30 May 2008

Look ma, I can shill!

"We interrupt this blog with a brief message from our friends at...

Just a short entry today, in the form of a kinda testimonial. Astute viewers of this blog (who aren't using a feed reader) may notice I've put on an ad for da-da-DA: Dell. Its a link to a "game" that seeks to advertise their XPS range of premium computers (they cost more - a LOT more). The reason its there is 2-fold. One, it increases my chances of wining a new computer; and two, I actually like the XPS computers - I created this blog using one, and every post I've made has been from it.

Like any laptop, it has its setbacks. Little things that fail to be mentioned by helpful sales staff. For example, I've learned to be a bit more careful about graphics cards. When I bought this computer, it had a top of the line, high-powered graphics card. What they don't mention is that this is a custom job, and that you don't get regular updates like everyone else (I haven't received an official update in the entire time I've had this computer, which is coming up on 2 years). This isn't particularly useful for what's billed as a "gaming powerhouse".

Still for the dedicated and resourceful, there are ways around this, and I have otherwise been very happy with both the computer, and the service. XPS get their own support line, to kick you up a step from the plebs. When I've had problems, I've had good help, and free replacement parts - thus far I've had the Bluetooth module replaced, and a couple of months ago, I got a new motherboard during a service.

All in all, I've been fairly happy with my Dell, which would seem to a pretty rare occurrence, especially given some of their recent seemingly crack-induced schemes. Enough so that I'm looking at buying (and/or winning) another XPS. This time I'm going for something smaller, and in a nice sporty PRODUCT(RED).

Anyway, should you be interested, feel free to click on the link and play the "game", which is so-so.

Incidentally, while I'm on the shilling train, check out the Converse sneakers PRODUCT(RED) site, where you can design your own PRODUCT(RED) shoes! I can't guarantee that they are Fair Trade (which is really pretty ironic), but for some reason, I think the whole thing is inordinately cool.
...We now resume our previously scheduled blogging."

24 May 2008

So many choices, so little choice...

Having failed to secure my $30 million this week, I am left once again having to choose between competing pieces of tech, rather than buy everything - and Myanmar will have to make do with a smaller donation than I would like (the UNHCR is my charity of choice, say what you will about the level of corruption inherent in the UN - many do).

So, my choices at the moment revolve around a laptop - something small and light, that I can use to fret away the 2-3 hours I spend on the bus every 5 out of 7 days. (On a side-note, watch out if you've been using the FBT exemption on laptops to bring down the price.) This led me to look at 2 of the headlining options at the moment: the MacBook Air and the EeePC. Both make a lot of compromises, but achieve great results, depending on what you want to use them for.

One thing about both of these options is that neither has a CD/DVD/BD drive, which kind of rules them out, since one thing I want to have the option of doing is watching movies. I could, of course, rip a DVD, but that would be illegal (there are legal download options, but Australian Internet infrastructure being what it is, I don't really regard that as a workable option). And it being illegal annoys me. A lot. Because when I buy a movie, I want to be able to enjoy it in a way that's the most convenient to me, because I bought it, not rented, leased or subscribed to it.

In Australia, not having access to fair use provisions provided to consumers in other countries in the market for these products, the utility of the Air and the EeePC is far less. Its a great example of the way in which our copyright laws are irrelevant to they way people actually live (my favourite is the provision that says you can record something off TV, but can only watch it once, then have to erase it - must be fun enforcing that one). Roll on, Creative Commons and YouTube.

23 May 2008

Why Dave Snowden Doesn't Know Who Shot JFK

Yesterday I spoke about the presentation on SharePoint implementation at the recent NSW KM Roundtable. Today I want to talk briefly about the second presentation, which was on storytelling.

Well, it was billed as being about storytelling, because that how the audience thought of it, I suspect. It was actually about narrative and how to use it to supplement existing business reporting. So of course, when we're talking about narrative & business in Australia, who better to have come in than Mark Schenk from Anecdote.

Mark kicked off with a new story (or at least, one I haven't heard before), which I enjoyed. I won't tell it - It'll probably turn up on the Anecdote site sooner or later, so keep an eye out for a new "bathroom" story. Then he presented the framework for narrative, the old Cynefin, and used this to build on how to use narrative in business. All good interesting, and well worth listening to.

Anyway, I was looking at the Cynefin framework, and in particular the complex domain. Its been often (and better) explained in other places and forums, but basically, a complex problem is one in which you can only really make sense of what happened after it happened. Mark mentioned the Canberra bushfires as an example of this. Before the fire, we Canbrites (as I was at the time, and possibly still am given my despair over the performance of the Brumbies this year) blithely went on with life, giving little regard to the obvious danger we were in. The danger, however, was only so glaringly obvious in retrospect. After the fires, we could see all the factors that made it clear that 400 hundred homes would be destroyed on that fateful Saturday. This phenomenon of only being able to make sense of something after the fact has its own wonderful term (several, actually, but I like this one): retrospective coherence. Looking at it though, I began to wonder, "Isn't that how you get conspiracy theories?". This wonderful ability of humans to see patterns in the events that occurr around us also gives rise to the issue of seeing patterns where there are none:

The World Trade Centre attacks were funded by the US Government,

there had to be a second shooter behind the grassy knoll,

global warning has already doomed all life on earth and governments are covering it up, etc.

These are all acts of retrospective coherence - albeit flavoured with a little bit of cognitive bias, I would guess - but I wonder how you get around this when you are looking at complex problems.

I didn't have the chance to quiz Mark on this, as I didn't want to derail the line of questioning into something that was probably going to be more advanced than the audience was interested in. I'm curious though - where does understanding a complex problem end, and building a conspiracy theory begin? And how do you prevent one from becoming the other? Do you sometimes want to ensure that one does become the other?

22 May 2008

SharePoint cures cancer, ends world hunger - still fails to help solve business problems

Well, its been a while. The focus of my work lately has been on content management/ web design stuff, and so my KM learnings have been lean for the past few months. Still, the show goes on.

Anyway, I attended the NSW KM Roundtable yesterday, which was quite interesting. There was a presentation on SharePoint implementation, which wasn't bad, but was predicated on being given the choice of a range of solutions, and picking SP as the one you want. Nothing wrong with that, and more power to people that have the ability and the freedom to do that. What I probably wanted to hear, though, was success stories from people on to whom SP is foisted because their IT area purchased, and then told other areas that they had to use a SP solution for whatever their business need is.

My concern with SP has always been that it is very powerful tool, which can do just about anything that would be required by end users in your standard IT infrastructure, which is great. The problem with that is, for almost all functions, SP ranges from crap to average. EDMS - crap. Blogging - average. Content publishing - average to OK. Content management - average to crap. Wikis - crap. So of course, Sp has the power to convince people that these initiatives are too hard or deliver too little value, not realising that this is the fault of the system, not the idea. This is all aside from the fact that it locks you into a Microsoft solution for everything else, despite what it says on the box (and too be fair to MS, I don't think that's wrong - its not up to the vendor to throw away a competitive advantage to make life easier for you - you have to make them do it).

The driver here, I guess, is one of my favourite and enjoyable irritations - the command and control IT function. This is the practice of an IT area getting enough power to force a solution down everyone else's throat, then use that to leverage even more power by tyrannically controlling what can and can't be used. The IT departments that operate this way better wake up and smell the 21st century (the same way that 'Libraries' have to wake up and smell the 20th Century, and realise that just slapping up a few databases on a website to supplement loaning out books is the fast train to being closed - I'm looking at you Australian corporate libraries!).

If I have a Blackberry, Skype, mobile broadband, and remote access to my work files (and none of these things is particularly expensive - I could do the whole lot for less than $60 a month as well as use them for personal stuff), then I can basically bypass whatever IT solution they roll-out and use whatever the hell I want to do my work, that makes me the most productive.

Ultimately, and going back to the presentation at KMRt, I say if you go out and select SP because its the best match for supporting your business function, well done. I think you've already done better than most by deciding to look for a piece of tech based on a business function. If, however, you go out and buy SP because it makes it easiest to support your IT infrastructure, and expect the business functions to just adapt to it, well then, I hope you get a thrill out of being despised. And don't try to flog it as a solution to a problem just because you've been told it can (say for example, that SharePoint can be you "KM Solution"). I can use my butter-knife as a screwdriver, but that's only because I don't have access to a screwdriver, and I don't need to do a good job, and don't mind having to re-do the work in a few months time. Is that what you really want to do for your KM program (or corporate governance, or records management). SharePoint is good at what its designed to do, but it wasn't designed to do all that much.

A little rambling (what can I say - I'm out of practice), but there you go. I'll blog a little later on the second presentation, and the implications it had for understanding who really shot JFK.