Category Archives: MIT SDM

Semester nearly over

At this point, the semester is almost entirely over. While I still have one day of each class left, pretty much every assignment is done and turned in. Only have to finish up the principles assignment for System Architecture and that's mostly a matter of sitting down and throwing some together from the notes that I've got from the semester.

Overall, it's been a good semester. The workload ended up being a bit higher than I expected, but it was probably what I should have thought. I knew that System Architecture was going to be time-consuming, but it was still more so than I thought. Similarly, Project Management ended up requiring more time both for the homeworks and the project than I really expected from the outset.

Those along with working to get all of the Fedora 10 bits working on the OLPC meant that it was just a very busy semester. But, now it's actually the time when I get nearly two monhs to relax and “just” work. Well, and I also am hoping to try to get some progress underway for my thesis so that I don't have to do it all while juggling classes also. It should still be a good sort of break, though. And then, it's on to the spring semester. Which I still need to figure out what I'm going to take — suggestions welcome :-)

How much can be packed into a weekend?

Busy, busy weekend. One thing which helped to make it more doable is that I finally started feeling better on Thursday of this week. Two weeks is the longest I haven't felt while in a long time. I still have a little bit of a cough, but I'm no longer feeling run down and the cough is far less bad. But getting back to the weekend…

Friday was spent with quite a bit of work being done for school (although Fedora 10 was done, so not much there). Last opportunity set for system architecture is due on Wednesday, so we tried to make some headway on that. Then, I headed home and worked for a while longer. Eventually, Kara and I headed to dinner and then it was a pretty slow evening.

Yesterday morning, woke up to a very cold morning — was just over 20° F and windy. I bundled up and headed down to go out on the Quad ride. It was a cold morning, but there was still a healthy number of people all things considered. Most turned around from Concord Center, but I had one person to continue on with me to get in a good 3 hours of base miles. With the new gloves (Pearl Izumi amphibs), I was able to keep warm except for my toes.

After the ride, came home, grabbed some lunch and then got some work done. Then, headed to poker night with some SDM folks. I had a great time and it was good to see everyone who made it out. Need to be sure that we also arrange some sort of end of semester thing, perhaps for after the last System Architecture class in a couple of weeks. I suspect even more people can be convinced to go for that once there's not a lot of work waiting to be done. Kara and I headed out from there a bit early to meet up with some friends of ours for a bit. Finally headed home about midnight and crashed.

This morning, woke up again to the cold and went out for another healthy set of base miles. Only about ten people, although more continued on for more than 20 miles. Got in about 3 hours again and still only had problems with my feet. After the ride, headed down to MIT for some time in the MIT wind tunnel — one of the perks of being on the MIT team is that we get to have a little bit of time in the wind tunnel to see the impacts of position, etc. It was a pretty cool experience and we made some slight tweaks to my position to improve aerodynamics.

Now trying to catch up on some things to get a head start on the short week beginning tomorrow. Into the final stretch of the semester for real now. And then, I'm halfway done with SDM. Hard to believe — time flies when you're having fun.

The end of the semester comes early it seems

For some reason, the end of this semester seems to be coming early this time around. Although the end of classes isn't until the middle of December, it seems that pretty much everything is due before Thanksgiving. Which, coupled with trying to get Fedora 10 out the door is going to make the next few weeks a pile of pain.

So if the updates from me seem sparse, that's why. And then of course, to make things even more fun, I came down with something the end of last week which I haven't quite managed to completely shake. Although at this point, it might just be my usual congestion for this time of year.

Systems Thinking Conference

At the end of last week was the SDM Systems Thinking Conference, the new incarnation of what used to be the SDM alumni conference. As with last year's version, a number of alumni were present but there was also a wider range of people present. And comparing to one day of last year's conference, this year's definitely seemed better.

While most of the talks were generally good, there were a few that really stuck out.

Peter Senge's talk on how sustainability can improve profitability got things off to a really good start. He started out with a bit of an overview of his views on organizational learning, one of which is around understanding complexity. His major premise for the talk was that a lack of the systems thinking needed to understand complexity is the fundamental cause of basically all sustainability problems. A couple of things that he said really jumped out at me. One of the biggest was when he asked what the purpose of a business was — most of the audience responded with “make money” or “profit”. But the thing is that profit isn't the purpose of the business… “profit for a company is like oxygen for a person; yes, you need it but you don't exist to breathe”. A second thing that really resonated was that to really improve sustainability, you need to make the shift from trying to be “less bad” to thinking about being “really good”. And it's really true in many/most areas (see Arjan's discussion of five-second Linux boot for a similar case)

He also had a number of cases illustrating his ideas which were pretty compelling. And he also used system dynamics a few times to make his point which was a nice touch :)

Oli de Weck teaches the System Project Management course but his talk on applying Darwinian principles to System Design ended up being an interesting and somewhat divergent talk from the areas we discuss in class. The most important take-away is that changeability is something which, while considered, is not considered enough when designing a system. Per the quote from Darwin, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is more adaptable to change”. And when you start looking into it, this is just as true with systems as is it is with the evolution of species. Thus, there are changes need from some of the more “traditional” systems engineering which presumes that all of these sorts of things are set in stone. Instead, he proposes something called strategic engineering to help deal with the uncertainty which is actually present for most projects. This lets you pick along the axes of robustness and rigidity to help get better outcomes.

The final speaker on the second day of the conference was Dharmesh Shah speaking on applying agile software techniques to startups. The material being presented was good. But even better was the actual presentation of the material. Dharmesh clearly has a lot of passion for what he was talking about and he manages to pull off the blend of humor and information very well. Also, even though he had slides, I was glad that his slides were very sparse and very much not the bulk of the talk.

The other talks were pretty interesting too. There was a talk from Paul Murray at Herman Miller (yes, the Aeron people) about how they've made it a goal to reduce their environmental impact and what they've done and what impacts that has had. Valerie Casey from IDEO also spoke on sustainability and was giving an overview of the Designer's Accord is looking to accomplish. There was a talk that was better than I expected about how eClinicalWorks has managed to get a significant penetration into physician offices with their software by using very non-traditional methods for selling software. And there was a talk from a Microsoft guy about their Software+Services pitch, but this was very abstract and without any real details other than the impression that Microsoft is going to be very seriously going after the Cloud.

All in all, quite good. Plus, there was free food (always a plus) and a lot of cool people to hang around and talk with.

Some attempt at catching up

As has probably been obvious, things have been a bit busy for me of late. For some reason, my classes this semester have seemed to be quite a bit more work than either of the spring or summer. I'm not sure how much of that is psychological and how much of it is real. But the nice thing is that after this semester, I'll only have a couple of required courses left and can pick and choose some interesting electives without having to worry much about conflicts with required courses.

This week is the business trip for this semester and it's good to have (mostly) everyone around on campus. And it's also nice to have lots of meals provided :) Unlike the prior business trips, in some ways, this one is fairly sparsely populated. On the other hand, that's likely due to the fact that it's also the week of what used to be the alumni conference and is now the Systems Thinking Conference. In any case, Monday didn't have much going on out of the ordinary although I spent the day on campus instead of my usual day in Westford. Yesterday we had a lunch and then in the evening was the final information session for the year for those interested in applying for SDM. I again helped out by mingling with some of the prospective students to answer questions and then being on the panel as well. One of the really interesting things to me about being on the panel and answering questions is the differences in questions between groups of prospective students; while there are some common themes, each night seems to have its own sort of theme or direction. Also, it's fairly obvious that some people come in and are comfortable asking a bunch of questions in front of a group while others are not so comfortable. But even those who don't ask questions during the panel tend to have them in the smaller mingling around time. What that says, I'm not entirely sure.

Today was the SDM Open House for students that have been accepted to start in January of 2009. So lunch was spent trying to talk with a few of them and helping to answer any lingering questions they had about the program as well as making sure that they have the appropriate level of respect for January and the amount of time that it requires. This afternoon, I had intended to spend some time trying to get at least some of the basics of the OLPC power management code merged into a Fedora kernel, but I instead ended up spending it spread between email and finishing up my project management homework. And there's enough meat on the subject of project management and some of the tools from the class for another post at another time, so I'll leave that out there for now

This evening was a “networking event”, organized by Yoav. As has been the norm there was a pretty good turn-out of SDM08s, the usual cadre of SDM07s and with the alumni conference, some alumni and also some of the SDM09s. Always good to just get a chance to hang out with people and talk about annoyances and good things with classes.

Notable quote of the evening from a discussion that Linda and I were having with Yoav: “there's the class for entrepreneurship and the one for innovation” with regards to the Sloan business law class. But given that they're very overlapping (~60% of the content is probably the same), it's less bad than it sounds. The differences seem to mostly be what the guest speakers are focusing on as opposed to anything more fundamental with regards to the material.

Tomorrow and Friday are the conference and I'm going to make an effort to try to attend a fair bit of it while also trying to get some groundwork laid to do some testing in the evenings/over the weekend.

Catching up

About this time last week, I came to the realization that I had a ton of pending work to get done. Luckily, I'm now starting to feel more like I'm on track and not behind. But it was less than fun, so I'm definitely going to try to be better about staying on top of things, especially the system architecture “opportunity sets” for the rest of the semester. Otherwise, classes are going good. Given the amount of time getting sucked up, I decided to not actually be a listener for the Software Systems Engineering course, which is too bad. But this way, I should have some time to just to a few more random talks around MIT. Which is probably going to be more interesting and helpful.

On other fronts, the Fedora on OLPC and Sugar on Fedora efforts are picking up steam a bit. Hopefully we'll have some more useful milestones for both in the next week or so. But due to work there, I haven't had much time to spend on getting a SIG for other smaller form factor machines (including netbooks, the XO and more) underway. Luckily, Peter Robinson has volunteered on fedora-devel-list to help get this off the ground, so hopefully we can get that going to.

Never a dull day…

MIT Racing Skills Clinic

One thing that I've told myself I'm going to try to take more advantage of than I did in the spring is some of the other things that MIT has to offer. This includes trying to make a point of going to some random lectures on random topics (… that seem interesting) but also doing some riding with the MIT cycling club/team. I went on a few of the Intercollegiate Ice Cream rides over the summer and the people seemed nice enough. So I went to the first meeting of the semester on Monday and decided that I am going to do some collegiate racing for MIT in the spring. I figure that a) it's a good chance to get some more riding in b) a good chance to meet some more people from different parts of MIT than I usually interact with as an SDM-er and c) the MIT racing team is good. Very very good. As in, nationals champion good.

Anyway, the first skills clinic of the year was held yesterday so I went down for it. Not a lot of mileage put in, but a good workout. And lots of good work. The MIT team is coached by Nicole Freedman and it's pretty obvious even after one skills clinic that one thing that has helped the team succeed is a good coach. The first skills clinic was a lot of fun — some things to help focus on relaxing (somewhat ironic, yes), some skills drills and then some “getting comfortable riding really really close to someone”. The latter culminated in a fun game of Death Bike. Yes, Death Bike is as much fun as it sounds and I'll have to be sure not to miss the first skills clinic next year so that I can do it again ;-) Looking forward to the future clinics as I think they'll be very helpful to me in getting to be a better rider and racer.

Today brought rain and quite a bit of it, so I didn't get out for a ride and have instead spent the day working either on stuff for work or on stuff for school. While I would have liked to have gotten a ride in, at least I can be glad that I was productive and thus feel better if I take some time for a ride on a day with better weather :-)

One week of classes and then a little

One week of classes is now complete so I figure it's about time to put up my first impressions of what I'm taking.

The first sort of general impression is that after a pretty busy summer semester I'm not really ready for things to be picking back up for the fall yet. I realized on Thursday that I've been a bit lax ingetting together groups for classes this semester and this also put off starting on some assignments. The first of which are all due this week. But got that under control and have spent some time this weekend to get back on track and will hopefully be done doing so with some concerted effort today. As for the specific classes I'm taking three for credit – two of the required and core classes for the SDM program and one elective

The first of the required classes is Systems Program Management. The course, as with a number of the ESD courses is taught by a few faculty members. Overall it looks like it should be okay and the professors definitely seem to be good. My one complaint thus far is that there is a non trivial amount of repeating, albeit at a less in-depth level, of the materials presented in System Dynamics. If it is seen as important enough to be covered either the course should be required or the sequencing adjusted a bit so that the intro material gets covered in SPM and then the SD class could spend more time on deeper aspects of the material.

The second of the required classes I'm taking is System Architecture. Crawley seems a bit less antagonistic than in January, at least thus far. And an attempt is being made to help make this more relevant to software — we'll see how it goes.

The elective I'm taking is the Sloan Business Law course (15.616). I'm actually enjoying this quite a bit and think that it's going to be a very useful course. We're starting out with a bit of whirldwind tour through some of the basics of tort law, some regulation and criminal law, and contracts. Then, a vast majority of the rest of the course is taken up by guest lectures from practicing experts in a variety of legal fields. The readings have thus far been relevant and a reasonable length. And the professor is also very engaged and clearly wants to help drive some understanding of the material.

In addition to those three, I'm intending to be a listener (MIT-speak for auditing) for the new Software Systems Engineering course which is being run as a trial this fall. The big picture overview of the class made it seem like there's an attempt being made to bring in a lot of the big system-specific pieces for the software world. It should at the very least be interesting to give some feedback on the various pieces and hopefully help make the SDM program a bit better for software people in future years.

Classes begin, great weekend follows

Classes started back up on Thursdsay. This semester is likely going to be pretty busy. I'm taking three classes and probably being a listener for another. I'm definitely going to be taking System Project Management and the second part of System Architecture. These are both SDM core classes and so I figure I should go ahead and take them this fall as this will leave me a lot more flexibility for next fall. And although there has been plenty of complaining about System Architecture in the past from some notable people, some changes are being made to the course to help keep it more relevant, eg, for software and so I'm keeping an open mind. The other class I'm signed up for is the Sloan Business Law course — after a day, it looks like this should be a good overview of all things law-y and a number of interesting guest lectures. Personally, I might have preferred a little bit more on intellectural property than the syllabus shows, but at the same time, I'm a bit of an edge case there :-)

The class that I'm likely going to be a listener for is the trial run of Software Systems Engineering. One of the required classes in the SDM program has been a Systems Engineering course and there continues to be a (pretty significant) struggle in how to make that work for software people. And in fact, I was not a big fan of the class at all over the summer (perhaps and understatement). As part of the curriculum revamp currently in progress, the option of a Software Systems Engineering class instead of the “normal” one is being provided and it's being run for the first time this fall. Since I don't really need the credit but still think that feedback on the course is important, I'm thinking about being a listener for it. But, TBD for real after the class meets for the first time tomorrow.

Then, ended up having a great weekend. Friday after class, I met up with Kara so that we could look for her a new bike. She has a hybrid, which, while nice enough, is difficult to go longer distances on and she's been getting out on the weekends and riding. So, we looked and ended up finding a nice bike at a nice price at Quad. Then, we ended up having dinner at home, watching some tv and generally relaxing.

Saturday morning, woke up to go riding and the weather looked less than ideal. So, got some more sleep and woke up to the sun shining. But so it goes. Ended up taking an easy day with some more errand running. Then, headed over to Yoav's birthday party at which a fun time was had. Lots of cool people, interesting conversation, good food and everything else that makes for a good party. Thanks to Yoav and his wife for having us.

Sunday morning, woke up and the sun was shining and so headed out on a ride. Ended up going to the Hills of Haavvaahhhddd, which was actually a very nice ride. Ended up with about 60 miles at a little over 19 which seemed pretty good given both the wind and the hills. I do want to try to get in another time at Wells Ave before Jamestown, but if it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen. Then, it was over to and 's place for games, food and fun.

So, all in all, a good week and weekend.

End of summer

Or at least, the end of summer classes. Today was the last day of System Dynamics and thus, the end of my summer classes. Looking back, I'm glad that I didn't decide to take three classes over the summer as two was plenty of work. Hopefully between the feedback that's been given about Systems Engineering as well as the addition of a Software Systems Engineering course option (which I'm planning to audit in the fall), some of the problems present in that class will be less problematic in the future. I know that people have complained quite a bit about ERBA in the past, but seriously, ERBA was a much better class.

System Dynamics, on the other hand, really should be a required course for all SDM students. Not necessarily because I think that everyone will use it on a regular basis, but because it provides a very solid foundation on thinking about causes and effects within a system. The exposure has me definitely looking at things with a slightly different light. That said, I think that a lot of the actual modeling is more complicated than you're going to usually have time to do and a lot of actually simulating the models requires either tons of research to get quantitative data or making up numbers. A cool thing that I learned about yesterday is that one of the GSoC projects is actually working on an activity for the OLPC that lets you do System Dynamics modeling. This is very cool and I actually want to sit down and play with it some in the next week or two.

Some other (related) things that I've noticed over the course of the semester that are/were kind of interesting…

  • Not having some form of repository to store things and share them really makes collaboration a lot harder.

  • Vensim (the modeling software we used for System Dynamics; worked under wine fwiw) could really stand to have some form of built-in source control. Although merging changes with the silly file format might be less than fun
  • Google Docs really does work well for working on a document among a group of people. I want to play with the AbiCollab stuff now and see how well it works too. The downside is that to get it to work in a general environment, have to get people to install something. Google Docs just requires them to use their web browser. This is big
  • PowerPoint (etc) slides are a terrible way to try to convey any significant amount of information. Our society is substantially worse off for its existence

After class, I headed out on this week's MIT/Harvard ICIC ride. We headed to Jamaica Plain to visit the original JP Licks. Along the way, took a trip through the Arboretum in JP, and got a nice view of the Boston skyline.
View from the top of the hill at the Arboretum in JP
Was a nice little ride, although I was regretting not bringing the nice light and the clear lenses as it was getting dark by the time we made it back to Cambridge. But I had them in my bag for the ride home at least. I guess it's getting to where I'll be using them more. And I definitely need to go through and replace the batteries in all of my smaller lights as most of them are starting to get a little dim.