Archive for Technology

Reaction: Online Information Asia-Pacific

I went to the Online Information Asia-Pacific exhibition and 2-day conference on this past Wednesday and Thursday, 23 – 24 March, at the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre, conference program here. There was also a 1-day Business Information Forum which I did not attend. All was organized by IncisiveMedia based in London. I was a member of the ‘Conference Committee’, which means I made some suggestions on speakers, marketing and promotion. The exhibitors were primarily compilers and resellers of information for academic libraries and businesses. Maybe there were 50+ exhibitors. The exhibition was free and there were some free seminars. It seemed to me that there were never more than 50 people at the 2-day conference but someone told me about 100 had registered. Turn-out for both the free exhibition and the conference could have been better but for a first year effort it was quite good. Hopefully, the 2012 exhibition and conference will be better attended.

All of the speakers were good and here is the program. The 1st day was more technological and the 2nd day was more knowledge enabling. Eric Tsui from the HKPolyU facilitated the 1st day. Waltraut Ritter facilitated the 2nd day. Some of the highlights for me were:

David Warlock, from Outsell, highlighted that the tablet is a ‘game-changing’ device like the IBM PC in the 1980’s. Its 5-year projected adoption rate is faster than any new ‘information’ device. What does this mean for information management? He didn’t claim to know that clearly. For me the big change is in ‘usage’. It’s all about ‘gestural computing’. People expect to be able to manipulate the device with a gesture. By the way, I don’t have any gestural devices but I intend to get my first iPhone4 soon.

Bonnie Cheuk, from Citi, focused on the leadership skills to make using Web 2.0 social networking tools work in a large corporate environment. Bonnie has solid academic credentials and deep and successful big organization experience so I listen carefully to what she says. Bonnie has been using Sharepoint at two large organizations to facilitate online interaction, networking and discussion. I would say she is trying to do online ‘Knowledge Café’, ‘Open Space Technology’, ‘Bohm Dialouge’ and ‘Anecdote Circles’. She cautioned about getting over involved in the looking for the ‘best technology’; make what you have work, it isn’t about the technology. She is trying to move away from ‘anything goes conversations’ to focused and structured interactions.
She didn’t say this exactly but I took away that Leaders 2.0 need these traits for using Web 2.0 in their organizations:
• Passion – they must be internally motivated to want to use these tools
• Commitment – they have to ‘stay the course’ and ‘stay on track’ and ‘spend time to learn’
• Openness – they have to both listen to others and give their own opinion, feedback and expertise freely
• Fearlessness – they must stand-up to the nay-sayers, to the people who say ‘I told you this won’t work’

Diane Cmor, from Hong Kong Baptist University, talked about ‘information literacy’ and how that requires a ‘practice’ and a ‘mind-set’ to become a ‘Knowledgeable Knowledge Worker’. A KWW needs these attributes:
• Expertise – stay current and know how to find what you need
• Judgement – know when to stop looking
• Mess tolerant – see past the mess of information and use it, don’t spend too much time on organization
• Multi-focal – see the patterns and embrace serendipity
• Social – share and exchange openly and transparently widely with the world
She had a very good working definition of knowledge:
Regular, wise use of best suited information to build, change and/or challenge knowledge in support of decision-making, problem-solving, innovation and growth.

Waltraut Ritter, from the Asia Pacific Intellectual Capital Centre, explained what ‘Public Sector Information, PSI’ was and how it was opening up around the world. PSI can add value to the economy in many unexpected ways. It requires governments to change their ‘mindsets’ in order to make this ‘raw’ data available openly and easily to their public. The Hong Kong Government will open up traffic and geospatial data next week to the public thru an online website. She pointed out three good links to PSI sources:
United States – Data.gov
European Union – European Public Sector Information Platform
Europena – cultural institutions data

Louise Pemberton, from Kroll, gave an excellent description of ‘real-world’ information management at a risk and security investigation firm. It is all about guiding the users, training and re-training, setting up the same look-and-feel across the Sharepoint sites and emphasizing that not all information in online. Some information comes from people and there are real skills and techniques to use when asking for information from people. Interestingly, Kroll has tried to use some of the Web 2.0 techniques like blogging and expertise pages and they didn’t ‘have much traction’. This is what I’ve also observed and experienced.

Catherine Ruggieri, from Elliott Management, spoke about morphing from a traditional corporate librarian into a hedge-fund Market Data Manager and how she took on the IT Department and won thru persistence and guile. She reminded us all that it’s about making it happen and showing real value to the organization that give information management recognition inside the organization.

Steve Arnold, from ArnoldIT, facilitated a to-the-point panel discussion at the end of the first day on the state of ‘Search’. He kept the panel focused and they had insightful answers. It was a good example of running a structured content meeting.

Paul Corney, from Sparknow, facilitated all of us to give-back what we had gotten out of the conference at the end of the 2nd day. He used these in his introduction to get us started sharing:
• Solutions – make in relevant
• Sound – evokes memory and place
• Space – enables interaction
• Heritage – gives people a starting point
• Stories – enables sharing across the generations of workers in a organization

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Reactions – Chinese Facilitators Conference

I went to the 2nd day of the Chinese Facilitators Conference in Shenzhen on 19 March. This was organized by Leadership, Inc. This was my birthday present to myself. Shenzhen has grown-up so much in the last 10 years. It is now a major Chinese city and has a different feel from both Hong Kong and Macau. The big superhighway coming in from the Shekou ferry pier on Friday night made me think I was in America. Dinner with some of the conference speakers and organizers on Friday night at an excellent Italian place made me realize this was a very different Shenzhen from my last trip ‘to the north’. Its sad to say but I seldom go to China and when I do I tend to fly to Beijing or Shanghai.

At the conference there were 60 people from China (mostly) with a few from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. Many of the people were from learning and training functions in Human Resource departments. Many different industries were represented. Most of the people from China were from the south-east with a smattering from farther up the northeast corridor towards Shanghai and Beijing. Maybe there were people from interior but I din’t meet them. On the 2nd day we started with a good ‘Share a Process’ exercise. We counted off and then re-grouped into new tables of about 5 each. This was useful to ‘break the safety nets’ that people form on the 1st day. We each wrote down a facilitation process and then discussed them as a group. We chose one and each table presented their process to the group. I learned some new processes.

There were then group break-out sessions. I listened to 张树金 Simba Zhang explain ORID methodology and how it can help make people more productive in meetings – Objecitve thinking, Reflective thinking, Interpretive thinking, Descional thinking (Experience, Emotion, Thought, Action). One of the student helpers from Shenzhen University translated for me which was very helpful. It was quite a good talk but gently I would recommend that Simba do this talk again and actually have the participants ‘do a ORID facilitated meeting’. ORID is a TOP, Technology of Participation facilitation technique. Here a good slideshare on ORID from Patricia Tuecke.

A helpful guy from Fairland Information Limited, a translation firm in Shenzhen, very kindly showed me how to write my name in simplified Chinese. This was the subject of my last post so I enjoyed knowing how to do this:
鲍 伟 林 Bao4 wei3 lin2 vs. 鮑 偉 霖 Baau6 wai5 lam4
Putonghua vs. Cantonese
Simplified vs. Traditional.
Here is a good simple site for Chinese character lookup from Cantonese to Putonghua.

The afternoon was devoted to an Open Space meeting with the topic, “Issues and Opportunities for facilitation in organizations in China”. I’ve read about Open Space several time but never experienced an event. It started with Larry Philbrook and Karen Lim arranging us all in a circle of chairs. There were some colourful blankets in the middle with some large sheets of paper and marker pens. I noticed they never used called this Open Space Technology, but only Open Space. It’s about ‘self-organization’, which sounds both easy and terrifying. People propose topics and anyone can gather around and discuss them. People can join and leave whenever they like. People are like ‘bumblebees’ and ‘butterflies’ and both are good. There is actually a little bit of organization in that at the beginning people write topics on the large sheets of paper and announce the topic and go put it on a wall. The topics are divided into 3 groups and each group of topics is given 45 minutes for discussion.
The mantra of Open Space :
– Whoever comes is the right people
– Whenever it starts is the right time
– Whatever happens is the only thing that could have
– When it’s over, it’s over

What I thought was the best was that this group of Chinese people self-organized themselves and participated openly, vocally and willingly. I’ve heard this so many time before that ‘we can’t do these types of group activities with Chinese people, they are too shy, too reticent to speak up in public, and so on’. I didn’t see any of that at this Open Space. We discussed and moved around and wrote up bullet points on butcher paper. We signed our names on the ‘topic’ sheets so we could but our mark on this participation. Of course, my participation was minimal since most of the conversation was in Putonghua. I got some help from time to time and if I sat and listened carefully and read what was being written down I could participate a bit. We finished with a huge circle of chairs using a talking stick. About 10 people stood up and commented on the Open Space. We then all got a chance to speak and make a comment and give our thanks. It was truly very inspiring.

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Chinese Character Normalization – Finding People in Greater China

For most of this past year I’ve been working on a project that involved searching for Chinese people in various online databases using their Romanized names or their Chinese character names. When you are searching for someone’s Chinese name inside a database there are some quite thorny issues. With the rise of China as the world’s 2nd largest economy and Chinese people traveling and spending more and more around the world these issues about identifying Chinese people by their names are going to become a part of many knowledge workers day-to-day tasks. Here is the definition of Greater China from Wikipeida.

Most of the time trying to find a Chinese person among many other Chinese people in a database by name is not very successful. Most of the problems are around ‘Romanization’ and ‘Simplification and Traditional Chinese characters’. If you are interested in ‘Romanization’ see this Wikipeida entry. The ‘Romanization’ problem is that there are simply too many methods and no real standard.

In mainland China, people are by law required to use ‘simplified’ characters for their names. This assumes that there is a ‘simplified’ character for that name. In Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan people use ‘traditional’ characters for their names. If you are interested in the difference refer to this Wikipedia entry. In any event, ‘simplification’ is a master stroke of censorship and knowledge control by the mainland Chinese government. Mainland Chinese have difficulty reading books, pamphlets and newspapers from outside of China. What better way could there be of controlling knowledge than by changing the writing system people use every day? Conversely, people from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan have a difficult time reading ‘simplified’ characters. Some claim it is harder to go from ‘Simplified’ to ‘Traditional’ than from ‘Traditional’ to ‘Simplified’ but I’m not sure. Reading Chinese is always hard for me and I’ve learned both character sets, sort of, up to the 1,000 character mark.

However, since there are different character sets a problem arises when someone from mainland China comes to Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan and start to use their written character name to open accounts at banks, shops, hotels and so on. The same happens when people from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan go to mainland China. Simply put, people can’t easily read this person’s name. The solution is to ‘transform’ the name into the ‘correct’ character set; ‘Simplified’ Character to ‘Traditional’ Character or ‘Traditional’ Character to ‘Simplified’ Character. It happens all the time when a person opens an account where there details will be input into a database. They write down their name in the character set they are comfortable with using and the person either collecting the names or the data-input person ‘transforms’ this name. Interestingly, all Hong Kong and Macau Chinese people may apply for a ‘home return permit‘ card that lets them cross the border into China easily, and also lets the Chinese government know they have arrived. Their names are always ‘transformed’ into simplified characters when there is corresponding character between the ‘traditional’ character and the ‘simplified’ character. I assume these transformations are more accurate than some of the others. I know some of the transformations between ‘simplified’ to ‘traditional’ are not always accurate. This is due to imperfect knowledge of the mapping rules between the character sets. Sometimes people are in too much a hurry so they simply guess. All Chinese names have at least 2 characters and many, maybe the majority, have 3 characters. Sometimes the transformer will transform 1 or 2 characters and leave 1 or 2 character unchanged.

The end result is that if even if you have a Chinese person’s correct name you may not be able to find it in a database because someone has ‘transformed’ the name. Sometimes you can’t find a Chinese person in a database because you believe their name is written with character ‘X’ but in fact they write it with character ‘Y’. The only way to solve this problem is for the database’s search engine to ‘normalize’ the search. Here is an excellent summary of ‘normalization’ prepared by Michael CY Chan.

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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.

Unknown

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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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