Distractions, reflections

David Ing, at large … Sometimes, my mind wanders

Fri. Nov. 18, 2005: Lecturing at the Polytechnic

Instead of the usual “English class” lecture, David speaks on “social software”.

(by David): Minna had asked if I could talk with her friend, Taina, who had opted out of Nokia in favour of teaching at Stadia, which is the Helsinki Polytechnic. Taina finished her Ph.D. at HUT, probably a year or two ago. Minna told me that the Stadia building was actually the original home of HUT. It’s on the Bulevardi, beside the shipyards and waterfront in central Helsinki. The institution started as a Polytechnic, became a Technical University, and then grew out of those buildings for new labs to be built in Otaniemi, which must have been a forest west of the city back then. (They must have put those bridges in, because there are two choices to cross that expanse of water).

As it happens, one of the few times that our schedules lined up was during a class, so Minna and I went over to speak to the class. When I walked in the classroom, this seemed like an IBM meeting — every student had a laptop, and their screens were up. (There was a uniformity to the HP machines which makes me think there’s sponsorship going on). Taina introduced us, Minna talked about knowledge management, and I talked about my experiences with Instant Messaging, wikis and blogs.

When Minna introduced herself, she said that she was a mechanical engineer, but she actually gave quite a managerial talk. I remarked that my degrees are in business, but I was going to be giving the technical talk!

The director of IBM Almaden Services Research, Jim Spohrer, was here about 3 weeks ago, giving talks on how IBM thinks that universities should be reoriented to teach classes in “Services Science, Management and Engineering“. Minna actually was leading a research project at HUT before she went to the New Jersey, and had thought that her research was 20 years behind. In fact, it’s proven to be six years ahead, as her content is much the same as the IBM message now.

The Finns have a knack for industry and universities to be working together in a way that we find foreign in North America. Minna and Taina are cooking up plans to have a services course in early short order — by the spring — and are working a plot that I might get involved. There’s a possibility that we might get the Finnish managers to request that I be involved somehow related to my day job, rather than the vacation time I’m currently on. This would be welcomed….

Thurs. Nov. 17, 2005: Lecturing, ma po tofu

David does the teaching thing, and cooks at Minna’s house

(by David): For some reason, I’ve been sleeping irregularly on this trip. I seem to wake up around 4:30 in the morning. This morning at 7 a.m., I had a Skype call with Simon, who is in L.A. It’s bad enough to have a 7 hour difference to Toronto, but with a 10-hour difference, one window of opportunity was the 7 a.m. call here on Thursday morning in Espoo, while it was moderately late on Wednesday night (9 p.m.) in L.A.

I had done slightly more prep for the “Innovation and Services” lecture of the Strategic Management of Technology and Innovation class than usual — I had a long list of articles for students to pre-read, and this material is a new direction for me. I had to prepare more Powerpoint slides than normal.

Even with slides, though, I really don’t work from a script. This lecture included stories about the car sharing co-ops in Toronto, the skills of taxi drivers in Beijing (for which Adam had to learn to say “Renmin Daxue”), and our plumber Alex as a knowledge worker (since I rely on him for his experience, and was chauffeuring him around while paying him that day, shopping for a toilet). I cringe at the thought of ever being quoted on these lectures, but I still record them to minidisc for transfer to MP3 files anyway, because the stories seem to get the academic ideas across. I’m usually cautioned that Finnish students are the strong, silent types, but they almost always speak up for me in class. (I always get remarks from other instructors, because the students almost always give me applause at the end of the lecture). This class also seemed to have quite a few Chinese students. Annaleena says that they have to fulfill a number of credits, and she teaches classes in English, so this subject is a likely target for foreign students. (English outweighs Finnish as a probable language for foreign students, even on campus)

Minna took me over to her house for the evening. We went grocery shopping — definitely not an abnormal event for me, and an opportunity to get a few unique Finnish products for people back home. Minna still has black beans from my last trip — I bought quite a few packages last time, they’re so cheap in Toronto — as well as soy sauce and oyster sauce, so the meal was ma po tofu, and beef and broccoli with eggplant. At the Big Apple mall in Espoo, there’s two major hypermarkets. I’d forgotten why I shop at one more frequently than the other, but this time bought the super-dense tofu that vegetarians likely use for steak. (The other store sells a brand with Chinese writing on it).

Fatigue is catching up with me. I asked Minna to take me back to the hotel after dinner, and falling asleep on the short 10 minute ride over.

Wed. Nov. 16, 2006: Advising, Indian dinner, trams

There are a few things that David can’t do over the Internet.

(by David): Although I really would prefer to be an introvert, it’s important for me to come to Finland to keep the ties strong. When I’m on the Internet, though, I begin to wonder if it really makes a difference.

I’ve spent most of the day searching out software packages for journals and memberships for the ISSS site. I think that I’ve found two candidates that will work out, and have requested they be installed to try out.

The faculty sometimes ask me to meet with a few students who are close to my profile, i.e. business people back doing their Ph.D.s. I’ve been a researcher for a while, and have published a few articles, so I know which way is up. This candidate came over to the hotel for morning’s conversation over a coffee, which extended into a 3.5 hour advising session. The Finns are getting their return on social capital invested, this trip.

Since I didn’t leave the hotel for all of the daylight hours, Annaleena and I went out to Namaskar, which is reputed as the best Indian restaurant in town. I would agree with that assessment. We ordered a meat thali and a vegetable thali, each with three little stews and side dishes, so we got a good sample of tastes.

Annaleena picked me up at the hotel with her car, and we parked near her apartment. We took the tram into the centre of town, because it’s hard to find parking there. I did the Finnish thing, and paid for the tram fare using my mobile phone. Create an SMS message, and send it to a phone number, and the return message gives an electronic ticket with an expiry time. Neat feature.

Tues. Nov. 15, 2006: Book before dissertation

David doesn’t behave like the normal Ph.D. student, which is acceptable in Finland.

(by David): I had to prepare for the dissertation seminar, which is mostly a coaching session for people who haven’t done extensive research in their careers. I have to say that I’ve found this a strong point in the training at HUT. This seemed to be something that was missing in my education when I was at UBC. Last year, I was sitting in a class taught by my friend Annaleena, where she stepped the master’s students through how to do library searches (e.g. the Web of Science database). Annaleena has said that the professors at HUT may not be the most dynamic speakers, but they’re good researchers. I would add that they’re generous with their time with Ph.D. students who are apprentices. This is despite the fact that in North America, where a professor supervising five students would be considered heavy, and Stanford chaired professors aim for one — Finnish professors may supervisor as many as 25 students. They’re really overworked, so I mostly try to stay out of their way.

That being said, I’m still a Ph.D. student here, and participate in the doctoral seminar. To be up front, I haven’t done that much writing on the dissertation since I was here in the spring, but I’m not going to hide behind that. One result of aligning my dissertation research on innovation with the research relevant to my day job is that I’m now making advances on book, to be co-authored with some friends at work. Thus, it’s become an interesting pitch at the university. I’ll probably get the book done and published before I finish the dissertation, which itself will be done sometime before I finish my course work. It’s certainly everything backwards from the normal student.

In my university role, I’ve come to prepare fewer slides, and find that writing on the blackboard works well with students for whom English isn’t the first language. It slows down my talk — I really work on speaking slowly, already — but for the dissertation seminar, I put together a lot of the slides that I used at the conference in Florida in September. I created three slides up front to explain the outline and direction of the book. The whole presentation deck was 35 slides.

At the dissertation seminar, I decided to only speak to 3 slides. I’m sure everyone was happier.

Sun. Nov. 13, 2005: A monastery with high speed Internet connections

David finds the Scandinavian surroundings a bit … quiet.

(by David): I’ve stayed at the Radisson SAS Espoo before, on an expense account trip to Finland. In 2003/2004, I stayed in Simo’s extra apartment. (No, it wasn’t for trysts. He was living across town, and it was a convenient place for kids to stay before and after school, for those odd weeks when they weren’t with their mother. A modern solution to a modern challenge). On the last few trips to Finland, it’s been now a habit to stay with Minna, and cook for her family. (Live-in chefs with master’s degrees are in rather short supply, anywhere). It’s too bad that Minna’s house was full up on the trip, but I’ve been running around so much recently that the quiet is a good thing.

The hotel is on the edge of the campus of the Helsinki University of Technology, so it’s only a 20-minute walk (practically east to west across the campus) to the Department of Industrial Engineering and Management. (The Finns refer to the “Tuotantotalouden osasto” as “Tuta”, which is supposedly a playful pun on childhood, Finnish). There’s small plaza with two small grocery stores, pharmacist, bank, etc., so it’s reasonable to live fairly normally here.

The airplane touched down in rain, yesterday, and it’s been steadily gray. With the sea near the front doorstep, I can’t remember days this gloomy in Vancouver. One of the professors asked me why I don’t come to Finland when the weather is better. That’s because the Finns are smart enough to enjoy the short summer when they can. Thus, classes when the weather isn’t great.

The hotel is nice enough, and I actually like the minimalist Scandinavian decor. Since I’m here by myself this time, though, I feel like I’m some sort of monastery. The hallways are quiet. I haven’t opted for pay tv, so it’s Finnish television. I get to watch last season’s O.C., Karate Kid 2 (the one in Okinawa), and other American shows with Finnish subtitles on the screen. I did get to see an episode of Six Feet Under that I hadn’t seen yet, which indicates that Canada is two seasons behind, when the Finns are only one behind.

The isolation is actually tolerable, because I’ve really had a chance to do a more thorough investigation of Internet radio. When I’m in the office in Toronto — even when I’m working in a client’s office — I’ll usually plug headphones into my Thinkpad and listen to JazzFM, which I normally play on the radio at home when I’m working. I hate fund-raising time, though, so in offices, I’ll sometimes switch to KCCK, which is a college radio station in Iowa. It reminds me of days when I used to live in Evanston and listen to WXRT — which use to play progressive rock (e.g. Peter Gabriel, as well as jazz (e.g. Pat Metheny). Subsequent trips to Chicago have disappointed me, because WXRT isn’t the station of old. It’s a sign of old age, I guess, because radio stations have to keep up with times, and as people get older, they seem to stop listening to new music (even by the favourite artists they listened to, between ages 20 and 30).

Despite the “radio” choices on RealPlayer and (shudder) Windows Media Player, I’ve found the selection of stations on Live365 to be quite broad. Unlike the kids, who download MP3 audio onto Winamp, I’ve found Live365 to be an ethical alternative, because they pay royalties to the musicians they play. I’m not yet a VIP member, so I’m still a free rider).

I’ve been listening quite a bit to Attention Span Radio, which has two stations — one that plays primarily jazz fusion, and then another that plays contemporary (post-bop) jazz. The variety is enough that I’ll end up doing searches on AllMusic to figure out who the artists are.

On this trip, though, I’ve been blown away by RvrJazz, which seems to be a radio station just slightly north of New York City. They claim to be modelled after WRVR — a station that I’ve never heard — in the 1980s. They play a lot of CDs that I actually own. There’s something about following Pat Metheny with cuts from Steely Dan. Even WXRT in the 1980s was never this close to my listening tastes.

But, because jazz fusion isn’t everything, I’ve also discovered Into the Mystic”, which is spun by a broadcaster in Columbus, Ohio. I probably ran into this station searching on Kate Bush or Rickie Lee Jones. Diana would like this station.

I listen on the extra Walkman headphones that I carry around in my knapsack, and then the tinny computer speakers when I’m not sitting at the desk. I’m beginning to wonder if I should be like the boys, and have speakers hooked up to my computer at home ….

Fri. Nov. 11, 2006: Missed the flight

David sees signals of overload in missing his flight to Helsinki via Frankfurt.

(by David): It looks like I’ve really maxed out on stress. My colleague in my day job said that I always look like I’m not under stress, but I guess I hide it better than most. I know when I’m tired, and try to watch out. On Thursday morning, when I drove into the office, I pulled into 3 parking spaces, before I decided to choose one. I got into the client office late — after making a stop at our downtown office to pick up printouts — and the remaining parking spaces were pretty tight. Since I was tired, I decided that I shouldn’t take any chances, and gave up on 3 parking spaces before I found a space that wasn’t so tight.

On Friday, in packing, I seemed to lose sense of time. I know that it usually takes 4 to 5 hours to pack for a trip of 2 weeks to Finland, if I don’t do any packing in advance. I got up late (having stayed up until 4 a.m. finishing up a report, and then puttered away at things that needed to be done: re-registering on the company’s medical plan (on the last day of registration), and checking in with DLH (since people in Finland will ask about him).

Diana picked up Mary — they were planning to go shopping out the direction of the airport, after dropping me off — and I was still packing. With a 5:15 p.m. flight, I had planned to leave around 2:30 p.m., knowing that if I left around 3:00 p.m., that I would probably still be okay. By 3:30 p.m., I was throwing things into the suitcase, and we were rushing to leave.

And … by 3:30 p.m., we were hitting rush hour traffic. I’ve been doing the trip to the airport almost every day for the past 8 weeks — the client office is right across the street from the airport — and Mary said that it was clear that I was taking all of the right side routes to get out of traffic — but it still took about 40 minutes to get airport. When I got to the Air Canada counter at about 4:30, the check-in clerk said that I was arriving about 20 minutes after the flight had closed, and that I would have to rebook.

I walked across to the ticket desk. In line, I phoned AmEx, and they said that the alternative flight at 7:15 to Frankfurt was full, so I might have to go the next day. When I got to the ticket counter, the check-in clerk was very nice, and said that I could get the last seat on the flight to Munich. I’ve taken that route before, so I said yes. She checked with some other reservation clerks, and put stickers on my tickets. Since I was booked on Air Canada for the whole trip — yes, the Germany-Finland legs are actually Lufthansa, but they’re Air Canada codeshares — she said that Air Canada usually charges for ticket changes, but that she wouldn’t charge me today. I thanked her profusely.

At the other end, Annaleena was scheduled to pick me up from the airport, but when I looked at my PDA, I hadn’t updated her phone number from when she was in Sweden. I phoned DLH, and asked if he could call Annaleena. At that point, since the time would have been past midnight in Finland, DLH said that he would phone Annaleena.

As soon as I got on the Toronto-Munich leg of the flight, I put on the eye shades, and went right to sleep. (The plane was full, so I was in upright seating). On the Munich-Helsinki leg, I tried to do some reading, but still fell asleep.

When I arrived at the Helsinki airport, Annaleena wasn’t there. I phoned her, and she said that she had come to pick me up for the original flight, but I wasn’t there. (Sorry). I took a taxi to the hotel, instead.

I’ve been definitely stressed out this past week. I know that DLH has been pretty stressed out recently, but I guess that I was so stressed that I forgot that, and he probably miscalculated the time zones to speak with Annaleena. These are signals that everyone is just too busy.

Postscript, adding injury to stress: As the flight was landing in Munich, the overhead door flew open, and someone’s laptop fell onto my lap. The top of my left thigh hurt initially, and then was okay. After sitting on the Munich-Frankfurt flight, my thigh started to hurt again, and I’ve been walking with a limp. It could have been worse … it could have hit a bone ….

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