Drawing clear lines between information systems

In my many ramblings through the wwweb, especially through various blogs and k-logs, I came upon this little gem – Drawing clear lines between information systems. When you read through it you may think, “Well, that’s obvious!”

I thought the same thing as I read through it. Then I thought, “Well, if it is so obvious why are we still having all these problems described in the paper?” As I’m sure you will see when you think about the paper (assuming you read it), it is one thing to know what you should do, and quite another to figure how to do it (and then, of course, actually do it!).

Paper Prototyping: How-To Training Video from Nielsen Norman Group


Paper Prototyping: How-To Training Video from Nielsen Norman Group.

I’ve not seen the DVD, but I’m sure it lives up to the high standards .NN/g adheres to on everything else they do. Basically, it shows techniques for, as the title states, Paper Prototyping.

I can’t attest to the techniques they espouse, but the basic concept is, it seems to me, common sense and I’ve used it for quite a few things. Even if you are just using it for yourself as a way to figure out how to do something, it is a worthwhile technique.

And I’m sure this DVD is well worth the $50 (+ $3 s&h).

Where have all the savants gone?

The tangent in my last post aside, what really struck me about the use of the descriptor “savant” in Quicksilver is that it doesn’t seem to be used today to describe “a learned person” or “scholar.” I wonder why not? Do we have better words to describe them?

The term “academic” is used quite a bit, and of course “scholar,” but they just don’t seem to me to have the same je ne sais quoi as “savant.” Maybe we just don’t have any savants of the non-idiot kind anymore? Maybe our society is structured in such a way that savants don’t, or can’t, develop or thrive.

Just imagine the intense drive and passion, not to mention patience, it must have taken for the Natural Philosophers of the 17th and 18th Centuries to figure things out, many times when everyone else was actively out to stop you because your ideas were counter to the prevailing wisdom. How many people do you know today who could do that? Could you? Dedicate your life to an idea that no one else thought was worth pursuing?

It is more likely, however, that savants still exist and in fact thrive. It’s just that most people are not aware of their existence, even though their contributions to our lives are everywhere. I imagine it was the same back then. And, in fact, it quite likely that most people today are not aware at all of the contributions of the great savants of history.

Idiot-Savant: Oxymoron?

Reading Quicksilver, I’m struck by how often the term savant is used, in a completely non-pejorative way, to describe the great Natural Philosophers of the time (such as Newton, Leibniz, Hooke, etc). The only way I’ve ever heard the term was in conjunction with the word “idiot,” as in “Idiot-Savant,” used most often in the context of an otherwise mentally challenged/impaired individual (e.g. autistic) who has some sort of virtuosic talent in a single, limited area.

Naturally, this got me curious as to what the actual definition of savant is. From dictionary.com:

  1. A learned person; a scholar

  2. an idiot savant

The first definition fits with how it is used in the narrative of the book, but that second definition got my curiosity going once again, so looked up idiot:

  1. A foolish or stupid person

  2. A human being destitute of the ordinary intellectual powers, whether congenital, developmental, or accidental; commonly, a person without understanding from birth

The second of the two definitions above (by all means not all of the possibilities) seems to me the most accurate for how the term is commonly used today (unless of course you are using it as an insult).

And this is where (why) I ask the question, “Is the term idiot-savant an oxymoron?” Of course, before we can properly answer the question, we really should know what an oxymoron is. Back to dictionary.com:

  1. A rhetorical figure in which incongruous or contradictory terms are combined, as in a deafening silence and a mournful optimist.

  2. A figure in which an epithet of a contrary signification is added to a word; e. g., cruel kindness; laborious idleness.

Using either of these definitions, I think that oxymoron is an accurate description for the expression idiot savant.

Time to Make Tech Work (from Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox)

As I was putting together a business case to focus on making better use of the IT assets we currently own instead of buying/developing more, I received an e-mail notification for Time to Make Tech Work (Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox). Perfect timing.

Though the article is full of good ideas, three of them stand out for me (in my current situation):

  • Security as default

  • e-mail must be reconceptualized (also discussed in another AlertBox entry)

  • We need an Internet Control Panel…

More on Tacit Knowledge…

Sitting here studying some statistics – I’m sorry, “quantitative analysis” – listening to and watching a Joe Satriani DVD: Live in San Francisco (2001). I love listening to his music, and enjoy watching him and his band play even more.

Part of my fascination, especially as an amateur piano player, is watching the ease with they play even the most difficult pieces. It is as if their fingers, hands, indeed their whole bodies just know what to do. Of course, my point is exactly that: through extensive training, practice, repetition, and learning from mistakes, the body basically goes on autopilot.

This is not to take away from the performance. Not at all. You can still see the concentration it takes, especially on the difficult ones (they all look difficult to me, but that is beside the point), but it is a comfortable concentration. They are focused on the outcome, not on the playing.

They are having a hell of a lot of fun, and you can tell.

apropos to nothing…

Going through a bunch of stuff about Knowledge Management, one of the most common things you come across is the various definitions of things like data, information, knowledge, wisdom, etc. etc. Every now and then, you will come across a discussion of noise, but following my recent thoughts on PowerPoint I don’t think noise is given quite its due share.

I pick on PowerPoint for obvious reasons: The actual content in a typical PowerPoint presentation is a tiny percentage of the total number of bits within a presentation file. Even using PowerPoint properly, there is usually a huge amount of junk on every slide (pictures, etc) that add no value to the overall presentation.

When looking at how you can use IT resources effectively, reducing the noise (or more appropriately, raising the signal to noise ratio) should be right at the top of the list of things to do.

Analog vs. Digital

There are many ways to look at the differences between analog and digital. The way music CD are produced provides a useful analogy to use when looking at analog vs. digital uses of corporate information technology.

There are three acronyms printed on CD cases to indicate how the music was recorded, mastered and stored: (definitions from the webofhifi.com dictionary)

  • AAD means that the music was recorded in analogue (A), mastered in analogue (A) and then stored digitally (D).

  • ADD means that the music was recorded in analogue (A), mastered in digital (D) and then stored digitally (D).

  • DDD means that the music was recorded in digital (D), mastered in digital (D) and then stored digitally (D).

Obviously, since we are talking about CDs the last letter will always be D, since a CD is by definitition digital storage. You could extend these definitions to include analog storage (LP or analog tape), so that you would have a wide range of possibilities: AAA, ADA, AAD, ADD, DAA, DDA,DAD, DDD.

I propose use of a similar classification system for business processes, either organizational or individual. Obviously, the three positions will not represent recording, mastering, and storage but something more appropriate to business processes. I suggest the following:

  • Position One:
    • A = Initiated “in person”, either face-to-face or via telephone, etc.
    • D = Initiated in Bits

  • Position Two:
    • A = Processed manually, either on paper or on a computer or other device (such as a PDA)
    • D = Processed automatically

  • Position Three:
    • A = Relevant information maintained by individuals
    • D = Relevant information automatically maintained in a central location

Hmmm. Will need some tweaking, but I believe it is a good starting point. Will look back on it and see how it fits as I layout various processes.