Category Archives: MIT SDM

Stress, sickness, productivity

The summer semester has been a bit stressful so far — supply chain taking six to nine hours a week just for class has left me with little time to think or breathe, but luckily that ends next week.  As a result, I think my body decided it had had enough and didn’t really fight off whatever the summer flu going around is.  So to add to the busy factor, I was pretty worn down and sick for a few days this week.

Today, I finally started feeling back to myself and got a lot of productive stuff done. Finally caught up with a lot of bug stuff, got around to updating the machine that I host everything on past Fedora 9 (!), and even sat down tonight to wrap the handlebars on my CAAD9 with new bar tape. Hadn’t done a bar wrapping job before and I think that it came out okay. There are definitely places it could be better and I learned a few things as I went to use next time, but it seems like it’ll work just fine. And as an added bonus, I’m now fairly comfortable that I can do it myself and not have to always get it done at the bike shop.

Looking forward to getting out tomorrow for a ride — I only commuted one day this week and other than that, it’s been a week since I’ve been on the bike. Longer than I’d choose usually, but I also know when not to push with getting back on the bike to avoid staying sicker longer.

Night at the Boston Pops

One of the SDM 09s sent out a note to everyone mentioning that MIT was putting on a small conference to celebrate the forty years since Apollo 11 landed on the moon. The closing little event was a concert put on by the Boston Pops performing Holst’s The Planets with a narration by Buzz Aldrin. It seemed like the sort of opportunity not to be passed up, so I got tickets for Kara and I.

We showed up at Symphony Hall and I was expecting a program that would basically just be all of The Planets. So I was quite surprised and pleased to look at the actual program. As I mentioned to Kara leaving, it really appealed to my geek-ness on a few levels: music geek, space geek and sci-fi geek. The selections were the following.

  • Also sprach Zarathustra — what a great way to start off a concert. It does a really good job of pulling everyone in
  • Blue Danube Waltz — continuing on the 2001 theme :)
  • Selections from The Planets (notably Mars, Venus, Uranus and Jupiter). This was accompanied by a short little film and the narration by Buzz Aldrin. Very very well done. The little films were neat and provided a good backdrop to the music.
  • Theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind — now we really get into the “Pops” part I guess. I really need to get to one of the Pops concerts with John Williams actually conducting.
  • Premiere of a short film to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the moon landing that was commissioned by MIT and accompanied by a John Williams piece I didn’t know. The little film was cool and hopefully will end up online somewhere.
  • Theme from the original Star Trek followed by the music used for the closing credits of the new movie. This was a nice touch as the original series went off the air just before the Apollo 11 mission and the new movie is right at forty years later. And apparently, Keith Lockhart was (also) a big fan of the new movie.
  • Theme from Star Wars. A piece which needed no introduction.
  • And what was the last thing in the program, in fine Boston Pops tradition, a sing-along. In this case, various moon-themed or moon-based songs. Always fun, impressive how many of the things chosen weren’t well known. I didn’t know half of them.
  • Not in the program was a performance of John Lennon’s Imagine accompanied by the Boston Children’s Choir. This was a good touch and would have been a perfectly good way to end the concert
  • But they finished off with the Stars and Stripes Forever. Which was also a good way to end the night

As always after going to things like this, I had the thought I should do things like this more often. It was a great performance and we had a great time. There’s a reason why the Boston Pops are as world-reknowned as they are — they put on a great show and appear to have fun in doing so.

Spring Semester Wrap-up

My original intent was to do a post for each course from the spring, but since summer classes have now started, I don’t see that happening. So I’ll try to do a quicker post with all of them. I ended up taking 3 classes for credit in the spring and one as a listener. Unlike previously, most of these weren’t with my original SDM cohort — only one was a required class and it was one that many people took last spring. I did get to meet and work with some of the SDM 09s, though. I also had a Sloan course and a Kennedy School course.

System Optimization

One of the required courses in the SDM curriculum (although actually it might be one of the options with the new curricula), on the covers this sounded like an interesting course. Unfortunately, it ended up being largely about using Excel and its built-in Solver to do what boil down to linear programming problems. Certainly important for certain fields and positions, but not so much for me. Luckily, it was just half a semester :-)

Organizing for Innovative Product Development

The second half of the semester, I took Tom Allen’s course on organizing for innovative product development (15.980). The class was organized basically as a discussion around some slides and research that Dr Allen has done in his lengthy time with Sloan. It was a fun class overall with some interesting insights about how organizations can be set up to succeed both in terms of the hierarchy, hiring process, etc as well as things like focusing your usage of space.

One of the really cool things in the course was Gunter Henn’s discussion of how he used some of the work he had done with Dr Allen in building a BMW design center in Germany. The big idea being that you want everyone to be somewhat focused on the same things and so the center of the building is all glass windows and looking down on an area where prototypes of the vehicles are built. It also tends to lead to congregation of people around the vehicle when trying to work through an issue.

The downside is that some of the findings here are hard to apply — while it’s true that communication happens best in sort of flat (physical) structures and when you’re close by, how do you do that when you’re in an already existing building with a structure that you can’t change? Another question, at least to me, is how to apply some of it in the highly disconnected area of open source development. Clearly one of the takeaways is that conferences where people get face time are still very, very important. Something to think about as we change the structure of FUDcons and FADs.

Evolution to Web 3.0 and the emergence of Management 3.0

How’s that for a buzzword worthy title? The course was taught by Professor Stuart Madnick as a Sloan course and this was the first time it was taught. My primary reason for taking it was to get some exposure to the more “typical” MBAs from a technical background. I was also somewhat interested to see what was being proposed as “Web 3.0″. It turns out that the main thing being proposed was the move towards the Semantic Web. Even after the course, I’m a bit skeptical :-)

Overall, though, the course was interesting. I switched to listener (audit) status, but still did most of the readings/work/etc. The first half to two thirds of the course I think actually could make a very compelling course if the content were fleshed out a bit more — in it, we covered a lot of sort of emerging trends in the web / online services. The biggest problem, perhaps, was the fact that a few of us within the class had a much deeper knowledge of the area than the professor and we didn’t really get into the interesting bits.

As we got into the last third of the course, we switched to talking almost exclusively about semantic web technologies. And this is where things got pretty weird as we started to get deeper into details of XML and RDF schema. The lack of consistency in the level of technical depth had to have been frustrating for some of the class, although some of us took it in stride.

All that said, I’m still glad I took it as a listener. Good to see what other people are thinking about in that sort of area. Also, met some cool people some of whom are going on to do cool things as they after graduation. And I was able to wave the “open standards are important” flag a few times.

Game Theory at HKS

I covered this more in-depth already, so no need to repeat myself

Semester Wrap-up: Game Theory at HKS

My game theory class at HKS wrapped up with a final exam a little more than a week ago after a two week reading period. Taking a class at HKS was pretty different from an MIT class.

For one thing, it was a fairly different set of people. While all the SDM students have an engineering background and even a fair number of Sloanies come from some sort of quasi-technical background, very very few of the people at HKS seem to have that sort of background. So they tended to approach problems a little bit differently and think about things from a different angle. This policy angle also really started to become apparent in the presentations that we had to deliver at the end of the course — many of the games proposed were based around political conflicts or things of that sort. Very different from what you’d get in an MIT class!

Overall, the class was quite good. The professor knew what she was talking about and did a good job of keeping the class moving along in most cases. The examples were a pretty wide mix drawn from a variety of different cases rather than just being based in one subject area. There were four problem sets over the course of the semester and they did a good job of preparing me for the final. Compared to an MIT game theory class, I suspect there was a bit less of the math details behind the theory but with what I was looking to get out of it, that was perfect.

So I enjoyed the experience and the course and am glad I took it. As far as applicability, a good chunk of why I took it is that I’ve done some reading on game theory in the past and so wanted to learn a bit more about it. I don’t think I’ll be sitting down and drawing out game trees for things, but it’s a nice framework to simply sit down and think about how people might respond. And most importantly, I had fun in the class.

Trying to get rolling on my thesis

Now that I’m over halfway through the SDM program, it’s definitely time for me to get beyond just thinking about thesis topics and actually hunting for a thesis advisor and doing some serious background reading. And thus I finally had a meeting today to get that going. And now I have a new pile of papers to hunt for, sit down and read through. It seems like the general idea is somewhat solid, though which is nice. The worry you always have is that what you’ve been thinking about is something where all the work has already been done. It certainly doesn’t look like that’s the case, so now onto the next set of reading for it.

Semester is barreling along

Three weeks in and the semester is certainly barreling along at full speed. At this point, I think I’ve had enough sessions of each class to be able to have an actual opinion about them.

System Optimization – this is one of the required SDM courses and I’m actually finding that it really isn’t that interesting for me. It’s all about solving linear programming problems, but doing so using the built-in Solver functionality of Excel or various add-ons. While I guess that using Excel is fine for simple cases and therefore a lot of what people hit and want to do, to me, it’s just kind of annoying. I’m tempted to pull out the numerical methods book from my book case and write my own solver for the next problem set :-) Especially as Excel (/OpenOffice.org Calc) annoy me a bit. It’s only a half semester course, though, so I’ll just go through it and get the bits and pieces needed done.

Evolution to Web 3.0 – this is a new Sloan course and is turning out to be pretty good. A lot of the discussion in the class shows that there are definitely a lot of people who have passionate interest around what’s going on on the web for today and tomorrow, which I think is increasingly important. There is (thus far at least) something of a lack of discussion of some of the hard questions around ownership and privacy, but I’m hopeful that we can have some harder discussions around those as the semester progresses. While it meets for three hours (once a week), I’m finding that the time passes pretty quickly which is always good. The only real downside is that some of the examples that we’re starting with are older, but the discussion tends to drive towards more current happenings. I am pretty skeptical of the Web 3.0 label, though — I think a more accurate description of the course would be something around Emerging Business and Technology Trends on the Web instead of trying to bracket it with a buzzword.

My final course is Game Theory Applied to Strategic Decision Making at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. This has been a fun class — the crowd is different than both the SDM cohort or your typical Sloanie and so some of the discussions go in very different ways. Also, there are some group assignments and I’m taking advantage of the opportunity to network with some KSG people. The professor is also very animated and clearly enjoys talking about the subject. Keeping my trend, the one thing I’d personally change about the course would be to make it a little bit more mathematically rigorous — but I’m pretty sure that’s my bias showing through again and I intentionally didn’t try to do a super-mathematically rigorous game theory course.

So yeah, things are moving along. I’m even at this point caught up with what needs to be done and hopefully can stay slightly ahead from here on out. I’ve also started to have some discussions so that I can get going on my thesis and have it finished by the end of the year. I feel pretty comfortable right now with the timing for getting that done.

Spring classes continued

I had the first session of my second (of three) classes today. The class is Evolution to Web 3.0 an the Impact on Business 3.0. While the title is somewhat chuckle worthy it actually seems like it should be a good class. It’s at least as much focused on the evolution to where we are today with web technologies and their impact on business and business processes in addition to the question of how you make money in such businesses. Then again, it’s a new class, so I guess in some ways, everything is subject to change based on how things progress over the course of the semester. There’s definitely going to be a very large component of discussion and participation in class, which is (usually) a good thing.

As a Sloan class instead of an SDM or ESD class, there’s definitely a different mix of people but that was one of my goals with the class. The mix is interesting though – I’d say about two thirds have a software-y background, most of the rest have an IT background and then there are a non-trivial number who just thought it sounded interesting or are trying to move to be in the software/computing space. The latter group may in some ways have the most interesting thoughts just because they’re not spoiled from being so deep in things.

Tomorrow, I get to have the first session of my other class for the first half of the semester, System Optimization. It’s supposed to not be bad, both being sort of interesting and fun and also not being huge amounts of work. Hopefully, that holds up :)

Spring classes

The spring semester for me started today since I’m taking a class at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.  The class that I’m taking is Game Theory with Applications to Strategic Decision Making.  I’ve had an interest in game theory for quite a while, just because it’s kind of neat things to think about.  And I’ve heard good things about the KSG course, so figured it would be good.  As an added bonus, it fits in pretty well with my schedule for the semester, although I have an easier time getting to Harvard since I usually bike.

Anyway, first day of class was today and it was fun.  It looks like the general structure of the class is doing readings, having some discussion, playing through a game to show some of the strategy and then looking back at it.  An added bonus for today’s class was a clip from The Princess Bride — the part where Vizzini and Wesley have their battle of the wits.  Which, really, if both parties were playing by the same rules (which they weren’t) is a case that you really end up wanting a random strategy.

More almost certainly to come from the class over the course of the semester, and if you end up at one of the game nights which we occasionally hold, please excuse me while I over-analyze them.

Rumours of my death are (largely) unfounded

The rumours of my death are largely unfounded.  I’ve just been either busy working or trying to relax while not on a computer since this is as much of a “break” as I get.

I have, though, done various updates to twitter and identi.ca if you have some obsessive need to know what I’ve been doing.  It hasn’t been that exciting, though.  Basically boils down to the following relatively short list

  • Went cross-country skiing a couple of times.  With the very wintry weather we’ve had thus far this winter, it’s been something good to be able to get outside and do as it hasn’t exactly been ideal biking weather
  • FUDCon F11 was held in Cambridge at MIT.  Since it was in E51 and I knew where things were, I spent a fair bit of time running around.  I had some good conversations, but didn’t give any presentations and didn’t really get any hacking done with the hackfest
  • The SDM 09s have started and I helped some with their first design challenge.  Was fun to watch and they seem a good bunch
  • Have been trying to read a fair bit and so made good progress on my book backlog.  Still hoping to finish that before classes start back up
  • Some poking and prodding in the hopes of getting Fedora 11 alpha out the door in a semi-decent shape
  • More work on the new initramfs tooling, although it’s making slower progress than I’d really like
  • Getting extra sleep

Winter cycling, NC cycling and a year-end wrap-up

Some people think that the winter is a significant off-season for cyclists especially in New England with the snow and cold. But that's about as far from the truth as you can get as it's important to keep up aerobic fitness during the winter in preparation for the hard efforts of spring and summer. I try to get outside as frequently as I can but this winter I'm forcing myself to get on the trainer sometimes as well if the weather is really bad out (like, for example, today when we're getting like eight inches of snow).

In those cases, I'm realizing that NetFlix is a very good thing and especially the instant watch functionality coupled with a TiVo. Some movies are better than others for riding to and I don't yet have it down to a science. But action movies seem pretty good generally – today's selection was The Fugitive which was a pretty good choice.

Another thing that's helpful is going somewhere warmer for a week. We spent last week at my parents' house in western NC and I took my bike along. Unfortunately there weren't enough great weather days but there were one or two. And I noticed a few things while there and riding

  • While maybe not significantly more vertical gain on a given ride, you are more often going up or down as there is signicosmtlu less flat present
  • Everything is further apart distance wise even if car place to place times aren't significantly different than around here.
  • A dog chasing you can make you ride very fast :)
  • My base training plan seems to at least be somewhat working. I went out with the A group of hickory velo club on Saturday and had no problems keeping ip through the hills and fast straights even though I haven't ridden hard or fast in two months now
  • Defeet is based in western NC and I rode with the founders of the company; very nice and cool people. Shane – thanks for letting me suck your wheel much of the ride :)
  • Not many cyclists on the roads in Hickory but cars give a much wider berth; they fully go into the other lane instead of eying to see how little space they can give you

As far as overall cycling for the year, I didn't do nearly as good of a job of tracking as I did last year and I also had some frustration with my Garmin Edge 305 dying until I found the trick to stop it from doing so, but it looks like I did about 2500 miles on my Redline 9-2-5 and 3500 or so miles on my Merlin. Given how busy the year was, getting 6000 miles is a pretty big accomplishment in my view.

Anyway that's what I've got for today. I'm off until next Monday and then back to work and also going to be helping out with the initiation rites for the SDM 09s :). Classes don't start back until the first of February although I'm going to do a couple of IAP offerings I think. And I still owe a fall semester wrap up post soon. But for now, Happy New Years and if you make resolutions, best of luck with them.