Saying no to IoT

I did not think I would ever do it – refuse some new sensors around me. Generally I’m all for that, and I will gladly augment my body with IoT devices when the technology is mature enough. And now this offer from Stockholm university arrives: my little boy has been selected to participate in a research study that tracks brain wave patterns through an electroencephalogram. Check it out:

Most probably the researcher who composed the letter does not have own kids. Because to me this picture looks as if it has been taken directly from a horror movie, and I would never let my little Paul participate in such an experiment, even if I know that the small metal discs with electrodes placed on the scalp only read and send the signals. This is still too much for a mother. This is how my heart reacts – we are programmed to defend our kids in every situation. And of course I see the value of such experiments and that researchers in linguistics do need a representative population of small kids to make experiments on. But then at least ask a marketing person to present it to parents in a selling way, especially when using Stockholm University branding. 

Slow Science

Did it ever happen to you that you cannot see the forest for the trees? I could see it so clearly right after vacation. And this time of year we are busy finalizing the targets for this year and at the same time setting the strategy for the next year. And technological progress is constantly accelerating, researchers are supposed to deliver new results in a high pace, publish more papers, submit more project applications and produce more PhD students. 
Quality of research education can be assessed with respect to different expected outcomes of it – the quality of the produced PhD thesis, the quality of the main product of PhD education, i.e. the independent researcher, and the ability of this independent researcher to drive science and well-being forward by collaboration and innovation. Studies [123] state that several factors impact PhD thesis quality in a negative way. Governments require universities to increase the quantity (in terms of completed PhDs and articles), which results in situations when persons not suitable for PhD education are being recruited. In combination with difficulty of termination of PhD thesis work it results in situation when supervisor puts major effort in the student’s PhD thesis just to get it done.  Additionally, with increased number of students per supervisor and a time limit for producing a PhD thesis, there is a decrease of thesis quality. In other words, when academic research tries to move with a pace of technological progress, there is a negative effect on the quality. 
What about decreasing the pace and letting scientific results emerge at their own pace? Slowness has got a lot of attention recently. Slow cooking, Slow gardeningSlow readingSlow educationSlow parentingSlow designSlow cinema, and Slow photography are examles of so-called Slow Movement that has been coined as opposed to increasing speed of technological progress. And the concept of Slow science is based on the belief that science should be a slow, steady, methodical process, and that scientists should not be expected to provide quick fixes to society’s problems. Slow science supports curiosity-driven scientific research and opposes performance targets [4].
And even though I can see values in Slowness, it is not my thing. I have never liked longer hikes, meditation and power walks. Long-distance running is OK only within a race, and long-distance xc-skiing is OK only in a hilly terrain. But in some cases one needs to go slow and I was lucky that 18 years ago my PhD supervisor did not let me have these quick ego-kicks that i was craving. We had to give it time, let the work mature and only publish it in the best forums. Sometimes we need time to find the right thing, and sometimes there’s love at the first sight and no time to lose. 

Facebook Inc., how could you…

Hello, it’s been a while since I wrote something here. Vacation, and not like my thoughts ever stopped spinning but I just could not get them out in written form. Now I’m back home where me and my laptop can get some private time.

So Instagram (Facebook Inc.) comes out with this new feature of photos/videos that disappear within 24 hours. As in Snapchat, that is. Paul’s immediate reaction: why would I ever want to post something that disappears? This is a natural reaction of a perfectionist. Every photo or video that he produces is a small piece of art which only ends up on social media if Paul thinks it’s beautiful or at least interesting enough. Why would he want it to be erased. I am not a perfectionist. I love quick and dirty, good enough and low-hanging fruits. And my purpose of posting something on social media is to share an immediate thought or sight. It is some kind of therapy of putting it down and sharing, like in this blog. And as I do it in quick and dirty manner my posts do not necessarily end up future-proof.

In other words, I do see value in disappearing media, as many others on Snapchat. And naturally Instagram needed to fill the gap and implemented it. The small feature is just a piece of software and cannot be protected by patents. Still, lots of debates took place. “How could they just copy something that Snapchat has been developing for so long!”, they said in Swedish media. No, I do not think they have been developing it for so long. I do not think they’ve been brainstorming for months to come up with the feature. Somebody just came up with it, built a community and got the feature copied into another community – it’s evolution. 

Pocket Money

Some time ago we agreed with Elin (8) and Alexander (7) that they would receive pocket money from us every week. Surely a good thing to teach the kids to keep track of the money, plan, count, save. The only problem is that we never have cash. The kids will soon get their bank accounts with automatic transfers but they won’t be able to log in to the bank themselves to manage their accounts and hence to see the transaction history and the balance. Instead, they will have to manually keep track of the transactions, either by writing them down on paper, or, more likely, by using a dedicated app for that purpose, such as “veckopengen”. It’s amazing to see how quickly apps fulfilling some new purpose are being created. Cash was king just recently, and now it’s not any more accepted in many places in Sweden, such and cafés and busses. Swish is used everywhere, from hotdog stands on a street to online stores. Some people say that the barrier of spending virtual money compared to physical is lower. For me it has always been the opposite – as soon as cash leaves my bank account and ends up in my pocket it’s gone.

Digitalization, Digitization and Resistance

The buzz-words have been around for a while, and now it’s a fashion to use them everywhere. People don’t even bother to check the right wording. In the example from Twitter below, Ana is using error correction when citing Ann’s slide.

Here are two definitions from Gartner’s IT Glossary:

  • Digitalization is the use of digital technologies to change a business model and provide new revenue and value-producing opportunities; it is the process of moving to a digital business.
  • Digitization is the process of changing from analog to digital form.
Obviously, it’s not so difficult to notice the change from analog to digital, so the slide above does not make sense. But enough of being word police. We all know that digitalization is a good thing. However there are industries that resist digitalisation even though it would have been easy to implement. One example is champagne industry. There is so much pride in having human riddlers coming thought the cellar every day and turning each bottle 1/8th of a turn. In my eyes it is a perfect task for automation. Another example is music industry. In 2015 Gibson released a new lineup of electric guitars that came with a bunch of really cool features. At least according to me and Paul. The coolest feature is their G-FORCE™ – an automatic tuning system that came on most of their 2015 models. This new lineup turned out an economic failure for Gibson. Musicians like trying new things but cherish classical features, and the new lineup received tones of negative reactions. The new automated tuning system was claimed to be inaccurate, the guitars dropped in price and the new features were removed in 2016 lineup. Paul was however happy about the 2015 guitars being on sale and got himself two… And in fact, according to his and other musicians’ measurements, the automated tuning system seems to work perfectly.


Half of todays jobs won’t exist in 2025. Job market will be more dynamic thanks to IoT, digitalisation and increased automation. Exciting times, even though some people seem to find it scary:

I am a big fan of automation as it enables reassignment of human effort to more creative tasks. Machines however become increasingly intelligent and creative as well – now they can write music, books, poems and scientific articles. As my kids grow older and I help them navigate their educational efforts, I cannot stop wondering about the highest-impact educational path in the changing job landscape. High-quality original content such as music, books and artwork has always been highly valued. Delivery methods, however, change radically. As guys from Markscheider Kunst said, “everything in this world changes, apart from musicians’ desire to create new albums”. One has however to be very talented to devote his/her life to creation of original content. “At some point in life I realised that I didn’t have talent, but I had good taste, and good taste could also be sold”, – a phrase from one of my favourite comedies, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which I like a lot. Those who have good taste wrt original content and learn how to sell it, have good chances not to be disrupted by industrial transformation.

Then there are of course other human needs that will not go anywhere, such as food, health, housing and communication. The end-product will always maintain its value for the consumers, but creation and delivery methods are changing. Science and technology around life-cycle management, all the way from creation to decommissioning, will constantly evolve. Those who love technology should navigate wisely, look out for novel developments and combinations of those, and make sure to become experts  in more than one area – so-called T-shaped, or π-shaped engineers – to increase the chances of staying relevant. And with the increasing digitalisation of industries and propagation of IoT and machine intelligence into safety-critical applications such as health and transportation, the consequences of being hacked reach the new level, making safety and security a safe bet when choosing one of the legs of you T- or π-shape.

Handwriting and Creativity

My daughter Elin writes every minute of her free time – she loves to create and tell her stories. I never enjoyed writing stories – most of my school essays were written by my grandmother, and I hated to write introductions to my scientific papers. Elin produces tens of pages per day and sometimes needs a bandage for her fingers that hurt from so much writing. It’s not only the storytelling she enjoys but also the handwriting. Handwriting is not part of Swedish school plan but some schools still let those who want to play around with it. Elin is one of those who likes handwriting and she has also learnt Russian handwriting as it’s still mandatory according to Russian school system. And again, comparing myself to her I realise quite some difference – I never enjoyed handwriting and as soon as computers were around I became faster at typing (not because I am fast at typing though…). Some sources claim correlation of fine motor skills with cognitive abilities. However, I fail finding proofs that development of fine motor skills can lead to higher IQ. And if it did, there are many other activities that develop fine motor skills, such as painting, playing an instrument or playing computer games. In other words, I support the choice of Swedish school system. Still, we need techniques to capture thoughts. For an 8 year old child handwriting seems to be the most efficient. Elin is not good at typing yet, and honestly, typing does not seem to be a sustainable input method. To digitize the texts for her blog, Elin uses speech recognition software. It should be possible to eliminate the intermediary step of creating the analog version but she has not tried that yet. And again, handwriting itself seems to be an integral part of the creative process so maybe i should not strive to increased automation in this particular case.

It’s easier for us, geeks, to capture thoughts. “You ask me if I keep a notebook to record my great ideas. I’ve only ever had one.” Albert Einstein.

We’re being manipulated and we enjoy it

I did laugh at the below YouTube video last year when Apple released their new Macbook without ports – an “overpriced netbook”. And yesterday I ordered one of those. The idea of pushing business forward through eliminating old technology appeals to me. Indeed, who wants cables when we can use wireless transfer of data and video/audio signals. And I can’t say that my workplaces are so modern that I could control any of the screens wirelessly, but we’re getting there, and in the meanwhile one can use adaptors. “You may think that you want an adaptor, but actually you don’t”, said a good friend of ours, Tomas Sjöblom, and he was so right. 

It does not take long to change people’s behaviour. Couple of years ago it became illegal to smoke inside bars and restaurants in Sweden, and smoking outside is quite often uncomfortable due to the Swedish weather. As a result of this inconvenience I barely see any smokers any more. Similarly, making it slightly more difficult to use old technology, companies like Apple can easily steer us away from cables, file systems, locally stored files, and bought content, towards wireless, cloud and rented content.

Selling a Friend

Selling a Friend is a tough decision. I fell in love with this bike already in 2009 when I took my motorcycle driver’s licence. And in 2010 I picked a color and ordered one, shiny and new, directly from a BMW factory in Germany. And it didn’t matter that motorcycle season in Sweden is very short, that we spend almost all of it abroad, and that at that time I had two very small kids. I just wanted to own it. And ownership came with a couple of drawbacks, the worst one being that bad feeling of owning something that is being used way too little. I regularly screen my home for things being used too little and get rid of those. Decision of getting rid of a bike is different – it has that emotional component. 

I went through a similar emotional process when getting rid of the car some years ago. We chose to transform ourselves gradually together with the industry. First we outsourced changing of the car tires. Then we got rid of the storage space in our basement and outsourced it to a tire storage company. After that we outsourced all boring shopping to companies such as Mathem, got rid of the garage space and sold the car. Now, if we feel like going by car, we use Car2Go, DriveNow, Uber and taxis for short-range travels, car pooling for mid-range travels, and rental cars for long-range travels. But I should say that public transportation is gradually becoming more convenient, personalized and cool. The question is what kind of service you are after – the driving experience, transportation from A to B, or a specific mission being accomplished. In the latter case, transportation-related services may not need to be involved at all.

We’re becoming more servitized – in the era of Internet of Things one does not need to own things that lose value. There is a lot of value to grab and share between people and industries due to economies of scale, and there are big advantages from sustainability perspective. But I should say that we still keep a picture of one of our cars in a frame…

What’s a DVD?

What’s a DVD? We still remember, our kids don’t. They use TLA’s (three-letter acronyms) to sound right/cool. Like my 8-year-old Elin using term “MMS” in her blog just because she heard me say “SMS”, when we actually both mean just “message”. We got rid of our DVDs six years ago. I still remember this Facebook post i did in 2010, where Alexander lined up our DVDs on the floor, and a colleague of mine, Tayo @ekskog, asked me: “wotsa dvd?”

And I felt – indeed, why do I have this old technology in my home? We’re trying to claim ourselves to be early adopters and we should also be early-to-get-rid-of-old-tech. And we still had those DVD:s at home, so embarrassing. So we copied the movies to our network drive and got rid of the disks. And we did the same with all our CD:s and most of our books. They say educated people are supposed to have lots of books at home (and nowadays one can actually buy them by meter, sorted by color, to match the other decor). We do have lots of books – on the network drive and on my Storytel bookshelf.
Today we attended a dance show of Lasse Kuhlers dance school where Elin took part in. The show was recorded and everyone was offered to buy a DVD for 220 SEK. Well, a recording would be nice to have but what do I do with a DVD? How much money did they make on that? 440 SEK probably? What if, instead, they let anyone who Swished them 40 SEK to access a link with the file? About 500 people in the audience, half of them would go for it, and instantly they would have 10000 SEK in their pocket without a need to spend time on burning any DVDs. And a lot of happy people watching the video at home and booking more dance classes for their kids. 
All that said, apparently there’s something special about physical media. Last year Paul bought a vinyl record, and I can say – it was not cheap.