Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Amazon Market Place

I was in a cleanup mode earlier in the week. My small home office was overloaded with books. Time to do a clear out of many old and no-longer used books. Some were completely worthless. Some were relatively new; while read, not something I wanted to keep. Some were technical books which, while still valid, covered things I no longer have interest in.

The last time I did this I tried to give them to a local book charity--but they had no interest. This time, after reading an article in the New York Times I was reminded of Amazon's Marketplace. I'm a loyal Amazon customer, so I thought I would give it a shot.

I put 161 books into Amazon Marketplace. The first sold within an hour of being list. Over the last two days I've sold 11 books. I set the price. Amazon takes a cut of the sale price. Amazon also does a computation of what they think the shipping charge should be and they bill the buyer, and credit that amount to my account.

For the 11 books sold so far, the cost I charged was £60, and Amazon has taken about £22 in fees. They've given me an additional £32 for their estimate of shipping costs. I've paid £38 in postage plus a couple of more pounds for a few padded envelopes. I've re-used envelopes for the rest. Gives me a net income of about £32.

I'll take that for 11 not-needed-by-me-but-wanted-by-someone-else books.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Visualisation of Global Air Traffic

This is "really neat". Pointed to by "World Changing".
This lovely video gives a different picture from the route maps. It’s a simulation of global air traffic from the fine folks at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences. The map uses data from, and overlays their position on a Miller cylindrical projection.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Environmental Disaster in Tennessee

This is a monumental and unprecedented environmental catastrophe. The TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) coal ash disaster is now estimated at 5.3 million cubic yards of waste. Coal ash contains heavy metals like mercury, arsenic, and lead. An article in Scientific American magazine dated Dec 13, 2007 states that coal ash is more radioactive than nuclear waste.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Gas Supplies to Europe at Risk

Today's Wall Street Journal reports:

Russia's state natural gas monopoly OAO Gazprom warned Saturday that a pricing dispute with Ukraine could disrupt gas supplies to Europe. Ukraine could use its pipeline to divert Russian natural gas intended for European customers even if it fails to pay its multibillion debt to Gazprom by Jan. 1, said company spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov. If that happened, the company was "not sure we could fulfill our transit obligation" of Europe-bound gas supplies, he said.

The UK is dependant on gas from Russia as supplies from the North Sea are insufficient to meet demand. The UK has insufficient facilities for the storage of gas. Further, the UK is reluctant to invest in additional gas storage facilities. This was discussed at length at a meeting of The Scottish Oil Club in November 2005 by Adrian Fernardo of Star Energy who at that time was seeking to build additional gas storage. His presentation is published here.

We need to start building additional storage facilities and we need to reduce our reliance on gas from Russia.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Memories of Apollo 8

Forty years ago today I returned home from Christmas Eve services with my family and was thrilled to view the Apollo 8 astronaut's broadcast from the moon. Unforgettable. And now watchable again and again due to today's technology.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Noise to Knowledge

Authors Note: This short article was originally written in c. 1999. It was written to explain what up until then had been intuitive but inexplicable. A longer article was written at the time; alas, it has been lost. Sometime this article will be updated. Meantime, it's being published here in the Blog with the hope that it might get more notice than at

Knowledge Management is not new. Knowledge management goes back as far as human memory, and then evolved into stone tables, books, and file cabinets. Then--suddenly--in the late 20th Century "sticky notes" arrived.

One of the great myths of Knowledge Management that is a technology solution.

It's not. Knowledge Management is a process that can be used to share and transfer knowledge between traditional "silos" of service management. It is a management process that transforms "noisy" thoughts and ideas into learnings and then into knowledge.

There are four key questions that are key to developing a knowledge management process for any organisation:

  • What kind of knowledge do you need?
  • How do you get it?
  • How do you develop, manage, and store it?
  • What do you do with it?

Noise to Knowledge

I have developed a simplistic model which I call "Noise to Knowledge". It describes what I have observed to be natural processes for how information moves between three identifiable nodes: (1) Noise, (2) Learning, and (3) Knowledge.

Information inside each node is "stored" in particular types of "buckets". The most effective organisations have natural processes and tools which move the information through filters and tools to drive information from "noise" to "knowledge". Where the tools or processes are ineffective or do not exist, the organistion is at risk of being or becoming ineffective.

Information flows back and forth between these nodes. The "buckets" in which information sits in each node is different, and can be described with examples:

Noise: Discussions which may or may not be relevant or correct. In email, newsgroups (NG), conversations around water cooler or pub. Nuggets of information which may or may not "live".

Learnings: "the last posting" in a NG thread which confirms and finalizes the conclusion and/or learning. The "wrap-up" in a meeting. Stored in emails, "last posting", FAQ's, memos, etc. "One-time" then (maybe) file type of documents.

Knowledge: compendium of learnings (including what's remaining to be learned). In articles, published papers, books, maintained web pages, encyclopedias, etc. "Documents" that get written, checked, edited, published, maintained.

Information flows between notes due to Processes, deliberate or "natural", that push and pull the information through "filters". These "filters" are people, process, and tools.

It is essential that the right "tools" and storage media for information in each stage of his movement through the process are fit for purpose. Before computers, the world had this all figured out. Knowledge was in things like encyclopedias, books, standards, etc. Noise was what happened around the water cooler or in pubs. Learnings were stored in letter, newspapers, magazine articles, etc. The "half-life" of information in each media was influenced by that media and in general was inline with the value of that information. For example, information in the Encyclopedia Britannica had a different credibility that information in contemporary newspapers (which only are the "first draft" of history.

Once we got computers into the mix, all things changed. No longer was it clear where that information was "best" kept; and in the absence of having proper tools that were fit for purpose, information was inappropriately stored and published. For example, or many the only place they have to store and publish is via email. Storing knowledge in email tools is a great place for that information to be at risk of lost and difficult to be made available to others.

In general, due to their nature, participation, and the user-interface of the relevant tools, newsgroups about computing topics are pretty much no more than "noise" with some "learnings". Many learnings get lost; hence the repetitious questions. We have "pointers" to knowledge, but there are few processes here that work to move the information from "noise to knowledge". This appears to be not unusual for many "computing information/knowledge" communities (maybe because the information has a short "half-life" value). I've observed other "communities" where the nodes and processes I mention are more complete and hence more knowledge is retained and propagated.

A major challenge for organisations is to ensure that the right knowledge management tools are provided for each phase of the knowledge management process. A suite of tools and technologies are required. These tools do not need to be, nor probably should be, large bespoke specialized "knowledge management" tools. The most successful tools are simple and ubiquitous —but that's the Achilles' Heel: if simple and ubiquitous they are likely to be mis-used either because that is all anyone knows, that is all they have, or worse—that is all they are allowed to have. Constraints on what people are allowed to have are caused by management (funding and leadership), the IT department (control and deire to reduce costs and make one size fit all), and self-inflicted (ability to change, learn, etc.).

At any moment in time, the "best" tools and technologies are going to be different from what they where and what they will be. That's a problem.

Most importantly, people need to know how to "drive" these tools and turn noise into knowledge, and knowledge into better knowledge.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Merry Christmas

In my city, the (historically) most prominent despartment store always puts a large Christmas tree in their center all. Despite their recent sellout to a big coroporate retail chain, they continue to put up the Christmas tree. Here it is this year.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Offending SQL Was:

Well, I guess this happens to everyone. I was curious about the recent disclosures of contributors to former President Clinton's foundation. After reading the article in the New York Times, I clicked on the link they provided to, and see only:

the offending sql was:

SELECT AS T0_F_id,T0.site_id AS T0_F_site_id,T0.category_id AS T0_F_category_id,T0.sub_category_id AS T0_F_sub_category_id,T0.position AS T0_F_position,T0.title AS T0_F_title,T0.link_title AS T0_F_link_title,T0.copy AS T0_F_copy,T0.permalink AS T0_F_permalink,T0.metadata AS T0_F_metadata,T0.preview_text AS T0_F_preview_text,T0.location AS T0_F_location,T0.byline AS T0_F_byline,T0.status AS T0_F_status,T0.media_id AS T0_F_media_id,T0.initiative_id AS T0_F_initiative_id,T0.related_item_id AS T0_F_related_item_id,T0.user_date AS T0_F_user_date,T0.created_at AS T0_F_created_at,T0.updated_at AS T0_F_updated_at,T0.user_id AS T0_F_user_id,T0.date_string AS T0_F_date_string,T0.is_sticky AS T0_F_is_sticky, AS T1_F_id, AS T1_F_name,T1.alt_text AS T1_F_alt_text,T1.file_path AS T1_F_file_path,T1.caption AS T1_F_caption,T1.preview_text AS T1_F_preview_text,T1.user_date AS T1_F_user_date,T1.media_type_id AS T1_F_media_type_id,T1.category_id AS T1_F_category_id,T1.sub_category_id AS T1_F_sub_category_id,T1.site_id AS T1_F_site_id,T1.created_at AS T1_F_created_at,T1.updated_at AS T1_F_updated_at,T1.location AS T1_F_location,T1.byline AS T1_F_byline, AS T1_F_credit,T1.guid AS T1_F_guid,T1.user_id AS T1_F_user_id, AS T2_F_id, AS T2_F_name,T2.description AS T2_F_description,T2.permalink AS T2_F_permalink,T2.parent_id AS T2_F_parent_id,T2.site_id AS T2_F_site_id,T2.page_id AS T2_F_page_id, AS T3_F_id, AS T3_F_name,T3.position AS T3_F_position,T3.site_id AS T3_F_site_id FROM items T0 LEFT OUTER JOIN medias AS T1 ON ( = T0.media_id) LEFT OUTER JOIN categories AS T2 ON ( = T0.sub_category_id) LEFT OUTER JOIN initiatives AS T3 ON ( = T0.initiative_id) WHERE T0.status = 1 AND T0.site_id = 1 AND T0.category_id = 1 AND T0.sub_category_id != 2 ORDER BY T0.is_sticky DESC, UNIX_TIMESTAMP(IFNULL(T0.user_date, T0.created_at)) DESC LIMIT 5 OFFSET 0

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Isn't that amazing?

A professor Gene Spafford, from my alma mater publishes a blog related to information security. In a posting earlier this week he wrote:

Costs and capabilities of computing hardware have changed by a factor of tens of millions in five decades. Currently, transistors cost less than 1/7800 of a cent apiece in modern CPU chips (Intel Itanium). Assuming I didn’t drop a decimal place, that is a drop in price by 7 orders of magnitude. Ed Lazowska made a presentation a few years ago where he indicated that the number of grains of rice harvested worldwide in 2004 was ten quintillion – 10 raised to the 18th power. But in 2004, there were also ten quintillion transistors manufactured, and that number has increased faster than the rice harvest ever since. We have more transistors being produced and fielded each year than all the grains of rice harvested in all the countries of the world. Isn’t that amazing?


Monday, December 15, 2008

Wind Energy Handbook

Ever want to know about how wind energy works and how they go about designing machines to make it? I recently discovered that the Wind Energy Handbook is now available online at Registration required.

Making Money with SharePoint Scalability

There is efficiency and effectiveness (money) for organizations who drive to having "scalable" SharePoint implementations. Joel Oleson writes about this:

If you've done much SharePoint administration you'll soon realize the sooner you can turn your site collections into repeatable, sustainable, objects with consistency and standardized administration, the sooner you'll be able to achieve economies of scale.


Risk Management in Five Easy Pieces

Don't miss Greg Alleman on "Risk Management in Fife Easy Pieces". He again writes eloquently on the subject.


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Podcast for Scottish Oil Club

When the presenter allows it, we record the presentation at the Scottish Oil Club and publish it as a podcast. For the first time in recent meetings, we have done so. Hamish Dingwall made a terrific presentation on "Corporate Social Responsiblity in the Oil & Gas Sector: Turning a Burden into a Benefit" which everyone can listen to at, or search for "Scottish Oil Club" in iTunes and subscribe.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Making Pretty Sites based on SharePoint

While most of my experience is, by design, focusing on using Microsoft SharePoint in a way which does not try to do much more than "out of the box" capability and design, I recognize that there is a place for making a web site based on SharePoint to not look so "techy". I ran across the web site which provides links to sites based on Microsoft SharePoint which are indeed not "techy".

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Understanding and Responding to Risk


Stefan Stern notes in yesterday's Financial Times talks about a pragmatic approach to risk management in light of recent failures in Risk Management in the financial industry, BBC Radio 2, and others.

"Understanding risk, and responding properly to it, requires maturity, and sobriety. We had forgotten this. Some had never really grasped it in the first place."


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Tackling Wicked Problems

The Australian Public Services organization is providing yet another public service in writing and publishing "Tackling Wicked Problems: A Public Policy Perspective". In this year of US Presidential elections, finally some truths.

"Successfully solving or at least managing these wicked policy problems requires a reassessment of some of the traditional ways of working and solving problems in the APS. They challenge our governance structures, our skills base and our organisational capacity.

It is important, as a first step, that wicked problems be recognised as such. Successfully tackling wicked problems requires a broad recognition and understanding, including from governments and Ministers, that there are no quick fixes and simple solutions."

See the full report at

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Understanding Risk. An Oxymoron?

The Daily Telegraph in the UK reported last week that the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) issued a report that, amongst other things, said that "a lack of management understanding of risks" was at the heart of the global financial problem.

I certainly agree. The problem, though, is that hardly anyone really understands risks and expecting "management" to understand them is even harder to expect. Further, it appears that few understand that risks are things that "might" happen and are discovered as a result of imaginative thinking. Risks aren't necessarily real and they aren't necessarily something that can be "fixed" and then put "out of mind", e.g. treated as a problem or issue.

The brains of human beings are wired to deal with risk based on anecdotes. Brains employ associative learning to seek and find patterns. This happened because "false positives" are usually harmless; whereas people who rely on "false negatives" may take themselves out of the gene pool, e.g. "That crocodile cannot hurt me because I'm wearing this special hat which protects me".

This lead to reliance on superstition and belief which is a thought-process that is millions of years old. Science, with methods of controlling variables to circumvent false positives, is only a few hundred years old.

Risk management requires human brains thinking in scientific ways. As science has been de-emphasized in our education systems throughout the world post the Space Age, there is a shortage of people in the employment pool who know how to think in a scientific way. Worse, there is a shortage of managers who recognize and value the difference between thinking with science vs. thinking with superstition.

No wonder God gave Moses 10 "issues to manage" and not 10 "risks to mitigate".

Monday, August 25, 2008

Who Moved My Brain?

Merlin Mann, of 43 Folders, has posted an inspirational presentation on managing your own time. Brilliant. See

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Holiday Book Report

We just returned from a short week's family holiday to La Gomera, an island near Tenerife in the Canary Islands. It was a terrific holiday very far from the normal "chaos" of the Canary Islands. Other than looking at the geology (lots of volcanoes!), we did nothing other than lounge by the poolside, tennis, eating terrific meals, and reading. I was able to read seven books over the week.

Charlie Wilson's War, by George Crile. As stated by the Economist on the cover of the paperback, "gripping". It provided me a completely different perspective on events in the US and Afghanistan during the occupation by the USSR in the 1980's.

The New Cold War, by Edward Lucas. This is an account of Russia's drive to autocracy over the last ten years since the fall of the USSR.

How Doctors Think, by Jerome Groopman, M.D. I bought this book by "accident" on Amazon, thinking that I was ordering another book. Despite that, this is a terrific read which gave me terrific insght about how medicine really works.

The Man Who Ran the Moon, by Piers Bizony. I grew up with the beginning of the US space programe (I wish I still had all the NASA brochures that I sent away for). This book tells the story of making NASA from the perspective of James Webb, the first administrator. The book is a pure political history of the creation of NASA and the space programme.

The Atomic Bazaar, by William Langewiesche. I had read some of this book already in articles written by Mr. Langewiesche and published in The Atlantic Magazine. However, in book form the whole topic of the drift of nuclear weapons through the world is a gripping and unending story. I read this book after reading "Charlie Wilson's War". The pair of books describe essentially the same thread, with little overlap, relations between the USA and Pakistan with many learnings which help me in a tiny way understand more about today's world and where we are heading.

The Hot Topic, by Gabrielle Walker an Sir David King. I had the opportunity to meet Sir David at a dinner of The Scottish Oil Club in 1994. Following his retirement from being the Chief Scientist for HM Government (UK), he's written a terrific book to set out the problems and propose solutions for climate change.

Why Things Break, by Mark E. Eberhart. Dr. Eberhart is a professor of chemistry and geochemistry at the Colorado School of Mines. This book is a biographical journey of his own discoveries during his childhood, formal education, and professional life learning how "things break". I was particularly struck by his discovery that in today's litigious world, people "expect" things to not break—ever.

With Speed and Violence, by Fred Pearce. Mr. Pearce is another author that I had the opportunity to meet a few years ago. He writes regularly for New Scientist magazine on climate change and the environment. This is a very engaging book which presents what we know, and don't know, about climate change and the potential for "tipping points" to bring on abrupt climate change.