New York invaded by pixels

Tomor­row is midsummer’s eve, or sol­stice, the biggest hol­i­day in Swe­den next to Christ­mas. Feels like every­one is log­ging out early today, at least men­tally, think­ing more about gar­den par­ties and danc­ing around the mid­sum­mer pole to the sound of fid­dles than about work.

A link to this video arrived in my mail. It reminds me of the “demos” that was cir­cu­lated among game shar­ers back in the 1980’s when I hacked assem­bler on my old C64. My own efforts didn’t result in any mem­o­rable mas­ter­pieces, although I was very proud when I had man­aged to write my own mov­ing “3D” starfield a la shoot’em ups of the time.

What we see here is, I think, some­thing that could be thought of as a descen­dant of the “demo” genre. An ani­mated video show­ing how New York gets invaded by pix­els. Space invaders ships come alive bomb the streets, alive video game sprites play pong against brick walls, a gigan­tic game of tetris is played among the sky­scrap­ers which are elim­i­nated piece by piece. Bril­liant, sim­ply brilliant.

Method for collecting leaking oil at Deepwater Horizon

How can the oil leak from the well below the col­lapsed Deep­wa­ter Hori­zon plat­form be stopped?

Despite all efforts BP has so far failed to stop the leak, which may now be up to 100000 bar­rels per day, a dis­as­ter of unpreceded pro­por­tions. An attempt to place a steel cone on top of the well failed. Cur­rently BP claims to have capac­ity to col­lect 28000 bar­rels per day.

I and uni­ver­sal indus­trial prob­lem solver/inventor Björn Sjö­gren, senior research engi­neer at MEFOS, spent some time by my office white­board today con­tem­plat­ing this problem.

Our sketches seen in the col­lage below shows our pro­posal. Feel free to use our image – cre­ative com­mons CC BY-ND licence applies.

Method to col­lect from leak­ing deep sea oil well. Pic­ture: Joakim Storck/CC BY-ND. Click to view larger version.

A 300m diam­e­ter and 300m tall col­lec­tor cylin­der of durable can­vas is attached to a metal ring and low­ered until it rests on the sea bot­tom enclos­ing the well. The metal ring should be heavy, made for exam­ple of linked rail­way beams, but could be attached to the sea bot­tom if con­sid­ered necessary.

A 10m diam­e­ter can­vas hose with an attached metal cone is low­ered into the cylinder.

The top of the enclos­ing cylin­der is then tight­ened until it fits around the hose and cone. The oil can then be floated through the hose to the sur­face where it is col­lected by wait­ing ships.

The can­vas should be rein­forced to cope with the weight and loads but can be quite sparesly woven. It may be prefer­able to use dou­ble lay­ers in order to pro­tect against larger leaks in case of damage.

Sounds sim­ple or unre­al­is­tic? Nei­ther. It’s a for­mi­da­ble project, but no more unre­al­is­tic than plac­ing for exam­ple a metal cone on top of the well. We think this could work and offer our approach to those in charge at BP and to the US government.

Swedish Production Symposium 2011

The 4th Swedish Pro­duc­tion Sym­po­sium will be held in Lund on May 3 to 5 2011.

Abstract sub­mis­sion is from August 1 to Sep­tem­ber 20 (Update: extended dead­line Sep­tem­ber 27), and the date for full paper sub­mis­sion is Jan­u­ary 15.

I’ll try to be there, although I know already that I’ll be short on time to get a paper ready.

Con­fer­ence web site: http://www.sps11.se

Amazing royal Swedish wedding

Royal wedding in Stockholm on June 19 2010. Photo: Michael Cavén/CC BY. Click to view on Flickr.

Royal wed­ding in Stock­holm on June 19 2010. Photo: Michael Cavén/CC BY. Click to view on Flickr.

The wed­ding [SvD, SvD, DN] between Swedish Crown Princess Vic­to­ria and Prince Daniel (Daniel West­ling) is com­pletely off topic for this blog. But here are some com­ments anyway.

Like so many other Swedes who live out­side of Stock­holm, I spent much of Sat­ur­day fol­low­ing the wed­ding and cel­e­bra­tions from the TV in my liv­ing room.

Although in favour of the cur­rent Swedish monar­chy, I don’t nor­mally spend much atten­tion on the where­abouts of the royal fam­ily. How­ever, yesterday’s wed­ding was formidable.

Enor­mous crowds filled the streets of Stock­holm, and despite reg­u­lar whin­ings in the media by some Swedish repub­li­cans it was more evi­dent than ever that the Swedes love their roy­al­ties. Swedish TV SVT fol­lowed the wed­ding as it con­tin­ued inside the royal cas­tle. Sim­i­lar pic­tures have rarely if ever been shown to the pub­lic before. In other words inter­est­ing in itself for that reason.

I was amazed by the talk­ing skills of Prince Daniel and his father Olle West­ling. Swedish king Carl XVI Gus­tav has always been known for his rel­a­tively poor rhetor­i­cal skills.

Much mate­r­ial includ­ing video is avail­able on SVT’s web­site.

Technological and service innovation

I feel that I should make a note about yes­ter­days post where I dis­cussed the impor­tance of tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tion for industry.

Com­mer­cial­iz­able inno­va­tion is of course not lim­ited to tech­nol­ogy. Tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tion is often an enabler for ser­vice inno­va­tion. New tech­nol­ogy trans­form the soci­ety in terms of infra­struc­ture and the way we inter­act with each other — new kinds of ser­vices are invented.

Nev­er­the­less, my opin­ion is that tech­nol­ogy is the most impor­tant kind of inno­va­tion since it is as said above an enabler for fur­ther ser­vice ori­ented innovation.

Of course, tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tion is not lim­ited to the con­sumer side. New man­u­fac­tur­ing tech­nolo­gies and mate­ri­als pro­cess­ing tech­nolo­gies improve the pro­duc­tiv­ity and energy effi­ciency of indus­tries thereby improv­ing our stan­dard of living.

Successful firms do not require brilliant business models

Read­ing the ini­tial chap­ters of David Teece’s “Dynamic capa­bil­i­ties and strate­gic man­age­ment”, I can’t help get­ting the feel­ing that the author has got some­thing slightly wrong. I know my cred­i­bil­ity in case weighs lightly against the words of the dis­tin­guished pro­fes­sor Teece, but let me explain what I feel is wrong with his reasoning.

First, I must state that I agree in prin­ci­ple with the dynamic capa­bil­ity view which assumes that firms com­pete through “select­ing and devel­op­ing tech­nolo­gies and busi­ness mod­els that build com­pet­i­tive advan­tage through assem­bling and orches­trat­ing difficult-to-replicate assets, thereby shap­ing com­pe­ti­tion itself”.

Busi­ness mod­els do not come first…

My main issue with this book so far is its view of how busi­ness and inno­va­tion emerge. Teece seems to assume that a busi­ness model must come first, and that a solid busi­ness model is a pre­req­ui­site for any suc­cess­ful busi­ness. I would argue that this is not the case. Many busi­nesses suc­ceed with­out an explicit busi­ness model, although those with poor (explicit or implicit) busi­ness mod­els may even­tu­ally fail. Yet, a mediocre or even a hope­less busi­ness model (accord­ing to the exper­tise) will some­times turn out to be highly suc­cess­ful because of supe­rior oper­a­tional capa­bil­i­ties and fol­low through.

Evi­dence from Swe­den shows that most com­pa­nies are started by crafts­men and –women; peo­ple who know their trade and decide to make it on their own. In most cases inno­va­tion is based on tech­ni­cal capa­bil­i­ties and an entre­pre­neur­ial mind­set. On the con­trary, it turns out that uni­ver­sity edu­ca­tion does not sport increased entre­pre­neur­ship. Rather iron­i­cally, the con­trary seems to be the case.

Teece claims that “the func­tion of a busi­ness model is to ‘artic­u­late’ the value propo­si­tion, select the appro­pri­ate tech­nolo­gies and fea­tures, iden­tify tar­geted mar­ket seg­ments, define the struc­ture of the value chain, and esti­mate the cost struc­ture and profit poten­tial.” If this descrip­tion of the inno­va­tion process was cor­rect, it would likely have yielded an oppo­site sit­u­a­tion com­pared to what we observe in real­ity: namely that peo­ple with uni­ver­sity degrees would be more entre­pre­neur­ial than oth­ers because of their supe­rior ana­lyt­i­cal skills. In prac­tice this is not so.

…tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tion does

My own view is that tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tion comes first, and that, in most cases, busi­ness mod­els are after con­structs that are used mainly as evi­dence to con­vince inter­nal or exter­nal investors. In this respect for­mu­la­tion of an explicit busi­ness model is both use­ful and valu­able. It can also be use­ful to hone oper­a­tions in the ini­tial phases. But in prac­tice, much indus­trial inno­va­tion even in large firms take place as “skunk works” where indi­vid­ual engi­neers and/or depart­ments use their skills and imag­i­na­tion to develop prod­ucts that they think are use­ful or merely inter­est­ing. If the result is com­mer­cially viable the new tech­nol­ogy or prod­uct may become offi­cially endorsed by firm man­age­ment. The result is “emer­gent strat­egy”, which plays an immensely impor­tant role in the real world.

Judg­ing from my first impres­sions, I find it unlikely that many real indus­trial man­agers or entre­pre­neurs that I know of will read this book. Most are already fully occu­pied with turn­ing their ideas into busi­ness or improv­ing their exist­ing oper­a­tions as best as they can, and have lit­tle time to con­tem­plate their “value propo­si­tion”. Also, I believe that the style and lan­guage of this book is too com­plex. Despite that I nor­mally read Eng­lish next to flu­ently, and that I have a PhD rel­e­vant to the topic, I fre­quently find myself forced to re-read sec­tions sev­eral times before I fully com­pre­hend their mean­ing. Nor­mally this rarely hap­pens even when I read sci­en­tific arti­cles on the subject.

(A gen­er­ally accepted prej­u­dice about Swedes is that we over esti­mate our pro­fi­ciency in Eng­lish. Maybe you as native Eng­lish speak­ing find read­ing this book to be a breeze?)

That said, I still find the book inter­est­ing and will keep read­ing. Who knows, per­haps these com­ments based on my first impres­sions will prove to be hastened?

Study environment reflects university work environment

I had an inter­est­ing dis­cus­sion today regard­ing why so many engi­neer­ing stu­dents fail to fin­ish their uni­ver­sity degrees.

The dis­cus­sion boiled down to the insight that a fre­quent mis­take that we do in acad­e­mia is to put to much of the blame on the stu­dents them­selves. True, every uni­ver­sity stu­dent is and should be respon­si­ble of his/her own results. But could it be that we who are involved in edu­ca­tion tend to dis­re­gard our own short­com­ings when it comes to organ­i­sa­tion, lead­er­ship, renew­ing our ideas, and ped­a­gogy, and instead focus on what’s wrong with the students?

In our efforts of edu­ca­tion qual­ity improve­ment, I believe two things are needed:

  • “Intel­li­gence” in the sense of ask­ing why (for­mer) stu­dents quit or why cur­rent stu­dents per­form below expec­ta­tions. We must go beyond sim­ple ques­tion­naires and talk to our clients (stu­dents) in per­son. In this way we can find imme­di­ate causes, of which some may be pos­si­ble to elim­i­nate once we are aware of the problems.
  • Inter­nal lead­er­ship with a focus on improv­ing the work envi­ron­ment of teach­ers, researchers and pro­fes­sors at our depart­ments. We must realise that our inter­nal prob­lems will sur­face and affect the study envi­ron­ment neg­a­tively, although stu­dents may be unable to assign direct causes and explain why things are bad.

Of these two points, the sec­ond is most impor­tant because it builds our long term capa­bil­i­ties to pro­duce great research and education.

One of my ideas regard­ing what makes up a good study envi­ron­ments is that I believe that our stu­dents must feel that there is a pur­pose with what they do. If they don’t, they will under­per­form and may even quit in advance.

But how are we as lec­tur­ers and pro­fes­sors sup­posed to con­vey a sense of pur­pose if we don’t believe it or feel it our­selves? We who teach or do research must feel that there is a sense of pur­pose in what we do. If not, our capac­ity to pro­duce great research and edu­ca­tion will erode.

Stu­dents’ per­cep­tion of a bed study envi­ron­ment can be real but still lack direct observ­able causes of why things are bad. In that case, ask­ing for errors does not help. Instead we must realise that our best way to improve the study envi­ron­ment and in the long term stu­dents’ results is by our own organ­i­sa­tional self improvement.

FLAKY countries">European crisis, cont’d — the FLAKY countries

Fears of a rein­forced Euro­pean cri­sis are still lurk­ing around despite polit­i­cal agree­ment on a huge finan­cial sup­port pro­gramme. First, con­cerns regarded the “Club Med”, includ­ing Por­tu­gal, Italy, Greece and Spain, wit­tily abbre­vi­ated PIGS.

Then there was Ireland.

Adjust­ment was needed, and famous econ­o­mist Paul Krug­man came to help. Com­par­ing the economies of a num­ber of coun­tries on his blog, he says “As you can see, I’ve iden­ti­fied the GIP­SIs — the Club Med plus Ire­land coun­tries that are fac­ing seri­ous ques­tions about sol­vency.” Hence, PIGS was recast into GIPSI.

Now there are con­cerns regard­ing Hun­gary.

Of course, I’m will­ing to help in this impor­tant issue, that is, find­ing words for the sit­u­a­tion using abbreviations.

We have Hugary, Italy, Spain, Por­tu­gal, Ire­land and Greece. Are you flu­ent in Swedish? Then you already got it… HISPIG. This rougly trans­lates to FLAKY in Eng­lish. So these are the FLAKY coun­tries. Other syn­onyms in Swedish are “vim­sig, tokig, fånig, knäpp, knasig, orolig, nervös”, and Eng­lish equiv­a­lents would be “whim­si­cal, crazy, goofy, weird, anx­ious, nervous”.

Look­ing at the huge dif­fer­ence between Greece and Swe­den in terms of com­pet­i­tive­ness as defined by the World Eco­nomic Forum (WEF), it this abbre­vi­a­tion makes some sense. Named economies could be argued to be flaky, whim­si­cal, crazy, goofy, crazy, weird, and they make the mar­kets anx­ious and nervous.

Fun with stereographic projections

Up until now I nei­ther took the time nor felt the need to really dig deep and under­stand stere­o­graphic pro­jec­tions. How­ever, I’m now enter­ing a research project where I must be rea­son­ably com­fort­able with inter­pret­ing stere­o­graphic pro­jec­tions of crys­tal­lo­graphic planes and directions.

"Green Eiffel" small planet projection. Photo: Alexandre  Duret-Lutz/CC BY-NC-SA. Click to view on Flickr.

Green Eif­fel” small planet pro­jec­tion. Photo: Alexan­dre Duret-Lutz/CC BY-NC-SA. Click to view on Flickr.

Take a look at this beau­ti­ful stere­o­graphic pro­jec­tion of a 360x180 degree panoramic from the Eif­fel tower. In pho­tog­ra­phy, stere­o­graphic pro­jec­tions with the light source posi­tioned at the zenith pro­duces an effect called “lit­tle planet”. Look­ing at this pic­ture it’s easy to see why.

The pho­tog­ra­pher has prob­a­bly been stand­ing in the mid­dle of the foun­tain. He has then taken pho­tos in all direc­tions, includ­ing ground and sky, and stitched the pic­tures together with spe­cial­ized soft­ware. The result is a vir­tual sphere, which is then pro­jected on a vir­tual plane located just below ground level. All was done with a reg­u­lar hand­held DSLR cam­era and free software.

You can read more at the photographer’s Flickr site (Wee plan­ets, Green Eif­fel) includ­ing a tuto­r­ial and lots of more lit­tle plan­ets. More still are found here: 100 Lit­tle Plan­ets.

Note that when you look care­fully, you can see that every detail of the scenery is fairly well pre­served. It is char­ac­ter­is­tic for stere­o­graphic pro­jec­tions that they pre­serve angles, but dis­tort dis­tances and areas. Things located at the cen­tre appear enlarged, while things at the hori­zon appear diminished.

Could it be pos­si­ble to under­stand crys­tal­lo­graphic pro­jec­tions as read­ily as you can under­stand and appre­ci­ate this small planet? What I’d really love to do is to develop a sense of “see­ing” the mean­ing of a pro­jec­tion with­out first hav­ing to men­tally trans­form the image. To say the least, this mean­ing is not imme­di­ately obvi­ous to me when I look at for exam­ple the stere­o­graphic pro­jec­tion of planes in a dia­mond lat­tice seen below.

Crystallographic pole figure for the diamond lattice in <111> direction. Picture: Wikipedia/CC BY-SA. Click to view on Wikipedia.

Crys­tal­lo­graphic pole fig­ure for the dia­mond lat­tice in <111> direc­tion. Pic­ture: Wikipedia/CC BY-SA. Click to view original.

I def­i­nitely have some way left to go before I relate as intu­itively to this pic­ture as to the Eif­fel tower “planet” above.

New laboratory discovers ancient nephew

Last week saw the inau­gu­ra­tion of a new lab­o­ra­tory at my work­place Dalarna Uni­ver­sity (Högskolan Dalarna). I wouldn’t have had any­thing to do with the prepa­ra­tions if it wasn’t for an old cast iron sign from the 19th cen­tury Falun Min­ing School (Fahlu Bergsskola).

Cast iron sign from the 19th century Falun mining school.

Cast iron sign from the 19th cen­tury Falun min­ing school.

The Falun Min­ing School was the first mod­ern engi­neer­ing edu­ca­tion in Swe­den. Its found­ing doc­u­ment was signed by king Karl XIV Johan on the 31’st of Decem­ber 1819. This year was ever since con­sid­ered to be the year of foun­da­tion although the first class of stu­dents didn’t arrive until 1822.

The orig­i­nal Falun min­ing school was active dur­ing 46 years, until 1868 when it moved to Stock­holm to become one of the found­ing pil­lars in the new Tech­ni­cal insti­tute, now known as KTH. Since then the old min­ing edu­ca­tion has gone through many changes, but stu­dents at the Mate­ri­als design pro­gramme at KTH still today trace their her­itage back to the Falun min­ing school. The stu­dent union branch of the mate­ri­als design pro­gramme stu­dents is even still using the old logo­type from the Falun min­ings school with two crossed torches, a ham­mer and a shin­ing star.

The cast iron sign with this same logo­type, seen in the photo above, is now dec­o­rat­ing the entrance to the new metal form­ing lab­o­ra­tory at Högskolan Dalarna. This sign was donated to Högskolan Dalarna by the fam­ily of the late KTH met­al­lurgy pro­fes­sor Sven Eke­torp who saved it dur­ing con­struc­tion works in the 1960’s.

Today, Högskolan Dalarna has its main cam­pus in Falun, but all engi­neer­ing edu­ca­tion and research is located in Bor­länge a mere 20 minute drive west­wards from Falun. What’s more, since a few years back part of the mate­ri­als design pro­gramme has been trans­ferred back from KTH in Stock­holm to Bor­länge. Thus, in a way the cir­cle has closed.

My part in this was that I took care that the sign was put up by the lab­o­ra­tory entrance just in time for its inau­gu­ra­tion last week on May 27.

The premises and first lab­o­ra­tory of the old Falun min­ing school orig­i­nally belonged to the Swedish chemist Johan Got­tlieb Gahn, who was active in Falun in the 18’th cen­tury, where he among other things was the first to dis­cover man­ganese in metal­lic form. Remem­ber how Sauron forged his pow­ers into the Master–ring? Couldn’t it be that Gahn’s pow­ers were cast into the same iron sign that is now pro­tect­ing our lab­o­ra­tory at Högskolan Dalarna? Surely that must have been the case? You know it, I know it… Yes, the sign is soo pre­ciousss… and we have it! Just don’t tell anyone!