Archive for the ‘Knowledge Management’ Category

John Udell made it to my RSS reader a long time ago. His writing, often on subjects that I’m interested in, is thoughtful and deep. In this age of disinformation he calls for an approach I find evident, but that needs repeating: in real life there is more than just black and white, there is lots of grey.

Teaching students to value sources that acknowledge uncertainty, and discount ones that don’t, ought to be part of any strategy to improve news literacy.

The “Acknowledgment of uncertainty” is a nice term to describe the need for reasoned thinking and talking about complex subjects like vaccination or politics. The SIFT method mentioned in the text might help with that, so why not give a go?

Sifting for Gold – Image by Won-Tolla (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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On the Podio blog I read a post about “Productivity tips from the Podio team“. The good news: most of the tips have nothing to do with the tools, but with the way to do the task or tasks at hand – and that’s how it should be.

A good tip reads “Write everything down. Keep notes in plain text files in Dropbox“. But you can do better than that: use Dave Winer’s “Fargo“. Fargo saves its content in Dropbox as well, but it’s more than just a text editor, it’s “a simple idea outliner, notepad, todo list, project organizer“. If you want to keep up a semblance of tidiness in your notes, an outliner can be a great help ;-)

Click the image for more details

Click the image for more details about Fargo

For the mobile users among us: yes, Fargo works on an Android tablet, in the Chrome browser (I have not yet tried other browsers). I don’t have an iPad at hand to test that out. Forget about a smartphone, no matter how big the screen (unless, perhaps, if you have a really big screen and an external keyboard). A mobile app for this outliner would be more than just ‘a nice touch’, though.

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I cannot remember how I found this website, but I remember taking my time reading “How Challenger Exploded, and Other Lessons in the Catastrophes We Make” on the Motherboard site. I wanted to know why the NASA Shuttle ‘Challenger’ exploded: the explosion in 1986 was big news, but a good, more or less detailed explanation of the cause of that accident never made the headlines, at least not here in Belgium. In summary: the rubber rings used as seals on the rocket boosters were not meant to be used at the (unusual) below-zero temperature measured at the launch site. The risk had been brought to the attention of NASA by some of the engineers, but was discounted when deciding to go for launch.

Why was the risk discounted by an organisation that had (and has) a reputation for high-quality engineering and a prudent approach on deciding whether to launch a vehicle into space? The particular reasons for the failure to correctly evaluate this specific risk isn’t exactly clear, but it’s clear that the potential impact of the risk wasn’t sufficiently clear.

The author of the article makes clear that NASA isn’t the only organisation that does not succeed in correctly evaluating the consequences of specific risks. The automotive industry is also discussed, as is the financial crisis of 2008, which showed that “insurance” isn’t going to provide an answer to all potential problems!

What every organisation needs, is a culture where risks can be discussed more or less openly:

Despite its shortcomings, NASA’s Space Shuttle left a positive legacy for spaceflight and for everyone. Part of that was the lesson that not making mistakes requires the brute force of computers, torrents of data, and an understanding of laws, both the physics and the government kind. It demands focus. But it also needs human doubt and dissent.

A mechanism for “human doubt and dissent” should be ‘built’ into enterprises – but I haven’t seen many examples in my admittedly limited experience. But don’t forget: such a mechanism probably needs to be ‘cultural’ rather than ‘formal’, and ‘culture’ is hard to engineer…

(Photo courtesy DAVID BOYD)

(Photo courtesy DAVID BOYD)

There is a fine example of what is needed, just at the end of a one and a half hour documentary on Youtube (part 1 and part 2) about the 1994 South Canyon Fire on Storm King Mountain in Colorado. I do hope Prineville Hotshot Tom Shepard is speaking for all firefighter crews working today and in the future:

If [any member of the crew sees] something they don’t understand or see something that they think is out of whack, they’re encouraged, today, to speak up, ask about it. [pause] Ya know, it takes twenty people to run a hotshot crew. Not just one; it takes twenty, and every voice is important. There just could be something that someone misses along the way that the newest recruit notices and brings to the supervisor’s attention and ends up saving some lives.

Every voice is important“. Every voice in an organisation should count, and that means everyone has to listen as well.

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It must have been Autumn 1979: I was starting to work on my master thesis. The subject: the illustrated weekly periodicals in Belgium in the late 19th  century. Since I was going to include a substantial quantitative analysis, I needed access to as many newspapers and weeklies as possible. I don’t recall how the name ‘Mundaneum’ reached me, but I eventually found the Mundaneum address in Brussels. So off I went, trudging along the Chaussée de Louvain (where the Mundaneum was supposed to be in those days) from the centre of Brussels, all the way into St-Stevens-Woluwe – without finding the Mundaneum. My unfamiliarity with the Brussels region did not prevent me from getting home by tram and train – but I was dissappointed for not finding what I had hoped to be a rich source of information…

A week ago, Wired explained what I should have known in 1979, in the article “Dec. 10, 1944: Web Visionary Passes Into Obscurity“. Today, Paul Otlet, founder of the Mundaneum, may be considered to be a founder of information science; but from what I know now, I don’t think finding his collection would have really helped me… I may still visit the “new” Mundaneum in Mons (Belgium), though, just to satisfy my curiosity – you never know what I might have missed 33 years ago ;-)

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The W3C, the standards body that oversees the development of HTML, is starting a Wiki to (hopefully) create a definitive, up-to-date collection of documentation on all the web standards (and more). In the words of Webmonkey: “The W3C has managed to bring together some of the biggest names on the web to help create Web Platform Docs. Representatives from Opera, Adobe, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Mozilla and Nokia will all be lending their expertise to the new site“.

Of course, the really interesting part – for me, that is – is the Wiki that will encompass all those Web Platform Docs. I do wonder how much “non-expert” material will be added to the site – writing documentation is not the same as writing code, as evidenced by the lack of decent documentation in many software projects. Then again, not just developers can (should) add their expertise.

I guess the W3C will be exercising some kind of editorial supervision. To their credit, the creators of the site have clearly indicated how anyone can help, even if you’re unfamiliar with the technologies mentioned – that’s a good idea for any Wiki, by the way.

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A Practice, Not A Process. When, a few days ago, I asked How Do I Evangelize This Process?, I should have written: How do I evangelize this practice? After all, the matter under discussion cannot be called a “process”, but it is a “practice”, ie. something that can (should) be put into practice. Now, Ivar Jacobson and a few of his collegues know all about processes and practices, and they propose to throw out all “software development processes” and replace them with a large catalogue of solid software development “practices” that developers can select from to mix into a combo that works for them and their teams. Working in an environment where there is often no time to put elaborate methodologies into practive, I think I can see their point. Trouble is, will management allow such a way of working?

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Wanna Know? Is knowledge important to you? Where do you go to find knowledge? Is knowledge worth anything if it is not public? How can knowledge be an “economic good”, to be traded and sold? From the blurb of The Access Principle The Case for Open Access to Research and Scholarship: “The debate over open access, writes Willinsky, raises crucial questions about the place of scholarly work in a larger world — and about the future of knowledge“.

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Knowledge Is Power. I suppose that is why the UNESCO has just published a 211-page report called ‘Towards Knowledge Societies‘ (PDF). Let me quote just one recommendation from the report: “Widen the contents available for universal access to knowledge” (p.192), or in other words: “promote the public domain”. I wonder how many government officials are going to read the report, let alone act on the recommendations.

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Good Intentions? Alan Zeichick writes: “Microsoft says that the problem was that users couldn’t find and use the more obscure features of Word, Excel and the other Office tools. No, that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that there were too many features, those features were poorly designed, and the different Office applications implemented those features inconsistently. The applications were broken—not the user interface.“. Not having seen nor used the new interface, I can’t confim his evaluation – although I know from experience that building a good user interface is a complex endeavour. So why do I mention this subject? Because it shows once more how important it is to know the root cause of problem before coming up with a solution. And that applies to politics, family matters, economics, and everything else as well as to software!

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