Archive for Technology

Web 2.0 … The Machine is Us/ing Us

It still resonates ….

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Quote taken from David Gurteen

I like this and have taken this quote from here

If we could shrink the earth’s population to a village of precisely 100 people, with all the existing human ratios remaining the same, it would look something like the following:

57 Asians
21 Europeans
14 from the Western Hemisphere, both north and south
8 Africans

52 would be female
48 would be male

70 would be non-white
30 would be white

70 would be non Christian
30 would be Christian

89 would be heterosexual
11 would be homosexual

6 people would possess 59% of the entire world’s wealth and all 6 would be from the United States

80 would live in substandard housing

70 would be unable to read

50 would suffer from malnutrition

1 would be near death – 1 would be near birth

1 (yes, only 1) would have a college education

1 would own a computer

When one considers our world from such a compressed perspective, the need for both acceptance, understanding and education becomes glaringly apparent.



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Google’s Eavesdropping

ThinkingShift’s post on Google’s eavesdropping ~ Accidental Spies ~ has made me wonder why people accept Google’s excuse that this was ‘accidental’. I prefer to call this eavesdropping because that describes what happened more accurately than hacking or spying. Where is the ‘accident‘? Careless may be a better word. It points up some of the problems with project management at Google and possibly elsewhere.

Google’s Street View program was a big effort involving many highly skilled information engineers who would have followed the tried and true plan, develop, prototype and then move to production. There would have been many layers of testing and confirmation throughout this process. Still, if we actually believe Google’s management, a process was put into place to scan, capture and store wirelessly transmitted data in Street View cars and then upload it to Google servers. No-one on the Street View project ever asked ‘why are we doing this?’

Project management is supposed to help us achieve the goal by staying focused, meeting deadlines, assigning people, their time and resources they need to get the job done. At Google do they manage their projects in some other unique way? Google doesn’t care about staying focused on the goal? Information engineers are doing what they like and see as interesting and no-one takes the time to see if it is worthwhile to be part of the project’s goal? I find this a bit hard to believe. However, I’ve worked on some big technical information projects where it was surprising to find a large amounts of time and effort being devoted to sideline activities.

Google has the reputation of running a free-flowing open-space manage-yourself work environment. I’m sure it is true to some extent. I’ve also read that the Google work atmosphere is not that different from other places but there are more toys and better food. Work environment is important and does set the tone and pattern of a whole lot of what gets done in the workplace. Google’s work environment may need some adjustments to keep its workers focused on its motto of ‘ Don’t be evil‘.

By the way, I’m a big user of Google’s products and services.

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Weak Signal Detection & the Christmas near-miss

The Christmas near-miss bombing of the Delta airplane in Detroit has been an evolving news story this past week. The reports are filtering in that there was scattered knowledge of a Nigerian being prepared for a terrorist attack in Yemen. The young man’s father had reported him to the American embassy in Nigeria in the past few weeks as having increasingly extremist Islamic views and having gone missing. It is unclear when the father knew his son was in Yemen although it is obvious he would have shared any information he had about his son. The UK had recently refused the young man a student visa. See here and here and here for BBC reports. These are not difficult dots to connect. Of course, hindsight is 100% accurate. What has peaked my interest is the role of knowledge management in the counter-terrorism and security intelligence in the USA.

I am now looking for a knowledge management job and have set-up job searches by preference for Hong Kong, Asia, Australia and then the USA. As I peruse the daily list of KM jobs I have been struck by the high number of ‘intelligence’ related position in the USA. They normally require some sort of ‘security clearance’ or the ability to obtain one. The positions are for knowledge gathering, knowledge synthesis across agencies and groups, community building roles, technical skills in Sharepoint and other content management systems are highly desirable as are Sigma Six and other project management qualifications. It is clear that knowledge management methodologies are being widely and actively used in counter-terrorism and the intelligence communities in the USA. These methodologies do not seem to be working very well.

I first heard about ‘weak signal detection’ from Dave Snowden at the KMAP 2006 conference in Hong Kong. Soon after KMAP I spent a year in Japan and then came back to Hong Kong to study knowledge management at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Knowledge management has connected a lot of the dots in my scattered work history of cooking, libraries and records management for big tobacco. See here for Dave’s KMAP presentation. Is there any ‘weak signal detection’ happening in the intelligence community? It seems that it would be their number one priority. The reports now coming out about the Christmas near-miss are very nearly the same criticisms as in the 9/11 report – failure to share information across agencies and groups within agencies, failure to connect available information and failure for those in authority to listen and understand the available information.

Are all of these knowledge management people working it US intelligence roles asleep at the wheel? I don’t think so and it is quite likely that there are many successes we never hear about. However, this one seems such a glaring miss that I would hope they give more attention to ‘weak signal detection’ and the tried and true knowledge management methodologies such as ‘sharing’ ‘openness’ ‘flatness’ ‘low-barriers’ and ‘exchange’. If all they are doing is populating increasingly large content databases with reports then they are wasting a lot of time and money.

The news now is all about ‘increasing airport security’ and ‘on the airplane security’ which are both so far off the mark that I don’t want to go on about them here. See Bruce Schneier’s excellent blog on security issues here.

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CM, IM, KM, LS, RM – Is there any difference?

I am inspired to blog about this after reading Patrick Lamb’s blog here.
A list of my acronyms.

  • Content Management – CM
  • Information Management – IM
  • Knowledge Management – KM
  • Library Science – LS
  • Records Management – RM

I’ve wanted to blog about the CM/IM/KM/LK/RM divide for months.  For me, a long time records manager, they are all so inter-related that I can’t really recognize them as separate disciplines – different facets on the same subject area seems like a more reasonable perspective.  Academically, Library Science and Information Management are the most common in university programs.  Most of the time, IM straddles somewhere between information technology and business management.  Increasingly, library science programs are described as information management programs.  Library Science programs produce academic librarians and organizational libraries.   Academic libraries are now heavily computerized and give many traditional library services on-line.  Organizational librarians seem to often morph into information managers and knowledge managers because they deal with electronic records and online services and want to distance themselves from the vision of the dusty under-used library.  Content Management should be about managing all sorts of content; hard-copy records, electronic records such as email, documents, spreadsheets, presentations, small and large databases, web-pages, moving and still images.  In practice, in the job market it almost always means internet/portal design and management.  There is nothing wrong with this but it may be more practical to just advertise for intranet or portal managers and avoid the confusion.  Records Management is about keeping organizational records needed to run the organization and comply with regulations.  It has existed in one form or the other for centuries and its processes are embedded in organizational structures.  This does not mean the processes are necessarily good or effective but there are embedded processes that can be very difficult to change.  Knowledge Management takes bits from all the above; explicit knowledge from Records Management, technology from Information Management, classification and taxonomy from Library Science, the wide scope from Content Management and then adds one of its own many flavors of tacit knowledge identification, decision-making, story-telling and complexity, among others.

RM and LS are old school disciplines that existed before computers.  CM, IM and KM are new school disciples in the post-computer age. This is at the core of why they often don’t communicate well with each other.  They speak different languages and have a high level of mis-trust.   Many Librarians and Records Managers learn about information technology but are blocked from applying what they know to real-world problems.  Content Managers, Knowledge Managers and Information Managers spend too much time re-inventing the wheel because they haven’t learned basic library science and records management concepts.  So much of the time when I see approaches devised by CM, IM, KM managers to solve problems I wonder, ‘why don’t they just learn a little bit of library science and records management methods and techniques?’  By the same token, I see KM managers who seem to have no understanding and amazing even less wish to learn about web-pages, electronic repositories, databases and system design.  It is not reasonable to call yourself a Knowledge Manager and have no understanding of the technology of managing information (call it explicit knowledge).  It is not reasonable to call yourself a Content Manager and have no understanding of how classification and taxonomy can be applied.  There are too many examples of extremely naive classification systems being put into place to manage intranet and portals simply because there is a lack of knowledge of what librarians and records managers have been doing for centuries.  It is not reasonable to call yourself a Records Manager and have no understanding on how to assign value to records.

Specifically, here are some examples.

  • When KM talks about building electronic repositories it is doing a kind of RM.  KM repositories all to often have no concept of expiration and retention and then become overly full of expired and untrustworthy knowledge.
  • When RM talks about assigning retention periods based on business value it is doing a kind of KM.  How do you decide what is important?  What is needed to make a better decision?  KM has real value to offer in these areas.
  • When CM talks about keeping content current it is doing a kind of RM.  The concept of retention periods only seems to exist in records management and it needs to become pervasive across all the facets.
  • When IM talks about managing information it disregards anything that isn’t electronic.  There are then huge holes in the scope of information being managed.

If you are going to be involved in CM/IM/KM/LK/RM then you need to accept that you will need to become reasonably competent in each of these facets.   Spending time on demarcating the differences is not worthwhile.

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More on failure, learning and decision making

Dave Snowden makes this point often in presentations, podcasts and publications, “Tolerated failure imprints learning better than success”.

Oscar Wilde is supposed to have said, “Experience is the name that everyone gives to his mistakes.”

The problem is that we have to acknowledge failure before we can learn from it. That acknowledgment is best when it is ‘to yourself’ but it doesn’t hurt for someone to simply say, “this is wrong, a mistake, a disaster”. I’ve been confronted constantly over the years with people who have an obvious failure but just don’t acknowledge it to themselves and no-one will tell them for fear of seeming rude, insensitive, over-bearing and the list can go on and on. Obviously, no effort is then made to try to fix it, try to understand it, etc. This applies to small and huge failures. An example of a small failure are webpages that don’t work but could easily be fixed with a bit of redesign or just simple editing the html code. An example of a big failure are complicated computer systems that don’t work but could be analyzed and assessed before banging in the next big system which is likely to fail for almost the same reason. Failure is fine if we can learn from it but what is all too common is that the failure is ignored, forgotten and repeated. I’ve posted on this earlier about how to make it easier to acknowledge failure here.

Take a look at the video from Daniel Kahneman. The Nobel Laureate says organizations should think of decisions like any other product, and apply quality controls.
Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Daniel Kahneman on behavioral economi…“, posted with vodpod

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Going Apple

I switched over to an Apple Macbook in early 2007. I’d wanted to do this for years but hesitated because I thought I would be blocked from my important Windows applications. What was I thinking? There is so few applications that don’t transfer across that it doesn’t make much of an impact. For me, the only application I miss is EWallet from Ilium Software here. They can’t seem to get a OS10 version together so I am stuck with my old PalmPilot until I spring for a iPhone. I run Office for Mac and iWorks and I never have any problem with opening the documents, spreadsheets and presentation files. I used Firefox in the beginning until early 2009. I then switched over to Safari for a while, then back to Firefox and now I’m back to Safari. The reason is that I’ve discovered that Firefox add-ons and updates can cause creeping problems like being unable to download files, sudden crashing, hanging and so on. These issues require carefully removing add-ons, testing, updating and so on. I figure if Safari works then I’ll lose a few niceties of Firefox like the colour tabs add-on and save myself a few hours a month in being a bug-fixer. There are occasional problems with both Safari and Firefox and some webpages, which most of the time have something to do with flash objects. I’m not sure what this really means but in some cases a flash object won’t work under Safari or Firefox. After 2 years of using this Macbook I did notice it was getting a bit slow. I followed these guidelines from a Lifehacker post here and I downloaded and paid my US$20 for Hazel to keep things a bit cleaner. I installed Snow Leopard last month and the upgrade to 10.6.1. I may have had a few problems with hanging and unexpected shut-downs in the last month but I can’t be too sure. I deleted Guest Profiles when I read they could delete files when activated so hopefully that solves that issue. I read that disk permissions should be repaired so I ran Disk Utility today and ‘repaired permissions’ even though the scan said they were all ok. My point is that the Macbook does require some basic maintenance not unlike a Windows pc but it is so much more forgiving. The Apple environment is so much more convenient and easy to use that it seems amazing that so many people continue to struggle on with Windows. When I go back and use a Windows pc I’m shocked at every click and close. I saw Windows 7 over the weekend and it is so obviously a reverse engineering effort from OS10 that I’m amazed there are not going to copyright battles between MS and Apple. Have these MS people no shame at all? I’m looking forward to the Google Chrome OS but most of all I think Apple should bite the bullet and simply write its own OS for Intel pcs and see how that fares in the market place.

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Going Google One Year On…

About one year ago I decided to stop using my Mac based email client and switch to Gmail.  At the same time I setup a iGoogle account and built 3 pages to be my ‘personal portal pages’.  This was done for 3 reasons; first, I needed a project for a portal course I was taking at the HKPolytechnic and second, I had lost all of my email through some ill-advised playing around with profiles and third, I was tired of not being able to check my email when I was not at home.  So, I carefully planned my personal portal and built it – this was just so I could get the mark for the course (I did not get a great mark, hehe) – then I started using it.  The main apps I used in the begining were Gmail, Gcalandar, Greader and Gdocs and this hasn’t changed.   Sorry Google but some of your apps like Gmaps are fun but what does one really do with them besides play around?

On my landing page in iGoogle the most useful gadget was a bookmark feature that let me keep really common sites together and have them right at my fingertips.  Bookmarks always seem to me to become a bit of a mess and I wanted a place to just put the 25 that I always used and have them classified my way.  I’ve got 4 categories with this many sites under each: Google/11, Links/18, Search/23, PolyU/9.  I change these from time to time but they are quite stable.  I use a compound gadget that has a calendar,  currency calculator, metric converter, calculator, link to Google groups.  This is a bit useful but really just to remember the date and maybe do some conversions.  The calendar says it links to my Google calandar but I can’t see what it is supposed to do for me since it doesn’t show my appointments.  I’ve never gotten active in Google groups.  I’m a member of 2 and I just have their announcements sent to Gmail.  I have a gadget that is a Greader feed but really I just go to Greader a few times a day and take a look at my RSS feeds.

This is something I’ve learned, some of the iGoogle gadgets just don’t really do what they say they do.  Don’t get fussed about it but be aware and make a backup because some gadgets can cause real problems.  I learned how to make the 2 kinds of backups for my iGoogle page.  One is a recovery file held by Google and is done automatically every few days.  I have no idea what the schedule is and I don’t think they tell us.  Another is a file of all my iGoogle settings I download and save on my Mac.  I can upload this if I like.  I run this every few months.  I had to restore from the Google held back-up once because one of my news feeder gadgets ate the page.

At first, I found Gmail a bit odd after years of MS Outlook and MS Entourage.  I locked myself out of Gmail for a few days thru some sequence of unknown events and was quite suspicious of it for months.  I developed a way of copying all in-coming and out-going from Gmail to my old ISP provider which I still use.  I learned how to use Labels and Contacts.  I started using Gchat but still prefer Skype for chat.  I turn off Gchat on all iGoogle pages because they don’t synchronize and it can get very confusing.  I added a gadget a few months back that uses the Tinyurl site.  This is useful.  Maybe bitly is better but it requires its own page and I like have it on my iGoogle landing page.

I set up a 2nd iGoogle page for News sites.  There are some gadgets for feeding in newspaper sites and such.  This is useful to have one place to check the New York Times, Financial Times, South China Morning Post, NHK World (Japan’s BBC), the real BBC and so on.

I set up a 3rd iGoogle page for playing around.  I test things here.  I keep my Dilbert feed here.

What can I say about this?  The iGoogle pages for me are just places to keep links to very frequently used sites and a few tools that seem like they would be useful.

I’ve found out that I cannot use my account to register for all sorts of official sites.  For example, Gartner rejects Gmail accounts.  They want a domain from an organization.   This is a critical point because sometimes it is important to have an ‘official’ email.  I’m a full-time student at the HKPolytechnic so I can use that one.

I’m a graduate student is a knowledge management programme at HKPolytechnic.  I have been using Gdocs for classes and collaboration.  This is useful but it is a struggle to get participation.  Most of my classmates want to send out emails with attachments.  Gdocs has gotten better for people without Google accounts but it is still a bit odd so there is the hurdle of asking them to create a Google account and so on.  However, after some championing how great it is I have had some successful collaboration with Gdocs.  There are issues with highly formatted documents and presentations so once the content is agreed someone needs to download it and make it pretty in Word, Pages, Powerpoint or Keynote.

I really like being able to logon to any Mac or PC anywhere and have my iGoogle page come-up with all my stuff.  This is brilliant.

Google is really pushing its Google Apps model for business, education, non-profits.   Take a look here. Google Apps for education and non-profits below 3,000 members are free.

Here is rather good Youtube video on Google Apps for educational institutions.  The basic service is free for educational institutions and for non-profits with 3,000 or less members.  Sure, you probably will buy a few of the extras but it won’t be much.

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Skype – Can it last

Skype is wonderful and I use it all the time.  However, I do wonder if it is a viable business model.

  • eBay bought it for 3.1 billion in 2005 (now seen as one of the worst technology buys of the decade)
  • eBay wrote down 900 million of the purchase as unrecoverable
  • eBay is now rumored to be selling Skype for 2 billion
  • Skype has expected revenues of 600 million in 2009 (note this is not profit) I’m amazed it can generate this much revenue.
  • eBay and Skype founders are fighting it out in UK courts on the core technology

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