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Applied Abstractions



Technology, strategy, IT management and miscellany. This blog has moved to appliedabstractions.wordpress.com



Modified: 2011-10-16T23:34:33Z

Copyright: Copyright (c) 2011, Espen
 



Applied Abstractions moving to Wordpress

2011-10-16T23:34:33Z

As of today, October 17 2011, this blog will move to appliedabstractions.wordpress.com (and appliedabstractions.com will redirect there as well.) The blog archive will be kept, but all comments turned off. See you at the new location! Why moving? Well, the...

As of today, October 17 2011, this blog will move to appliedabstractions.wordpress.com (and appliedabstractions.com will redirect there as well.) The blog archive will be kept, but all comments turned off.

See you at the new location!

Why moving? Well, the blog software (Movable Type) needed an upgrade, which proved to be rather difficult, since Verio (my current web host) was a bit tardy in their own upgrades. So I eventually decided that someone else should do the maintenance.

Besides, cloud computing is fashionable these days.




When MUDs become real

2011-10-10T15:18:14Z

Reamde by Neal Stephenson My rating: 4 of 5 stars REAMDE is a techno-thriller in the traditional sense, i.e., technology plays a part, but so does gunfights, teamwork and hardship. Not one of Stephenson's strongest (that would be Cryptonomicon and... (image) Reamde by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

REAMDE is a techno-thriller in the traditional sense, i.e., technology plays a part, but so does gunfights, teamwork and hardship. Not one of Stephenson's strongest (that would be Cryptonomicon and the Baroque Trilogy), it has some of the nomadic quality of Anathem but, since it is not a science fiction book (the events take place in modern times, the only technological stretch maybe the quality of the T'Rain World of Warcraft-like multiuser game, which differs from WoW primarily in that it is designed with a working economy (again, one of Stephenson's fascinations - who do you establish a currency in a virtual world.) This means that a lot of what happens stretches the limits of what is possible - you get a bit of the feeling that you get in a run-of-the-mill detective show or war fil, that the bad guys can never shoot straight unless they are aiming for one of the less central characters, preferably those with already life-curtailing afflictions.

The plot is convoluted and centers first on the hunt for some hackers holding important documents hostage (through cryptography), but an inadvertent stumble on a bomb factory in China turns it into a fight between a Jihadist band of terrorists and a collection of technologically astute, well balanced (in terms of gender, ethnicity and geographical starting point) group of hackers, mercenaries and survivalists. Fun, but if you are looking for Stephenson's best stuff, start with the other books here. Or just relax and treat this as a bit of a diversion, not to be taken too seroiously.

View all my reviews



A fringe benefit of biking…

2011-09-30T13:46:24Z

. is that you get to take pictures like this on your way to work....

. is that you get to take pictures like this on your way to work.

(image)




Introduction to BI-Fudan course in Technology Strategy

2011-09-20T18:32:02Z

Here is an introductory video for students of my course in Tech Strat at the BI-Fudan MBA program, in early February. Apologies for bad lightning - this was done between classes in a spare classroom:...

Here is an introductory video for students of my course in Tech Strat at the BI-Fudan MBA program, in early February. Apologies for bad lightning - this was done between classes in a spare classroom:

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IT in Norway: Industry and impact

2011-09-07T16:11:48Z

As part of the Knowledge-based Norway project, I have been writing a report on the Norwegian IT industry, examining the industry as industry, but also its effect on business and government in Norway. You can find it here - and... As part of the Knowledge-based Norway project, I have been writing a report on the Norwegian IT industry, examining the industry as industry, but also its effect on business and government in Norway. You can find it here - and comments are more than welcome. Here is the executive summary: Executive summary, with policy implications This report describes and analyzes the Norwegian IT industry, focusing on two categories of companies: Those that provide information technology as a product largely developed by themselves, and those that provide information technology services - mostly by taking foreign technology and making it available to Norwegian companies and organizations. Contrary to Norway's classic knowledge hubs - petroleum, maritime, seafood - the Norwegian IT industry, though large, profitable, and knowledge-based, does not see itself as a hub and does not act like one. With a few exceptions (Horten, Trondheim) the Norwegian IT industry is overwhelmingly located in the Oslo area: Along Akerselven, in the City centre, at Skøyen, Lysaker and Fornebu. Few Norwegian IT companies paint on a global canvas, and those that do tend to be acquired by large international companies when they reach a certain size or maturity - growing out of Norway, as it were. In some cases, the companies continue and thrive in place, usually when they address a very specific global (GE Vingmed) or local (Visma) need, in others, they gradually disappear, subsumed into the acquiring organization (FAST into Microsoft development center Norway, Tandberg becoming a unit of Cisco, Trolltech becoming a part of Nokia and then sold to a Finnish software company). The IT industry's main contribution to Norwegian society comes in two flavors: Firstly, it provides a group of companies (the large IT service providers and consultancies) with a body of knowledge on how to develop and implement information technology in Norway, increasing the country's productivity through smart use of administrative and customer-facing systems. The relatively large size of the consulting industry and the extensive use of consultants both by the public sector and the larger companies ensures that the scarce knowledge of IT development and implementation both can be nurtured and rewarded as a core activity inside specialized organizations, and also makes sure that this knowledge is available in a more flexible form than the rather rigid hiring and firing practices of Norwegian working life. Secondly, the technology provided by the large, international technology providers, by the open source movement, and by administrative software providers ensures an available infrastructure for entrepreneurs in almost any industry: Few, if any, new startups today do not spend time on systems development as a major activity. Furthermore, extensive use of IT lowers the bar for starting new companies, both in terms of their relationship to the public sector, in their mobilization of resources, and in their access to markets. Thus, IT is, at the same time, a competitive arena and a coordination facilitator - an industry as well as an enzyme - in terms of increasing Norwegian innovative performance, productivity and competitiveness. Knowledge creation and dissemination Knowledge comes into the IT industry from three main sources: From foreign technology providers, from companies' own development work, and from academic research in Norway. The latter transfer mechanism happens largely through the production of graduates from computer science and engineering programs - the single-most scarce factor in the industry, underscored by practically anyone interviewed. Academic research in itself, with a few, celebrated examples such as Simula (University [...]



MIT for me for now

2011-09-07T12:32:42Z

And 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...

(image) And 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.




Bolero in the morning

2011-08-23T12:51:59Z

This video just made me happy, that's all: Copenhagen Philharmonic in transit...

This video just made me happy, that's all:




How to respond to terrorism

2011-07-26T06:02:41Z

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... 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

2011-07-25T23:37:04Z

My 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... My 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 serious 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[...]



The modern male

2011-05-30T06:33:03Z

This is all over the net in an encore, so let's hang it here as well - George Carlin in the definitive description of modern manhood: Gotta go. Things to do......

This is all over the net in an encore, so let's hang it here as well - George Carlin in the definitive description of modern manhood:

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Gotta go. Things to do...




Orotund oracularity

2011-05-27T07:52:28Z

Oracle Night by Paul Auster My rating: 3 of 5 stars Lent to me by my daughter, and like her, I admired the writing and story-within-story interconnectedness, but was left with a nagging wonder - what was really the point?... (image) Oracle Night by Paul Auster
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lent to me by my daughter, and like her, I admired the writing and story-within-story interconnectedness, but was left with a nagging wonder - what was really the point? Siri Hustvedt, Paul Auster's wife, has written What she loved, and that is really a better book for this kind of intertwined, dramatic New York story, where violence and mystery happens in a chamber play of mysterious and sometimes amoral characters. But by all means, a good read.

View all my reviews



Optimistic rationality – relief from the doomsayers

2011-05-03T11:01:46Z

The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves by Matt Ridley My rating: 4 of 5 stars Matt Ridley, science writer and commentator, delivers a blistering attack on the pessimists of the world, who extrapolate their way to doom and gloom, whether... (image) The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves by Matt Ridley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Matt Ridley, science writer and commentator, delivers a blistering attack on the pessimists of the world, who extrapolate their way to doom and gloom, whether it be a new Ice Age, overpopulation, markets rather than hierarchies, energy crises, food scares and epidemics. He shows, with a wealth of examples (not always well referenced - especially the statistics) that the human race, due to its unique in its ability to trade goods, services and ideas with people outside the family or other small group, will succeed in overcoming challenges - including global warming.

For someone who grew up under the threat of nuclear annihilation (I remember thinking, as an 18-year old, that there would be little point in getting an education because we were all going to die in an atomic blast anyway) this is another of those books (Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate, Dan Dennett's Consciousness Explained and David S. Landes' The Wealth and Poverty of Nations being others) that convincingly reinforces by trust in science, innovation and knowledge's worth and ability to create the future - a future we have not chance of extrapolating ourselves into.

Enjoyable - a simple premise, well argued and organized. Recommended.

View all my reviews



Tim Minchin’s Stormy dinner conversation

2011-04-08T11:57:23Z

This video by the rather hard-to-control Tim Minchin is so brilliant that I just have to have it grace my unworthy and insignificant corner of the blogosphere: And now I know where to point people who tells me I don't...

This video by the rather hard-to-control Tim Minchin is so brilliant that I just have to have it grace my unworthy and insignificant corner of the blogosphere:

title="YouTube video player" height="390" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/HhGuXCuDb1U" frameborder="0" width="640" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen">

And now I know where to point people who tells me I don't know everything...

(via Gunnar's excellent Norwegian blog). And here is a live, text-based version.




Close-hauled on a bowline

2011-04-03T11:10:15Z

...or something like that. The effects of reading Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin novels (which I bought about five years ago and have now read for the second time) is that of slowly sinking into another world altogether, a world where... ...or something like that. The effects of reading Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin novels (which I bought about five years ago and have now read for the second time) is that of slowly sinking into another world altogether, a world where communication may take months and even years, where a shipment may not even get out of harbor for want of wind, where bread has parasites (teaching one to learn to choose the lesser of two weevils) and meat has to be softened by towing it alongside the ship before it is even close to edible. Despite the success of the Master and Commander movie, these books are unlikely ever to be made into more movies or a TV series - for one thing, it would be prohibitively expensive, for another, much of the excitement and readability of the books lie in their historical accuracy, their wealth of detail, their quiet humor, and most of all in the wonderful language. I love the the descriptions of political intrigues, the reflections on medical and other science of the times as experienced by Stephen Maturin, and the intricate and confusing legal details of Jack Aubrey's fighting commons inclosure and other (usually unsuccessful) adventures. As the novels progress (and they are all good, by the way, no reduction in quality over time, in fact, they get better), you gradually learn to appreciate the main protagonists as people - initially cardboard figures, they gradually, through what they do and what they say, emerging as more complete personalities. Much more believable than Hornblower and Bush or Holmes and Watson, Aubrey and Maturin emerge as multifaceted and complex characters with personalities, flaws and qualities understood and appreciated not just by the reader, but by the vivid and rich set of characters met throughout the series. I thoroughly enjoyed these books the first time I read them, and they improve upon the second acquaintance. Above all, the language is a delight. Like Frans Bengtsson's incongruously titled The Long Ships (best enjoyed in its original Swedish version, Röde Orm) the novels are held in a language close to that of the times - close enough that I find my own English growing increasingly orotund with each page. Oh fie, O'Brian, for inciting me to top it the knob and engage in idle prating... Highly recommended! (Incidentally, should you decide to buy the series, make sure you buy the paperback versions from Norton, either individually or all at once, with the original paintings by Geoff Hunt. The boxed complete set from 2004 has, unfortunately, been scanned and then poorly copy-edited, introducing many irritating errors (or, rather, vexing imperfections.) And by all means, get the companion volume Sea of Words, which will explain bowlines and capstans and gratings and tompions and weather-gage and other essential terms.) [...]



Hiatus bloggiensis

2011-03-31T08:06:02Z

It has been rather quiet here lately - for three reasons: I find that Twittering is a quicker way to leave links to interesting pages. However, TweetsTwits (alas not) are ephemeral, also for me, and recently I glanced back at...

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

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

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

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