Wikipedia’s tenets

Flying back home yesterday I read this article about Wikipedia in the New York Times: Wikipedia, What Does Judith Newman Have to Do to Get a Page? –

The three tenets of Wikipedia articles are “No Original Research,” “Neutral Point of View” and “Verifiability” — terms that, in and of themselves, are open to debate. At any rate, Mr. Wales wanted to make real the words of Charles Van Doren, one of the editors of the Encylopedia Brittanica, who wrote in an essay in 1962: “Because the world is radically new, the ideal encyclopedia should be radical, too. It should stop being safe — in politics, in philosophy, in science.” (He was also at the center of the quiz-show scandal in the late 1950s. It’s in Wikipedia; look it up.)

It seems that there have been a number of good articles about Wikipedia recently which prompted me to write this. For example a few months ago, again in the NYT, magazine there was Jimmy Wales is not an internet billionaire.” 

Anyway the present article is interesting to me because I had not previously seen the ‘tenets’ spelled out that way:

  1. Neutral POV
  2. No Original Research
  3. Verifiability

 In fact the only one I was aware of was “Neutral POV”. 

I hesitate to mention this (and why will be clear in a second) but there are three wikipedia articles that mention me: Pito Salas, Lotus Improv and Pivot Table.

Let’s be honest, being mentioned in Wikipedia at all is an honor and good for my personal brand/reputation. I don’t want to mess with that. Because of that I don’t know who wrote them and haven’t really paid attention to them over the years. And as I write that sentence, I think to myself, “Wait. I vaguely remember fixing a typo or a date in one of them years and years ago; is it safe to make a claim that I didn’t touch them? Will I be punished? So I remove the statement that I never touched them.”

And I now look at the articles and notice that the Pito Salas article has gotten shorter, and the other two have some inaccuracies that I know for sure because they involve my own first hand experience. But still I hesitate to correct them.

That’s why the New York Times article I started with speaks to me. I don’t really understand or try to predict how the wikipedia community judges entreies. I am proud to be mentioned even with minor inaccuracies. I think if I try to correct the inaccuracies I might call attention to the entries and lose them altogether. Even writing this post feels a little bit risky…

Design Thinking vs. Lean Startup


Solving Problems for Real World, Using Design –

While the projects had wildly different end products, they both had a similar starting point: focusing on how to ease people’s lives. And that is a central lesson at the school, which is pushing students to rethink the boundaries for many industries.

A fascinating article about the “Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford” also known as the D.School.

 Everyone knows that Design Thinking is great and the new hotness. I love great design, and am in awe of it when I see it or have it pointed out to me. Furthermore, I am blown away by Ideo, which is the famous industrial design company founded by David Kelly (what a mustache!), who is one of the founders of the D.School.

“The school challenges students to create, tinker and relentlessly test possible solutions on their users — and to repeat that cycle as many times as it takes — until they come up with solutions that people will actually use.”

… “That is how Mr. Kothari, a mechanical engineering graduate student, started his ramen project. He spent hours at local ramen shops watching and talking to patrons as they inevitably spilled broth and noodles. Together with a group of other students, he built a prototype for a fat straw that would let patrons have their ramen and drink it, too”

(from the same article) 

This is the same philosophy taught at Olin College where I teach. At Olin we call it UOCD or User Oriented Collaborative Design. In fact at Olin there are numerous interesting courses that come at Design from many different perspectives.


Now the courses that I myself have taught have been based on so-called Lean Startup and I use the excellent book by Eric Ries called The Lean Startup. The Lean Startup process receommends: 

“The Lean Startup provides a scientific approach to creating and managing startups and get a desired product to customers’ hands faster. The Lean Startup method teaches you how to drive a startup-how to steer, when to turn, and when to persevere-and grow a business with maximum acceleration. It is a principled approach to new product development.” (from The Lean Startup)

As I was reading the New York Times column about the D.School, I wondered if the two approaches are different or the same, in conflict, or just two ways of saying the same thing.And as I am writing this long post, I still am not sure. The easy answer is they are two sides of the same coin. The provocative answer is that two highly acclaimed approaches are 180% opposite to each other.

Gripping story of restaurant

Who knew that a story about behind-the-scenes of a big restaurant could be gripping, but this one is. I guess it’s a combination of a fascinating operation with outstanding writing. Check it out.

22 Hours in Balthazar –

Produce comes in, too — 50-pound cases of russets from Idaho stacked head high and six deep; spinach, asparagus, celery, mushrooms, tomatoes — as do dry goods, dairy and some 500 pounds of insanely expensive peanut oil for the French fries. The restaurant employs six stewards to deal with deliveries and storage alone; they weigh goods and check them against invoices, putting everything in its proper place, keeping the Health Department happy. At a typical restaurant, as much as one-third of the overhead goes to food costs, and so efficiency is an imperative. “Monday, you’ll see,” Kelvin Arias, the head steward, tells me, “all the walk-ins will be empty.”


Fantastic Billy Joel Interview

If you are, or ever were, a Billy Joel Fan you will really like this interview. Fascinating to read what seem to be the reasonably honest thoughts and feelings of a Rock Star!

Billy Joel on Not Working and Not Giving Up Drinking –

So he doesn’t write anymore, not pop songs anyway. Instead he goes about his relatively ordinary life in plain sight in a cedar shake house in the middle of Sag Harbor village. He has a few of his vintage motorcycles in the garage, and his boat slip is within walking distance. He is seemingly never alone, spending his time in the company of his two pugs or his live-in girlfriend of three years, Alexis Roderick, a former Morgan Stanley risk officer (who he probably wishes had been alongside him in the 1970s to assess his first record deal). What he lacks in output, he more than makes up for in opinions — about his legacy, his mistakes, a rock-star life lived hard and the heroes and villains he met along the way. If the new music of many of his contemporaries is any measure, prolificness is an overrated quality. Once a pop genius, always a pop genius. We ought to know by now.


What do you learn in college?

As you know the topic of the future of the university, the role of MOOCs, and online learning, is highly topical these days. I happen to be interested in it too so I refer you to this David Brooks Article, called, The Practical University. It’s an interesting angle.

However I want to pull a single quote out of that:

“Think about Sheryl Sandberg’s recent book, “Lean In.” Put aside the debate about the challenges facing women in society. Focus on the tasks she describes as being important for anybody who wants to rise in this economy: the ability to be assertive in a meeting; to disagree pleasantly; to know when to interrupt and when not to; to understand the flow of discussion and how to change people’s minds; to attract mentors; to understand situations; to discern what can change and what can’t.” (from New York Times – The Practical University)

I don’t know if that’s David Brooks or Sheryl Sandberg speaking, but it does make we want to read her book. Anyway, watch how I turn this post into something about Olin College of Engineering 🙂

Why is it so important (in my opinion) that college students get lots of experience working in teams from the start? Because indeed it teaches them exactly those skills in italics above. And they are indeed very important skills. And don’t assume that these skills and experiences are commonplace across colleges. In my experience this is one of the major differences of how Olin approaches its mission.

A travesty in a wealthy country

From the New York Times, an article by Nick Kristof, describing a real-life story of a friend of his and health care.

Whenever I hear, “We have the best health care in the world”, I think of stories like this. It is a travesty that in a wealthy country like the USA, there are 48 million Americans uninsured. Some 27,000 Americans between the ages of 25 and 65 die prematurely every year because they don’t have health insurance. From the article:

“Let’s just stipulate up front that Scott blew it. Other people are sometimes too poor to buy health insurance or unschooled about the risks. Scott had no excuse. He could have afforded insurance, and while working in the pension industry he became expert on actuarial statistics; he knew precisely what risks he was taking. He’s the first to admit that he screwed up catastrophically and may die as a result.

Yet remember also that while Scott was foolish, mostly he was unlucky. He is a bachelor, so he didn’t have a spouse whose insurance he could fall back on in his midlife crisis. In any case, we all take risks, and usually we get away with them. Scott is a usually prudent guy who took a chance, and then everything went wrong.” (from The New York Times)

Read the whole article. The same could happen to someone you know. 

Hey, you’re an entrepreneur!

I like this quote:

“Everyone here introduces themselves as an “entrepreneur.” It’s as if they hand out the title at the airport when you arrive. “Welcome to San Francisco, you are now an entrepreneur! Which start-up T-shirt would you like?”

This belief that everyone is an entrepreneur has a stultifying effect. It can drive founders to seek an easy acquisition instead of a quest for true innovation and a sustainable, profitable business — a truly entrepreneurial challenge.” (from Bits Blog, NYT)


[ELECTIONS] Continuing debate on hand vs. machine counting

Just from today’s New York Times:

“Voters in New York State use a vote-scanning system that can tally votes swiftly and, in most cases, correctly. Not New York City. The city’s Board of Elections uses a creaky system of counting by hand that is prone to embarrassing errors on election night.” (from Why Can’t NYC Count Votes?)