big Data: This video is recommended.

(And if you think, like I do, that his sounds like the discussion of what IT should be in an organization 20 years ago – well, fantastic, then we know what problems to expect and how to act on them.)

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.