Curiouser and curiouser!

 28 February 2003

7:46:45 PM     : What's in a name?

So far we have:

  • business journalling
  • knowledge-logging
  • k-logging
  • corporate knowledge recording (from Christian)
  • professional knowledge publishing
  • enterprise weblogging

any more for any more?

7:44:56 PM     : The trials & tribulations of a business journaller

Contextual problems faced by business journalling

Matt Mower [via Paolo] in an interesting analysis of the contextual problems faced by business journalling:

I think that there are at least two problems which we must solve for business journalling to be a widespread success.  I'd be interested in hearing about other problems people have specifically identified.

As an Internet professional working as an external consultant most of all for SMB companies, I'm often find myself trying to convince my clients of the importance of what I call the corporate knowledge recording, which is in many respects what Matt calls business journalling.

I do that since I'm aware of the importance of it in my professional activity: personal memory is limited and faulty by nature, in the end. So I try to log and log and log, even if I didn't completely work out the problem yet (but I'm studying some solutions).

Nevertheless, introducing knowledge management concepts and habits into client companies is every time a struggle. I'll try to summarize the problems I've been recognizing and facing.

Business journalling takes time
This is undoubtful, I see it over and over again, lack of time is, personally, my main problem about business journalling. But nobody tried to convince me to log, I wanted to start logging. For client companies is different: worker's time is an expensive resource, expecially for SMB companies whose personnel is often the minimum for a certain amount of work. Knowing that logging (or journalling) takes time, from the client perspective logging costs: the hard part is to convince the local boss that the cost will turn into a bigger revenue and, most of all, explaining that the ROI is not a matter of weeks or months but, probably, years. The long period scares most SMB companies whose plans, sadly, seldom reach the next year.

People are lazy by nature
Even when I succeeded in introducing business journalling practice into companies, I always found that suddenly the process stopped due to people's natural lazyness. After the first moment of enthusiasm, people tend not to keep on writing. The only way I see to win that lazyness is external motivation (see below).

Competition is the problem
People at work are competitive. Most of the times I deal with development teams and TLC companies, engineering and science environments in general. People working for those companies are competitive, tend to show "how good they are, how better than the others they are". This makes them jealous of their knowledge, tips and tricks. In addition, they know that spending more time producing than spilling their secrets will pay.

Lack of external motivation
People work on a utility basis. They give more to get more. Motivation comes from company prizes given for good results. There's no motivation in saying "Please log what you do so that it will be useful to others, especially when you'll leave the company and need to be replaced with somebody whose training will be faster thank to your knowledge logging". The only way to give journalling motivation to workers is to judge their merit not only on their "productivity" but also, and at the same degree, on their contribution to the corporate knowledge.

Convincing the local boss to accept the journalling costs and give "monetary" motivation to the workers on behalf of the future benefits is the real challenge I always have to accept. And sometimes it's a really hard challenge.

[CristianVidmar.com]

Cristian adds some interesting factors to the mix of problems surrounding adoption of business journalling.

  • Time
  • Motivation
  • Competition

I'll try to include these later.

7:16:10 PM     : Open State

Open Source Government?. The question then becomes, what kinds of constitutional structures are appropriate to furthering the stated aims in an internetworked, interdependent... [The Obvious?]

What a good question.

2:44:00 PM     : London by night

London by night.

London seen from space

The International Space Station has taken a photo of London at night. Is this progress?

On one level, I don't care, I like the fact of the picture.

Then again, if I had my way*, I would have maps pretty much everywhere at home. One of my most recent moments of little-boy-level enthusiasm was visiting a very pleasant, large townhouse where the 'cloakroom' (i.e. the toilet behind the kitchen) had been wallpapered with an A-Z of London. How wonderful.

I blame at least some of this on being given an illuminated globe at age about five, and my excitement, later in my childhood, on realising that it was slowly going out of date.

[Rogue Semiotics]

Cool pic although I actually think it would have been more fun to post it and ask what the hell it was ;-)

12:44:38 PM     : Oh yeah, I trust you now!

Windows Update keeps tabs on all system software. Spy on the wire [The Register]

Is this true?

The use of SSL suggests a deliberate attempt to prevent me from knowing this is happening.  A deliberate attempt to decieve me.  I would not tolerate this from any other vendor.  Why should I tolerate it from M$?  And they want my trust?

For me they have two choices:

  1. Refute the allegations with independent verification.
  2. Apologize. Destroy the data (and collateral data) & prove that they have.  Give a solemn undertaking that this will never happen again.

I'm turning off Windows update, now.  If I was interested in switching before, you can bet that goes ^10 now.

12:32:54 PM     : Contexts for Business Journalling

David Buchan has prompted me to think a bit harder about the contextual problems faced by business journalling.

I think that there are at least two problems which we must solve for business journalling to be a widespread success.  I'd be interested in hearing about other problems people have specifically identified.

The first problem is what I would describe as: knowledge as a separate activity and the second as lacking a voice.  I think that the solution to both of these problems lies in finding contexts that enable people to journal more easily.

Knowledge as a separate activity

Some of my underlying assumptions about people at work are:

  1. most people do not love their job in the way that I (and other seeming KM enthusiasts) do
  2. most people do not see themselves as knowledge workers (especially those who are not desk bound and do not deal primarily with electronic info and, or, paper)
  3. most people have a view that learning is a discrete activity (we learn in a class-room during specified period, then go out and get on with the rest of our lives)

I think there is an "awakening" process that must happen before you begin to see how knowledge & learning are intertwined into everything you do.  Until then, I think that they are considered to be separate activities practiced in specific contexts (e.g. I am going on a training course).

For the unawakened I think that a business journal is a big blank page that is quite scary and you need to be pretty bold to venture off without a map.  In these times of "Axes in the corridor" boldness isn't the first thing on everyone's mind.

I think the answer lies in finding contexts which are less threatening and lead people to consider knowledge more often in their day and think about how knowledge affects everything they do.  I hope to tie business journalling to these contexts in the hope that I will have more success with my clients that way.

Lacking a voice

I think most people are conditioned to not say anything they don't have to.

In school we are taught to be silent and only speak when questioned directly by an authority figure.  This process of conditioning is continued right the way through education and into work.  Hierarchies support this type of behaviour.

Business journalling turns this don't speak until your spoken to ideology on it's head.  Now you're given a blank page and told to say whatever you think you should say (within limits).  I think that the evidence so far supports the conclusion that people are not comfortable with that.

Drawing on my own experience I found beginning to blog was a challenge, i found myself afraid - not knowing what to say next.  I persevered, I think, because I have always wanted a voice: I dislike authority and am opinionated.  I don't necessarily think everyone else has the same drivers.  I'm also cognizant that, when I started, there was no axe that could fall.  I wasn't worried about saying the wrong thing, or having my words used against me.  I think these are common worries for anyone speaking up (regardless of the medium).

Once again I think the answer is to look for contexts where people already think it's alright to voice their opinions and to leverage these contexts for business journalling success.

Contexts

As I mentioned in a recent post I think that two likely candidates are After Action Reviews and Communities of Practice.

The After Action Review (AAR) is a technique that compares actual results of a task or project with the expected results.  The aim being to identify strengths and weaknesses and help teams to bond together and improve performance.

Don Clark gives an excellent summary of the process and some of it's benefits.  From that I have highlighted some of the questions & talking points a good AAR should raise:

  • Ask why certain actions were taken
  • Ask how they reacted to certain situations
  • Ask when actions were initiated
  • Ask leading and thought provoking questions
  • Exchange "war stories" (lessons learned)
  • Ask employees what happened in their own point of view
  • Relate events to subsequent results
  • Explore alternative courses of actions that might have been more effective
  • Complaints are handled positively
  • When the discussion turns to errors made, emphasize the positive and point out the difficulties of making tough decisions.

These sound to me like fantastic material for building a business journal.

The second context that I think could be very useful is the Community of Practice.  I don't want to write too much about these here because they're a big topic and I'm not an expert.  However one of the definitions given on the page I cite above is groups that learn.  In my mind, groups that learn by doing - not as a separate activity.

Within a CoP people have a context in which they can ask questions, share knowledge, raise awareness and it may be that a business journal will seem a more natural place in which to do that.  Hopefully also within a CoP members can develop the levels of trust and respect that are required for any collaborative effort to be successful.

Conclusion

For me, all this leads towards a concrete realisation that business journalling cannot stand in isolation.  That it is not a solution, but, part of a solution that has to involve contexts which complement it's strengths.  It may be that After Action Review's and Communities of Practice may be good choices, time will tell.

However this also means that, in order to bring business journalling into an organisation requires that they have either already established programs such as AAR, or you have to introduce those at the same time.  This sounds like a daunting prospect.  Any AAR experts out there?

A few points to bear in mind:

  1. I've highlighted business journalling throughout the text to emphasize my use of the term where I might normalling say k-logging.  I'm open to better terms but I'm going to try and use this until someone comes up with one.
  2. I'm making a lot of assumptions.  Please challenge them.  I'm trying to keep to the philosophy of "strong opinions, weakly held" and avoid becoming dogmatic about something so new and unproven.
  3. I don't think I'm identifying anything new here.  I think this is these are formulations of the same problems people have been wrestling with since KM acknowledged that it wasn't a purely technical issue.  What is new is that I'm beginning to understand these issues better - your milage may vary ;-)

I'm also looking forward to hearing other peoples ideas for contexts for business journalling.

 

 27 February 2003

2:28:38 PM     : Assistance required: election algorithms

Can anyone help me?  I'm looking for algorithms that implement elections (similar to the way Windows elects a Browser master if you're familiar with that).

The context is a set of hand-held devices that need to elect a leader to perform duties on their behalf.

Any leads & references would be gratefully received.

2:23:14 PM     : KM Performance Indicators

Something I read this morning (and I'm sorry, but I can't remember what) lead me to a page on Denham Grey's KMWiki about measuring KM performance.  Of particular interest were the suggested Key Performance Indicators:

  1. Time to create new knowledge
  2. Time to competence
  3. Contribution to knowledge bases
  4. Number of delivered Best Practices
  5. Number of repeat complaints
  6. Savings by knowledge re-use
  7. Reduction in cost of quality
  8. Employee satisfaction
  9. Information maintenance
  10. Competence maintenance
  11. Tool availability
  12. Knowledge user complaints
  13. Knowledge user satisfaction
  14. KM budget availability
  15. Network building
  16. Proportion employees making new idea suggestions
  17. Time to new idea
  18. Ratio new ideas generated and new ideas implemented
  19. %sales earned with new knowledge

 

2:16:53 PM     : A new name for k-logs

In talking with Ross the other day we more or less agreed that the terms k-log and k-logging should be abandoned.  They are pretty horrible but I've kept using them as the defacto terms.  Not any longer.  I want to find new terminology.

I'd like to offer up my current favourite:

Business Journal

What do people think?

I'd love to hear your alternatives.

2:11:16 PM     : Klogging context

Expanding on my thoughts of a couple of days ago I am still wondering:  What is the specific context in which someone who is not a k-log enthusiat, believer, etc... will actually use a k-log?

  • When do they turn to it and write something?
  • What should guide what they write?
  • How are they going to speak up when they've never spoken before?

Hmmm....

1:54:01 PM     : Goodbye President Blair

Cabinet 'rock solid' on Iraq. Tony Blair will not be diverted from disarming Iraq by the biggest rebellion of his premiership, says Downing Street. [BBC News | UK | UK Edition]

What's frightening is the religious zeal with which this campaign is being waged.  We are not offered evidence but asked to believe.  But we don't, and he would do well to realise that.

1:38:55 PM     : Corporate bloggers manifesto

The Corporate Weblog Manifesto.

Thinking of doing a weblog about your product or your company? Here's my ideas of things to consider before you start.

  1. Tell the truth.
  2. Post fast on good news or bad.
  3. Use a human voice.
  4. Make sure you support the latest software/web/human standards.
  5. Have a thick skin
  6. Don't ignore Slashdot.
  7. Talk to the grassroots first
  8. If you screw up, acknowledge it.
  9. Underpromise and over deliver.
  10. If Doc Searls says it or writes it, believe it.
  11. Know the information gatekeepers. 
  12. Never change the URL of your weblog.
  13. If your life is in turmoil and/or you're unhappy, don't write.
  14. If you don't have the answers, say so.
  15. Never lie.
  16. Never hide information.
  17. If you have information that might get you in a lawsuit, see a lawyer before posting, but do it fast.
  18. Link to your competitors and say nice things about them.
  19. BOGU.
  20. Be the authority on your product/company.
  21. Know who is talking about you.

[The Scobleizer Weblog]

A good set of principles for someone who is blogging to the outside world (and please visit the original post for a full definition of each point, especially the lovely BOGU!).

 

12:04:03 PM     : Do more harm than good?

If man is not to do more harm than good in his efforts to improve the social order, he will have to learn that in this, as in all other fields where essential complexity of an organized kind prevails, he cannot acquire the full knowledge which would make mastery of the events possible. He will therefore have to use what knowledge he can achieve, not to shape the results as the craftsman shapes his handiwork, but rather to cultivate a growth by providing the appropriate environment, in the manner in which the gardener does this for his plants.

There is danger in the exuberant feeling of ever growing power which the advance of the physical sciences has engendered and which tempts man to try, "dizzy with success," to use a characteristic phrase of early communism, to subject not only our natural but also our human environment to the control of a human will. The recognition of the insuperable limits to his knowledge ought indeed to teach the student of society a lesson of humility which should guard him against becoming an accomplice in men's fatal striving to control society – a striving which makes him not only a tyrant over his fellows, but which may well make him the destroyer of a civilization which no brain has designed but which has grown from the free efforts of millions of individuals.

F.A. Hayek via Lew Rockwell

Good words to think on.

9:28:02 AM     : Free XML editor

Altova Offers Free Software License for Authentic 5 Browser Enabled XML Document Editor.

Altova Inc. has announced the public availability of Altova's XML document editor product Authentic 5 under a free software license. Authentic 5 is a customizable, light-weight, and easy-to-use XML document editor. It allows business users to create and edit content through a web-enabled interface that resembles a word processor. Authentic 5 supports WebDAV and HTTP, with real-time document validation and multilingual spell checking.

[From Cover Pages Newsletter]

Checking it out now.  I already use XML Spy but this might be a better choice when editing markup for my new website (which I am hoping to deploy using xSiteable)

Thank you Altova.

8:49:55 AM     : The insanity of the state

Another stimulating piece by Butler Shafer (my summary, the whole article is better):

And now we find Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and George Bush being referred to as "madmen" by one faction or another, depending upon which side of the battlefield you are on.

Confining our focus on the demented state of mind of tyrants and war-lovers is to overlook the more important consideration: the insanity of the state itself. After pointing out to my students how FDR manipulated the Japanese into an attack on Pearl Harbor in order to get America into World War II, I often hear the response "our government wouldn’t do that!"

The courts, a branch of the state, have provided a fairly consistent expansion of the allegedly "limited" powers granted to the state, and a restrictive definition of the "rights" it was the announced purpose of this scheme to "protect."

If the state enjoys a monopoly on the use of force, and there is no device or principle that can restrain the scope of such authority, what would we expect government officials to do with such power? Much what we would expect a group of children to do if a bowl of candy was placed before them: grab as much of it as they can!

It should be evident to any thoughtful person that politics mobilizes the most vicious, socially destructive attitudes and practices known to mankind. The state represents the "dark side" of the human character, and so we are disinclined to stare it in the face, out of a fear that we might see something of ourselves reflected back.

If the United States has created chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, we will go to war with Iraq for allegedly trying to acquire such weapons for themselves. America will condemn North Korea for having nuclear missiles, even though the United States is the only country in history that has actually used such weapons against civilian populations!

No matter how strong or deserving the criticism of any foreign regime, statists can never allow the censure to rise to the level of an attack upon the idea of the state itself.

And so it is that the Hitlers, Stalins, Maos, Pol Pots, and other tyrants, must be marginalized and isolated as aberrations of an otherwise wondrous system. What better way of accomplishing such state-saving ends than to declare them to be "madmen," "crazed lunatics" who managed to get into power by some untoward means?

In the language of "chaos" theory, the state becomes an "attractor" for the kinds of people who are disposed to use violence and intimidation against others; people who are willing to exploit the sociopathic nature of all political systems.

[From LewRockwell.com]

 

 26 February 2003

3:19:25 PM     : Get your cheque books out

Amazing numbers.

Independent estimate of the impending war with Iraq (from the WSJ)

 Conflict: $20-80 billion
 
 Peacekeeping: $25-105 billion (five years) 
 
 Humanitarian assistance: $1-10 billion  (Note:  I think this figure is very, very low)
 
 Cost of governance: (civil servants and police force) $5-12 bil.
 
 Reconstruction including oil fields: $10-105 bil.
 
 Aid to allies: $6-10 bil.
 
 Debt claims and reparations: $62-361 bil.
 

This may top the $494 b in current US dollars we spent on Vietnam and the $336 b we spent on the Korean war.  The war in Afghanistan cost the US ~$37 b already and current plans call for spending of $7 b a year for ongoing operations.  In the Iraq scenarios, the high intensity warfare planned for will cost $500 m a day.   In contrast, the US spends ~$10 b a year on development and humanitarian aid.

If I do my sums right that could mean as much as $2,434.40 for every one of the 280,562,489 men, women, and, children alive in the United States of America (based upon the population figures from the CIA world factbook 2002).

I hope you like the nice empire you're building, after all, you're paying for it!

3:04:25 PM     : Patently absurb

Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon, claims to have invented discussion group software in August 1999. The patent was issued yesterday by the USPTO. [Scripting News]

Well that's nice for him.

11:12:43 AM     : A different kind of B2C

That's business 2 community...

Something I have never done before but am interested in persuing now is getting involved with voluntary projects.  I would like to help out with one or more charities who need Knowledge Management (KM) or Information Technology (IT) skills.

Do you know someone who might need me?

Specifically I would like to become involved with one or two projects where there is a shortage of Knowledge Management or Information Technology skills.  Obviously given my bias I would prefer to help out with a KM project (maybe a charity interested in persuing weblogs?) but I will happily volunteer IT strategy skills and IT implementation skills (from advice & recommendations, through implementation and support - including software development).  I haven't thought too hard about how much time I can, or would like, to commit -- I guess I'll worry about that when I need to.

I have come across the Business Community Connections site, which aims to help businesses get involved with community projects, however they have a lot of charities on their books and I'm not sure how easy it is going to be to match up my skills with any of them.  I'd rather short-circuit the process by personal contact if I can.

I'd love to hear from you.

10:33:45 AM     : 100th subscription

It's official:

Rogue Semiotics is now my 100th RSS subscription.

And to think I was complaining back when I only had about 30!

Do I get a telegram from anyone now that I've reached 100?

  • More about:
 25 February 2003

8:28:11 PM     : Socialising with the SocialText crew

Good conference call today between Ross and Adina of SocialText and Paolo and I.  We all shared of our vision and our plans for the future which seem to be quite complementary.  It's good to talk to other people doing interesting things in this space and I hope that we get an opportunity to work together.  Certainly we both believe in the importance of supporting standards which, for us, means a big focus on RSS2.0 and XTM.

2:30:51 PM     : Lincoln's supreme lie

At a time when the US government seems to be acting not entirely with the backing of it's citizens or necessarily in their long-term best interests I found the following article: "Lincoln's spectacular lie" quite interesting.

Bill Bryson's book Made In America speaks very eloquently about the war of independence and many of the myths that have grown up surrounding both it and the formation of the union.  I find the whole subject fascinating.

2:02:14 PM     : klogging staff directories

Staff Directories.

Column Two has posted a "list of what you might consider including in your staff directory." A few extras we are considering for our staff directory, in addition to those on James' list, include:


  • regular work hours
  • telecommuting days with contact info
  • teams you are a member of (we are a team-based staff)
  • teams you are interested in
  • self-selected subject areas of expertise (drawn from our thesaurus)
  • self-selected subject areas of interest (also drawn from our thesaurus)

[High Context]

On the original post, Phil Wolff comments:

Check out http://tacit.com. They mine worker emails, blogs, and documents to extract full-text profiles. It's almost impossible to anticpate every need, and always impossible to get everyone to fill out such comprehensive self descriptions. Tacit presents their mining results to you, letting choose what to share with your colleagues and whether to share it anonymously. On the search side, you find three French speakers with an HR background, two with public contact info and one anonymously that tacits contacts on your behalf.

That's why klogging becomes so important. Lots more description of things that interest and matter to each person.

 

1:43:22 PM     : A context for k-logging success

I've been spending some time thinking about how to employ k-logs in a business and, in particular, in a business which does not primarily see itself as a "knowledge business" but as a production business.  I'm thinking about the challenges of getting people who don't routinely use computers as part of their work to not only become part of a KM project but to thrive in it.

It's probably no surprise that I think k-logs are a good idea but, in the 6 months or so since I took up this sword I haven't really seen the practical evidence of this.  Where are the big deployments?  Where are the articles and papers?

I think k-logs struggle when it comes to practical implementation because, good idea or not, they do not stand on their own.  They struggle without a wider context in which they can make sense.  This leads me back to a question I have mulled before which is about the boundary between k-logs and the legacy intranet.

k-logs, to me, should be the living, beating heart of an organisation.  The posts racing from aggregator to aggregator are like the blood pumping around the organism, connecting parts together and ensuring they are healthy.  But if these posts are not to be ephemera then they have to go somewhere, they have to gain a context within the wider organisation and it's memory systems.

I predict that successful k-logging will require an interface between k-logs themselves and more established systems & groups.  At the moment I think the 3 most likely candidates are:

  • Communities of Practice
  • Best Practice Programs
  • After-Action-Reviews

Each of these has a review element and a sense of producing something in aggregate from what they review.  I think it will be these groups who will mine an organisations k-logs and make best use of them.  And it will be participation in such groups that will create loops back into the heart of the organisation, keep it connected, keep it alive.

1:26:57 PM     : Faculty on the Floor

Matt Mower asks:

"How do you bring knowledge management to people who do not see knowledge as part of their job?

For example the workers in a process plant. There is knowledge all around them and embedded in the work that they do. How, in practical terms, to do you make them knowledge workers?"

One of the companies in the UK who have embedded KM into a nuts and bolts business is Unipart, which operates in the automotive components and logistics industry. At their head office in Oxford, you're confronted by the Unipart U and various learning facilities before you even get to reception. They also take the Unipart U and put it onto the shop floor where it is immediately available to production workers who need training for the task they're doing right now, who want to learn or share best practices, or who want to discuss issues with colleagues via the web and videoconferencing. Their approach is about "learning at 10:00am and doing at 11:00am". They call this the Faculty on the Floor.

Take a look at their introduction to what they're doing. If you want more information, try contacting Unipart Advanced Learning Systems and talk to some people who enthuse about knowledge workers within production processes with real passion and understanding.

[Making Connections]

I was asking yesterday about how to make KM work with people who do not see themselves as knowledge workers.

My thanks to Simon for providing a spot on example of a production business who seem to be doing something about making KM work.  I especially loved the "learning at 10:00am and doing at 11:00am" idea.

1:15:58 PM     : One rule for "them", one rule for "us"

Mugabe: US must disarm. The United States should lead by example and destroy its weapons of mass destruction, says Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe. [BBC News | World | UK Edition]

12:04:29 PM     : The things you have to put up with sometimes

Sometimes, young Indy, you go too far!!

!

11:46:47 AM     : Shrinking liberties... it doesn't wash with me

Smart Mobs picks up on a report by the ACLU which argues that surveillance is increasing, civil liberty guarantees are shrinking, and the combined impact of surveillance data from multiple sources is far greater than the sum of its parts.

Although I only follow the issues from the sidelines, I have growing concerns about corporate and governmental prying. The more my life is easily traced by following electronic trails, the more I worry about who is sniffing those trails out. Whether or not my career as a criminal mastermind is tediously pedestrian is beside the point - the fact that I have nothing to hide makes me more concerned about my actions being watched, logged, collated, catgeorised and cross-referenced.

Sometimes I take comfort in the thought that the more data the government has, the less it will know what to do with it. Trying to integrate it meaningfully will be way too complicated - trying to see and understand patterns across all the disparate data streams is just a cyber-spook's wet-dream.

But then I get back to cold reality. Just because they can't do it, won't stop them trying. The integration may not be meaningful - the patterns may not be understood - but patterns there will be. And in the paranoid world of the cyber-spook, an excess of false positives will be a fair price to pay for tracking down the bad guys.

So my real concern is not that they're sniffing my electronic trail. Sure, it's an invasion of my privacy but it's rather an abstract invasion. My real concern is what cock-eyed conclusions someone will draw from matching this parameter with that pattern and what real-life, concrete actions they will take against me (or you, or any of the other millions of people whose profile just doesn't smell right).

Paranoid? Maybe. Except, they are watching us...

[Making Connections]

Simon neatly identifies the conumdrum facing most of us in relation to privacy issues.  We see our rights being eroded on the back of claims of this or that (today it's terrorism) but we have no trust in the custodians that they will not betray us.

That the government cannot possibly assimilate all the information it eventually hopes to hold does not, however, make me feel any happier.  This is, I think, for two reasons:

  1. We have seen many times how a single idea (or cluster of related ideas) can revolutionise an industry completely.  Today they may not be able to use the data in aggregate, but they will keep it and, who knows what they will be able to do tomorrow?
  2. The data may not be useful in aggregate but it will be open to targetted abuse.  That is, if my data is separable somehow from everyone elses then what is to stop corrupt officials from selling it to those who, for their own reasons, would wish to use it against me.

Even if these massive TIA style super-databases are a boon in the fight against crime (and I have yet to see the cogent and persuasive arguments for this) I would, I think, still be find the countervailing arguments for liberty more compelling.

Total Information Awareness and it's ilk are sledgehammer solution to the wrong problem.  We should not be asking how to catch more terrorists but how to avoid situations in which terrorists want to kill us.

9:17:12 AM     : Colour coded alerts

This Modern World. Call us crazy, but we've begun to suspect racism didn't disappear with Trent. [Salon.com]

Colour coded alerts all round.

 24 February 2003

3:11:40 PM     : We're all knowledge workers now

Here is a question:

How do you bring knowledge management to people who do not see knowledge as part of their job?

For example the workers in a process plant.  There is knowledge all around them and embedded in the work that they do.  How, in practical terms, to do you make them knowledge workers?

The question isn't well framed yet as I'm still thinking out it's dimensions... i'll expand on it as I go and I welcome all input.

(Hint: this question isn't entirely theoretical)

2:03:46 PM     : Semantic blogging

Semantic blogging tool?. Danny Ayers is working on a 'semantic weblog server'. It'll be interesting to see how this turns out. The semantic web needs working apps, so the rest of us can get a clue re what it's all about. [Second p0st]

This looks interesting. 

 21 February 2003

10:00:28 AM     : Rip off Music Industry

Real Numbers From Music Industry. More evidence that looking at real financial numbers for the music industry is key to gutting their entire position on digital music sharing. We should not begrudge publishers legitimate fees for legitimate services, but we should never have let them recast the file sharing argument as one of protecting artists. It's a patently bullshit argument and will continue to fall under close scrutiny.

Who Gets Hurt When You Pirate Music?.

There's a case study in the NYDaily News -- apparently a propos nothing but this Sunday's Grammy Awards -- that breaks down the cash flow of a hypothetical hit album by a hypothetical rock quartet. It illustrates all the people that get paid along the food chain, including some odd recoupable record company expenses, like a 25 percent "packaging deduction" and a 15 percent "free goods charge," off the top, most of which the label keeps.

The bottom line is that a gold record (500,000 copies) selling at $16.98 will gross roughly $8.5 million, of which each member of the hypothetical quartet will pocket about $40,000. (The case study doesn't take songwriting royalties into account.)

So for every $16.98 album you rip, you're costing a performing artist about 34 cents, and the lawyers, producers and labels about $16.64. [Over the Edge]

[b.cognosco]

If some kind soul would just setup a service where I could mail the $0.34 to the artist then I think everyone would be happy.  Heck I'd even be prepared to go as far as $0.68... that's a whopping 100% profit! :)

 

 20 February 2003

7:49:28 PM     : Don't ask questions. Do what you're told.

Cheney's Energy Task Force: Why We'll Never Know Who Was on It. The Hill: GOP threats halted GAO Cheney suit. The controversy with Cheney came to a head in December after U.S.... [Dan Gillmor's eJournal]

11:42:02 AM     : Sad day

Sad day today

This morning I have learned that the father of my friend and partner, Simone, has suddenly died. Simone's wife has asked me to forward the news to the rest of this community.

For those of us who live so intensely this life on-line receiving the support from the people we know, even only by reading each other's weblog, is quite important.

So, these few lines are here to express our love for Simone and his family. [Paolo Valdemarin: Paolo's Weblog]

I would like to echo that thought.

 19 February 2003

11:28:01 AM     : Medscape RSS

Medscape Makes RSS Feeds Available!.

Medscape Jumps into RSS

"I am really happy to announce that Medscape, the leading news, information, research and CME site for Physicians on the Internet has joined the RSS revolution. We are now publishing RSS feeds of our headlines in each specialty for which we have a home page. And if you really want the full picture of what's going on in medicine, you can subscribe to a full site feed that syndicates just about every article, news story and CME program that is published.

This is a direct result of my experiments here in weblogs, as well as interactions I've had with the 'Doc Bloggers' in the column to the right. Admittedly, we are one of the few sites that rely on getting people to look at our content on our site launching this feature (and outside of technology-oriented sites, you can probably count the major media participants on one hand), and are certainly the first serious medical resource to do so.

So why aren't we afraid that publishing an RSS feed will actually lead to less traffic on our site? It comes down to this...we believe in the quality of our content. We know there is nowhere else on the Internet where you can get the same timeliness, focus and professional quality of medical information. If you are a doctor (or you are interested in medical information), our RSS feed is the best way to stay up to date on what we are publishing, and you will invariably want to visit our site to see the whole story." [Tales of Hoffman]

Add Mescape to the "ClueTrained-In" column!

Remember - RSS doesn't have to be a supplement for site visitors; it can easily be a complementary channel. Congratulations to Steve and Medscape for taking the long view! I truly believe this will benefit them in the long run, and I hope Steve will be able to provide us with periodic updates.

[The Shifted Librarian]

This is important for a number of reasons not least of which, from my perspective, is that in the medical professional we have a group of people for whom the classification of knowledge feeds isn't going to be a nice-to-have but a must-have.

These people are going to have so much information pushed at them that it is going to be essential that they can intelligently organise the streams into useful knowledge bases.

 18 February 2003

9:17:46 PM     : Closures open new avenues

Lisp really is a fascinating language.  When I read Paul Graham talking about Arc and CLOS thus:

I personally have never needed object-oriented abstractions. Common Lisp has an enormously powerful object system and I've never used it once. I've done a lot of things (e.g. making hash tables full of closures) that would have required object-oriented techniques to do in wimpier languages, but I have never had to use CLOS.

At first I was inclined to dismiss it, after all lots of people denigrate OOP or say they don't need it.  However already I can kind of see what he means.

I'm just running through tutorials at the moment, messing with functions and closures and messing with lists of functions and lists of data and...  Well, lets just say it's opening some new pathways.

I still like Java, I'm still happy to code in Java, but I'm definitely enjoying Lisp and wonder about where it might take me.

4:41:05 PM     : Purple thy name is: SocialText?

Interesting, I just post about Wiki and here I read that the SocialText crew (Adina Levin, Ross Mayfield, Peter Kaminski, and Ed Vielmetti) are releasing a Wiki product of their own called NiceLittleWiki.  I hope it will solve some of the current problems with Wiki software (ugliness, impossible media handling, lack of ability to format text when you need it, bad indexing, etc...).

SocialText may turn out to be one of the Purple Cows of KM.  I await their next move with interest!

(With thanks to Terry for reminding me about SocialText)

11:25:37 AM     : The purple cow of knowledge

I've been reading In Praise of the Purple Cow in which the author, Seth Godin, proposes that, in order to be truly successful, a product must be remarkable.  His claim is that being very good is also failure.  These days everyone is good or very good, you have to be remarkable to stand out and get the notices (good and bad).

The purple cow idea jives very much with what I've read of Gary Hamel's notion of how revolutionary approaches create new markets and deliver profits.  Unless you also invest in new purple cows then building upon success is the road to stagnation.  Ask AOL, Palm and Yahoo.  This idea feels right to me.

Which lead me to thinking about knowledge management products and how so many of them are good, but hardly remarkable.  Personal Brain is a remarkable product which was never exploited.   The Wiki idea was remarkable, but none of the Wiki software I've used has been.  In fact when I think about it, the whole field of KM is dominated by the idea of being good enough.

For example OpenText Livelink is a very successful KM product.  Which gives you some idea of the state of that market.  Livelink is a well-dressed document management system.  Hardly innovative, definitely not purple cow territory.  But it's been successful.  Why is that?

I think the answer is partly about OpenText being an aggressive sales driven company, partly that the KM market is dominated by large, conservative, corporations, and partly because the whole market is ripe, waiting for a real purple cow.

Can anyone say "Moo!?!"

 17 February 2003

9:20:03 AM     : Doctorin the news

CNN doctors the news. Dan Hon has done an excellent analysis of CNN's doctoring of the transcript of Hans Blix' report to the U.N. Friday.

After grabbing the text from the two transcripts, correcting for where the BBC inserted a whole bunch of whitespace, there it was. A count in Word says that there's 866 words in one version that aren't in the other. At all. And they're, variously, about Iraqi moves towards compliance and partial refutation of the evidence presented by Powell to the UNSC.

Get that. CNN deliberately left out the things Blix said about Iraq complying with the UN resolution, and the parts where he refutes Colin Powell's evidence from the week before. Look for yourself. BBC's full version is here and CNN's fake version is here. [Ming the Mechanic]

Well I'd like to say I'm shocked by CNN doing this, but I'm really not.  And I'd like to say I'd be shocked that they won't get called to account, but I won't be.

9:10:54 AM     : Cotton? We don't want no stinkin cotton

Just been reading a little about the history of another just war to bring freedom and democracy to an oppressed people.

http://www.lewrockwell.com/wilson/wilson11.html

Which war is that?  Why, the American civil war...

 16 February 2003

9:35:03 AM     : Singing for your Lisp

Does anyone have an old copy of

Paul Graham's

ANSI Common Lisp

http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0133708756/qid=1045387588/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_2_1/202-2084505-8187038

That is surplus to requirements?

I'm really keen to learn Lisp, think this is the right book, but can't justify spending the money on it.  The public library system in south London is a little short on Lisp so I'm hoping somebody out there may have an unwanted copy.

For now I'm using online tutorials (including Graham's more advanced Lisp book which is online) but it would be much easier with a good book.

8:25:27 AM     : Iraq is not Nazi Germany

Iraq is not Nazi Germany. There's an article in the Guardian stating the opponents of war on Iraq are not the appeasers and points out the fallacy in comparing Iraq to Nazi Germany and this era to the 1930's. [megnut]

 15 February 2003

9:41:08 PM     : JetBlue sky

A picture named aa.gifI'm fed up with American Airlines. I booked this trip in mid-January, and one of the criteria for the return flight was availability of a window seat. I just checked the reservation (I fly tomorrow), and it said I had no assigned seat. I called the airline and the best they could offer was that seat assignments are not guaranteed, and I might be able to get a window seat at the gate. So I checked with JetBlue. They have a window seat. $300 one-way. What the heck. I've heard good things about them. I hope they're good. I'll let you know. [Scripting News]

I had two of the best flights imaginable with JetBlue between Oakland and JFK.  The planes were new, the seats were cheap, the flights were efficiently managed and they even managed to be cheerful.  I'd recommend 'em to anyone.

 14 February 2003

5:43:09 PM     : p-logs

P-Logs for Project Teams. Here's my Proposal for a P-Log (Project Weblog) Specification.

Why the Interest in Weblogs?
I've been curious about the role blogging could play on projects. In October I did a posting Project Klogs: Changing Paradigms on John Udell's view of weblogs for projects. Udell claimed our tools and practices don't attend to the story of the project.

Projects fail. This is the usual case. We all know this. Attempts by the PMI to address this have not succeeded. It's time for something completely different.

Why A Specification?
We've been designing and redesigning the same collaboration tools for years. Ten years ago I used an early Lotus Notes database for project management. Back then and today the collaboration environments do the same things: provide status, track issues, and discussion. We can do those things with a p-log. But there are three critical issues that need attention that haven't got attention:

  1. Uncertainty - the future unfolds influenced by actions of the team and the world that is unfolding around the team. Planning is the conversation for participating in the infolding.
  2. Learning - the vast majority of knowledge is tacit. Projects are one-of-a-kind opportunities to share, deepen, innovate, ...
  3. Mood of the team - enthusiasm beats complacency, cooperation beats (internal) competition, determination beats resignation, and wonder beats arrogance. Yet, when mood is left unaddressed we get what we get.
P-logs are about the story of the project and the team. P-logs are for the team to take charge of the conversation of the project.

What's Next?
Perhaps this is too ambitious. Perhaps nothing short of audacious ambition will get at the underlying sources of project failure. I propose we do this together. How about a project conducted with a weblog for developing the p-log? (Thanks Joe for the proposal.) In the next few days I'll write about aspects of the p-log specification. Please join in with your comments and questions, suggestions and criticisms, and offers to build and use a prototype p-log.
[Reforming Project Management]

 

10:31:16 AM     : Testing Paolo's softshadowmaker

Mississippi on her favourite box

I've always loved the way Paolo's images have lovely soft shadows around them. Unfortunately as one of the artistically challenged I've never been able to do it myself. I asked Paolo if he could find a way for me to have soft shadows too...

He came up with a very neat solution which we've now packaged into a Macro that you can download and use yourself. Enjoy :)

To get the soft shadow around my picture I used:

  • <%softShadow( "http://matt.blogs.it/images/sippi/Picture 46.jpg", width:"320", height:"240", alt:"Mississippi on her favourite box", 0 )%>

9:53:57 AM     : Catch up...

Just catching up...

Had drinks with Rick and Roger on Wednesday night in central London.  I hadn't seen either of them in quite a while so it was good to catch up.  Add Paolo to the mix and i've had a very interesting week!

Yesterday was spent getting the liveTopics release together.  It was quite frustrating but I think I should have it done by this afternoon.

 12 February 2003

10:11:14 AM     : Aspects of Lisp

Design Patterns in Functional languages. A couple months ago, I asked what Design Patterns would look like in a Scheme.  Ted Leung has the answer, in the form of a presentation by Peter Norvig.  Lots of people talking about functional languages these days: Charles Cook, Chris Double, James Robertson.  Even Sam Gentile's picking up on generative programming.  Something's in the air, for sure. [Gordon Weakliem's Radio Weblog]

Back when I was involved, full-time, in Java development one of my biggest interests was AspectJ (which I notice is now part of the Eclipse project).  We were building a dynamic, adaptive, component framework and I could see that aspects provided for some interesting solutions to thorny problems.  At the time AJ was still beta'ish and the language evolving from release-to-release so I was biding my time.  Then the company went phut!

But in reading the answer above I get a hint about what is drawing me toward Lisp.

If Java had macros ( in the Lisp sense and not C-style macros ), we could integrate AOP in a seamless way, without having to write custom compilers and all the rest of the stuff that the AspectJ guys are doing. And besides, the AspectJ folks are taking all the lessons that they learned doing Meta Object Protocols for Lisp/CLOS and repackaging them as AOP.

I gotta get me a copy of Paul Graham's Lisp book...

 11 February 2003

11:37:14 PM     : Gotta love those soft shadows

Look who's here.

Here's Matt Mower and me in my home/office in Gradisca now. We've done a lot of planning about future products and development in the last two days. Very cool. We also plan to buy a castle, but this of course will happen after the new products ";->" [Paolo Valdemarin: Paolo's Weblog]

Is this an iMac I see before me..?

11:25:39 PM     : Can I be sceptical for just one more minute?

New-fangled XML gubbins.

I'd like to make a couple of clarifications:

  1. I didn't really take a look at SuperX++.  Or rather that's exactly what I did.  I looked at that chunk of code on the page and went "ugh!"
  2. I don't agree with the statement "XML is both easily human and...".  Computer readable?  Yes.  Human readable, gods no.  Not that example anyway.

I've had this argument before but so far I haven't seen any good reason for XML programming languages.  In conversation with the author of ObjectBox I wondered about using such a language for building advanced coding toolsets but I sure as hell don't want to be typing this stuff in!  You, of course, may type in whatever you like :)

[Curiouser and curiouser!]
Yes, I hesitated to type "human readable" :)! Though even in IE's xml renderer, readability is greatly improved. This particular language may be the best representative of the concept [paradoxically, this language has spwaned a varient which doesn't use xml at all].

Intuitively, an XML programming language appeals to me. I see this type of programming as fairly high level, such as stitching services and data together into web applications in Recombinant Growth -- not as a replacement for traditional programming language. Programming in an XML langauge should be easier, for the task at hand.

Does this justify XML for programming? I need to put more thought into this intuition. [Brain Off]

One of the questions that springs to my mind is: Why XML?  Other than off-the-shelf parsers (and language parsing is not a big deal, a tool like ANTLR reduces this problem pretty quick and provides a whole lot more besides) what does having the language in XML really achieve?

As I said in my earlier post the only future I see for this (long term) is if it makes it significantly easier to build coding toolsets such as refactoring engines and intelligent IDE's.  Maybe if these languages came with some kind of OWL ontology to allow their comprehension by other languages or toolsets...

Otherwise what's the point?  ASCII source is pretty easily transferred and I think XML tags can be a positive hindrance to comprehension (for which I cite the oft villified but repeated attempts to produce concise or simple XML variants).  But, hey, we can use namespaces to mix two different XML languages in one source file right?

10:45:19 PM     : Yet another monopoly... cos that works

Telewest-NTL merger possible: Burdick. Cable Guys get it on [The Register]

This is either great news for NTL customers or sucktastic news for Telewest users.  Overall i'm not sure that a cable monopoly is a healthy thing...

10:42:20 PM     : Bad NTL! Bad!

Users call for anti-NTL protest. Valentine's Day massacre [The Register]

BlueYonder execs take note.

 

10:36:07 PM     : Home again, home again, jiggity jig

Just bad from 3 fantastic days in Italy.   Paolo and I have been scheming (no this is not a reference to my burgeoning interest in Lisp) and we've got something pretty cool in the works.  More details soon I hope.

Of course I am now struggling to type on this non-Italian, non-Mac keyboard.  If I don't watch out he'll have me converted.  Now, where's that Cmd key ;-)

 

 10 February 2003

3:07:13 PM     : New-fangled XML gubbins

Matt Mower takes a look at Superx++, an OO programming language with an XML syntax, and finds it a bit new-fangled.

I agree it looks terribly verbose, but I think there are some terrific advantages possible from this approach. XML is both easily human and computer readable, and sensible, lowering the technical bar to understanding. A terrific development toolset for manipulating XML programs could evolve from the format. Incorporating other XML documents is natural, whether they specify Data, Instructions, Web Services, or UI widgets.

There's plenty of action is this area. Apache Cocoon is "an XML publishing framework that raises the usage of XML and XSLT technologies for server applications to a new level." XUL is Mozilla's XML UI language. Laszlo is a Rich Internet Application Framework, utilizing XML for development, and piggybacking on Flash for execution [From the look of their screenshot, it seems myWay may be interested]. XWT is a gui toolkit based in XML (mentioned in the great article HTML's Time is Over. Let's Move On.). There's even been rumors of Microsoft pursuing XML programming languages. [Brain Off]

I'd like to make a couple of clarifications:

  1. I didn't really take a look at SuperX++.  Or rather that's exactly what I did.  I looked at that chunk of code on the page and went "ugh!"
  2. I don't agree with the statement "XML is both easily human and...".  Computer readable?  Yes.  Human readable, gods no.  Not that example anyway.

I've had this argument before but so far I haven't seen any good reason for XML programming languages.  In conversation with the author of ObjectBox I wondered about using such a language for building advanced coding toolsets but I sure as hell don't want to be typing this stuff in!  You, of course, may type in whatever you like :)

2:26:17 PM     : ICANN, you can't, we can't

Europe threatens to invade ICANN. Internet teetering on brink of war [The Register]

It's not clear to me how ICANN enforces it's controls.  Is it possible for the national registries to rebel and opt-out of ICANN's control?

 09 February 2003

10:03:44 PM     : I want to buy a castle

I never did before, but now I do.

I've found my dream castle.

 08 February 2003

 07 February 2003

5:22:24 PM     : Too old to program XML?

Cool Programming Language Concept: SuperX++.

Cool Programming Language Concept: SuperX++

This is neat: Super X++.  It is a language where XML is the underlying programming construct as opposed to ASCII.  And, yes Virginia, it is Open Source.[_Go_]

Here is a simple example from the FAQ:

How do I code "Hello World!" in Superx++?
The following code will be a full Superx++ program that returns the string "Hello World!" to the Superx++ client (whatever process calls a Superx++ program):

<xpp>
   <xout>Hello World!</xout>
</xpp>

And here is a complex example:

How do I define a class?
A class in Superx++ is defined using the <class> statement. An example follows:
<class name="XTree" inherit="XPlant">
   <construct>
      <scope type="public">
         <Chlorophylic>yes</Chlorophylic>
      </scope>
   </construct>
   <scope type="public">
      <func type="string" name="GetChlorophylic">
         <body>
            <return>
               <eval object="Chlorophylic" />
            </return>
         </body>
      </func>
      <func type="void" name="SetChlorophylic">
         <parm type="string" name="sVal" pass="val" />
         <body>
            <eval object="Chlorophylic">
               <eval object="sVal" />
            </eval>
         </body>
      </func>
      <func type="int" name="GetAge">
         <body>
            <return>
               <eval object="this" member="Age" />
            </return>
         </body>
      </func>
      <func type="void" name="SetAge">
         <parm type="int" name="sVal" pass="val" />
         <body>
            <eval object="this" member="Age">
               <eval object="sVal" />
            </eval>
         </body>
      </func>
   </scope>
   <scope type="protected">
      <var type="int" name="Age">0</var>
   </scope>
</class>

The statement above declares a class called XTree which inherits from the class XPlant which contains an object called Chlorophylic. Every time an object of class XTree is instantiated it will be instantiated along with a contained object called Chlorophylic. The class XTree also defines four methods and one member variable. For more details on classes click here.

Thanks to Dr. Dobbs Journal for turning me on to this.

[The FuzzyBlog!]

I think I'm getting old 'cus Superx++ looks bloody horrible to me.

12:18:05 PM     : Peaceniks guide to the Middle East

A dove's guide. Over the the (UK) Times A dove's guide: how to be an honest critic of the war by Matthew Parris makes some very good points about possible war with Iraq.

"[T]o our doves' hearts' content, we may make sport with the arguments of Bush and Blair. But when the mockery dies away do we not have to ask ourselves one awkward little remaining question? What if the undeclared major premise is true? What if the weaponry is there, just as Washington and London believed all along?"

[via Nick] [megnut]

Paris finishes his peace with the words:

I  do not think that the war, if there is a war, will fail. I can easily envisage the publication soon of some chilling facts about Saddam’s armoury, a French and German scamper back into the fold, a tough UN second resolution, a short and successful war, a handover to a better government, a discreet change of tune in the biddable part of the Arab world, and egg all over the peaceniks’ faces.

I am not afraid that this war will fail. I am afraid that it will succeed.

I am afraid that it will prove to be the first in an indefinite series of American interventions. I am afraid that it is the beginning of a new empire: an empire that I am afraid Britain may have little choice but to join.

and I agree on all points.

US forces can always win this war, provided the US public can accept the casualties and the potential bloodbath that may result in street-to-street combat Grozny style.  In my darker moments I also believe that a successful occupation of Iraq could be the beginning of Pax Americana.

Where I disagree with Paris is in his dismissal of oil as a motivator for the struggle in Iraq.

12:03:40 PM     : Cooked intelligence

Plagiarized Intelligence. On Monday the British government released a document: "Iraq - Its Infrastructure of Concealment Deception and Intimidation", which appeared to be an up-to-the-minute intelligence based analysis, timed to back up what Colin Powell told the U.N. the next day. And Powell made a point out of praising it. Unfortunately, or maybe humorously, it turns out to have been put together from older public articles that various people have written, and most of it has just been cut and pasted verbatim, including typos. Some of it is taken from a paper written by a California college student. Seems like the British government doesn't have the resources to make up convincing stories themselves, let alone actually doing the intelligence work. [Ming the Mechanic]

I listened to a piece about this on the Channel 4 news last night.

They showed the documents side-by-side and I was pretty convinced that the government had just lifted most of it from the student paper.  It should also be noted that the student paper was written just after the first gulf war so the information is hardly "up to the minute."

During the program they also suggested that the reason this document had been cooked up by No.10 was that British Intelligence did not support the conclusions No. 10 was looking for and couldn't be coerced into producing such a document themselves.

11:38:59 AM     : Gulf War II: This time it's for the economy

Dollars, Euros and Oil. Excellent article by Ciln Nunan: "Oil, Currency and the War on Iraq". It seems to have disappeared from the site, so I'll include it at the bottom as well. Fascinating explanation of some major economic mechanisms involving dollars and euros and oil. A very big reason that the United States is such an economically and militarily dominating country is apparently that U.S. dollar is the de facto world reserve currency. Lots of things are counted in dollars and some goods are only sold for dolars. That means that foreign governments and corporations and banks are keeping large dollar reserves. That essentially amounts to a huge loan the rest of the world is giving to the United States, which will subsidize the U.S. economy. In order to acquire those dollars, the rest of the world has to provide goods and services for those dollars. That allows the U.S. to have a huge import/export imbalance. Last November, 48% more imports than exports. It would be untennable for any other country to run such a deficit.Next major point is that one of the reasons everybody has to have dollars is that the OPEC oil producting countries only accept dollars for oil. Well, not all of them. The only one that does something different is Iraq, which only accepts Euros for their oil, since 2000. And Iran is considering it as well. And the thing is that it might just as well be Euros that everybody used as a reserve currency. It would apparently be a better choice in many ways, because the European economies are more balanced, and the OPEC countries would end up getting more value for their oil. So, now, what would happen if Euros became the only choice for buying oil? Most likely the U.S. economy would plunge, because it would no longer be subsidized in that manner. And EU would probably be quite happy being subsidized in its place. Anybody thinks all this might have something to do with the great urgency to take over Iraq? And why would Britain support it? more > [Ming the Mechanic]

Well now... isn't this interesting.  I found it worth reading the whole article to get a clearer understanding of the economics (not a subject I have a strong grasp on).

If the economic beans make five then this is by far the most credible rationale I've heard for America & Britain going to war with Iraq.  Presumably an American puppet state in Iraq would swiftly switch back to the mighty $$ for oil deals.  Also with a large US presence next door Iran might think twice about undermining the US economy.

From my perspective I would like to see the UK join the Euro.  Presumably at that point we'd join France and Germany in opposing the war.  Doubtless we would claim more honourable "pacificsm" related reasons than just not caring about the US economy any more.

However what this does show is that Bush has his eye squarely on the domestic economy.  He realises that, if Opec drops the dollar, the US is probably boned.

Here is my summary of the article:

  • The dollar is the de facto world reserve currency: the US currency accounts for approximately two thirds of all official exchange reserves.
  • In addition, all IMF loans are denominated in dollars.
  • But the more dollars there are circulating outside the US, or invested by foreign owners in American assets, the more the rest of the world has had to provide the US with goods and services in exchange for these dollars.
  • The dollars cost the US next to nothing to produce, so the fact that the world uses the currency in this way means that the US is importing vast quantities of goods and services virtually for free.
  • Since so many foreign-owned dollars are not spent on American goods and services, the US is able to run a huge trade deficit year after year without apparently any major economic consequences.
  • One of the stated economic objectives, and perhaps the primary objective, when setting up the euro was to turn it into a reserve currency to challenge the dollar so that Europe too could get something for nothing.
  • Not only would they lose a large part of their annual subsidy of effectively free goods and services, but countries switching to euro reserves from dollar reserves would bring down the value of the US currency.
  • Imports would start to cost Americans a lot more and as increasing numbers of those holding dollars began to spend them, the US would have to start paying its debts by supplying in goods and services to foreign countries, thus reducing American living standards.
  • There is though one major obstacle to this happening: oil.
  • Oil is not just by far the most important commodity traded internationally, it is the lifeblood of all modern industrialised economies.
  • If on the other hand OPEC were to decide to accept euros only for its oil (assuming for a moment it were allowed to make this decision), then American economic dominance would be over.
  • Not only would Europe not need as many dollars anymore, but Japan which imports over 80% of its oil from the Middle East would think it wise to convert a large portion of its dollar assets to euro assets (Japan is the major subsidiser of the US because it holds so many dollar investments).
  • The conversion from trade deficit to trade surplus would have to be achieved at a time when its property and stock market prices were collapsing and its domestic supplies of oil and gas were contracting.
  • There is little doubt that this was a deliberate attempt by Saddam to strike back at the US, but in economic terms it has also turned out to have been a huge success: at the time of Iraq's conversion the euro was worth around 83 US cents but it is now worth over $1.05.
  • As oil production is now in decline in most oil producing countries, the importance of the remaining large oil producers, particularly those of the Middle East, is going to grow and grow in years to come.

 

 05 February 2003

4:40:20 PM     : Money well spent I say

Not to be outdone by Daddy. A graph shows GW's record budget deficit [megnut]

I guess you might be asking yourselves:

Did we get value for money out of that $500 billion?

11:43:32 AM     : Sun Tech Day

Sun Tech Day - London. Just got back from the Sun 'Tech Day' in London. I thought the line up of sponsors was interesting - aside from Sun, the sponsors were: Oracle, Nokia, Motorola, Macromedia and Novell. Oracle and Novell's presence is no suprise - they bought into Java wholesale some time ago and Macromedia ... [sockdrawer.org]

A blog! A blog! My kingdom for a blog!

My friend Paul has finally got his blog going and ruminates on a recent Sun Tech Day.

11:30:55 AM     : Colonising Space

Here is the HTML version of the report HighLift Systems supplied to NASA on the viability of a space elevator. 

[John Robb's Radio Weblog]

Very cool.

If we, as a planet, are interested in space exploration then this sounds like the future.  I mean, who build rockets?

 01 February 2003

11:48:58 AM     : liveTopics and the Internet Topic Exchange

Phil and I are working out some of the details of how liveTopics should interact with the TopicExchange.

Mostly the issues are technical ones about encoding &'s and so on, but we have come across at least one philosophical class of problem:

Does the TopicExchange represent a historically accurate trail?  Or current reality.

As an example of where this is important consider deleting a post.  When you delete a post should TopicExchange "forget" all the pings made by that post (reflecting current reality) or preserve them (reflecting historical accuracy)?

 

So far we have come to the following conclusions, your comments are welcome:

Deleting posts is unusual (because it invalidates a permalink).  When you delete a post, you do it for a reason and would expect references to it to be deleted also.  Hence when you delete a post, it's topics will be unpinged.

If you edit the post, the topics associated with the post are re-pinged.  This will delete the old ping entry and create fresh ones.