Archive for March, 2010

Dissertation discussion

March 18, 2010

A fair bit of my work at this time of year concerns student dissertations – the big piece of independent work that is normally a prerequisite of an honours degree: on the undergraduate programmes I’m involved with, the final year students are handing in dissertations shortly, and on one of the postgraduate programmes they are choosing dissertation topics right now.  So below is some guidance, presented as a sort of checklist, for issues to include.

Big disclaimer: these are all personal views and don’t represent the official policy of any university, least of all the one that employs me.  They are principally oriented to students in business and management.  And I hope, cautiously, that they may be of use.

  1. Make it clear what there is of you in the dissertation.  Make sure that your own voice comes through in what you have written.  If you’ve collected your own primary data – through interviews, surveys, or observation – then emphasise this, and tell ther reader what insights you’ve gained.  If it confirms or contradicts what you’d expect, tell the reader why and how.  If you’ve found some way of linking theory with practice – for instance because you’ve observed something which fits a pattern related in a textbook – make a point of that
  2. Ensure that your conclusions fit the introduction.  If you set out aims and objectives at the start of the dissertation, say in the conclusion where you’ve addressed each of these.
  3. Emphasise what you have learned from the process.  If it became apparent once you started work on the dissertation that there was a new insight that you hadn’t expected, tell the reader about it.  If you uncovered some new effect, or new area of interest, in your work, explain this
  4. Be consistent in your use of language – in practice for most of the dissertations that I supervise that means using British English throughout
  5. Be rigorous about referencing – explain exactly what sources you used and why.  If a source isn’t well-known, be prepared to include a sentence or two about why it’s worth referring to.  If you include exact quotations, make it very clear exactly which words form part of the exact quote.  For exact quotes and statistics you need to be very precise about sources – that means including a page number if at all possible where the source is a book or an article.
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Redesigning the 13 amp plug

March 18, 2010

This product has attracted some media attention having won a design award this week – it’s a neat new take on the huge electric plugs that we use in Britain.  It’s good to see sound industrial design getting some attention, and I can see a promising future for this sort of plug as electronic devices get even smaller and neater.

Another view of Twitter

March 18, 2010

Kevin Fong writes an interesting and amusing regular column for Times Higher Education.  This week he turns his attention to Twitter – his description of it as an information hosepipe is rather charming, and he does offer some insights into how it graduated from a simple way of telling people what you were doing to a more elaborate mechanism for sharing knowledge

Products and processes

March 17, 2010

I mentioned in the previous post that the Kodak disposable camera was significant because of the close relationship between the product design and the systems for handling the product after its delivery.  But this is nothing new – Kodak themselves always sold Kodachrome colour slide film in Europe with a prepaid envelope, so that it could be sent back to Kodak for the (apparently unusually complex) processing necessary.  And if you’re a transport enthusiast or a systems thinker you might know that the design of London’s Routemaster buses wasn’t just about big red double-deckers but also about a very elaborate and specialised system of regular maintenance at a works in Aldenham.

Out of the basket

March 17, 2010

News this week of what’s in and what’s out of the ‘basket’ of goods used by the Office of National Statistics to calculate retail price inflation has included the removal of disposable cameras – page 13 of http://www.statistics.gov.uk/articles/nojournal/CPI_and_RPI_The_2010_Basket_of_Goods_and_Services.pdf mentions that they’ve been rendered obsolete by digital photography but also by cameras in mobile phones.  It’s a case of a product coming full circle, having been innovative 20 years ago, but particularly significant because Michael Hammer and James Champy, in their book on re-engineering the corporation from the mid-1990s, cited Kodak’s introduction of their disposable camera as a successful example of a business changing.

Hammer and Champy favoured a very rapid and radical approach to business change that, with hindsight, was often ill-advised and unsuccessful.  But their analysis was very much aimed at large, established, American firms facing Japanese competition, and Kodak, when disposable cameras first became widely available, fitted that profile perfectly.  Their principal competitor, Fuji, already had a product and for Kodak the imperative was to get their own contender in place as rapidly as possible.  It was a new product which could benefit from a development team unhindered by the business’s traditional processes.  Also because the success of the disposable camera depended on setting up mechanisms where the lenses and other components could be re-used, the product design and the systems for processing the film and distributing the products were all very closely related.

Although Hammer and Champy claimed that the business process re-engineering concepts used by Kodak and others at this stage were radically new, in practice a lot of the innovation came down to having different teams working concurrently on different aspects of a product development, and on setting up communication channels between these teams, so that the whole product development process was compressed into less time.  This was still a worthwhile benefit in cases like this where there was clearly a need to get into the market quickly.

More baby boomers than I’d expected…

March 15, 2010

… in the internet billionaire list at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/8562379.stm .  Erick Schmidt, aged 54, is rather charmingly described as Google’s grown-up chief executive

Seen pinned to a fence in north London:

March 15, 2010

A strip of paper with the sentence ‘the individual is the only reality’ (it’s a quote from Jung) neatly written written on it.  Is it public art?  A jobbing philosopher leaving their mark?  Part of a viral marketing programme?  An early shot in the general election campaign?

192.com and ages

March 11, 2010

http://www.192.com/ is an interesting site offering people searches – it has some of the properties of a mashup because it aggregates data from different sources, mostly the phone directory and the electoral register – and it operates an ingenious ‘freemium’ business model where it offers both free content (principally content that can easily be derived from the phone book) and tempts browsers to click through for premium content by showing information such as addresses greyed out on screen.

It also on occasions offers age guides for people where it’s unable to determine somebody’s exact age.  I’m unsure how this information is derived (and have found at least one instance where the age guide is dramatically wrong) but was intrigued to get an automated email from the site today.  Were they trying to find out my exact age, I wondered?  In fact, they were just soliciting support for their campaign to get BT to stop distributing paper phone books.

Racing round the Brands Hatch graph

March 11, 2010

Michael Blastland’s series on interpreting numbers on the BBC website is always worth following, but today’s entry on education spending is particularly interesting.   And not just because he had to enlist the help of a House of Commons librarian to get to the root of the figures.

The Brands Hatch graph takes a little while to take in, but is a very effective way of showing the relationship between three different factors: pupil numbers, date, and spending.  And it’s interesting to see the timing of the rise and fall in pupil numbers, with the rapid fall starting in 1982 by which time the last of the baby boomers had left school.

Another date slip-up

March 8, 2010

It’s now been corrected, but when the piece at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/8550425.stm first appeared on  the BBC website it included a link to the ‘1893 labour manifesto’ – 1893 was of course 20 years before Michael Foot, whose death last week promoted the feature, was born.

Famously, Michael Foot’s preferred means of travel between Westminster and his home in Hampstead was the bus, and the one time that I saw him in person was when he was sitting upstairs on a number 24, earnestly making notes in the margins of a book…